Joggers, cyclists, hands-on thinkers, car enthusiasts—and sometimes even dogs—are welcome at the 200-year-old establishment as it undergoes creative changes
But within the past five years, board members and directors have spent considerable time determining how to keep Hagley relevant to a wide audience.
“We were challenged to shift the focus—identify what’s needed, what stories aren’t being told, what’s the learning that kids need to advance, what do we need as a society in terms of advancement, and what does Hagley have to offer?” says Hoge-North.
In considering changes, three key words immediately came to mind, she says: technology, innovation and engineering, both because that’s what Hagley represents, and what is currently in high demand in the globalizing world.
“That’s what advanced America to a superpower, and if we’re going to stay there, we need more people who know how to do this stuff,” says Hoge-North. “When you look at what happened here, people were constantly pushing ideas, reinventing, trying new things to advance technology.”
Traditional Hagley options are still available—tours of the house, gardens, etc. But a 60-minute lecture about gunpowder doesn’t exactly cut it for most anymore, she says. For those who want a little more, Hagley is at the beginning of a five-year transformation to what Hoge-North calls “hands-on, minds-on activity,” which incorporates a variety of options for diverse crowds, who, hopefully, will carry the Hagley story forward.
One way to change the way people see Hagley is through guided walking tours, says Hoge-North. The tours were brainstormed and are led by Hagley’s 80 part-time staff members.
Guests can choose from five topics. They then walk similar paths but learn completely different stories based on the topics they choose.
For “Workers’ World,” for instance, each guest is given an identity of a real person who lived and worked at Hagley. As they walk through the property, guests learn the story of that individual. Another tour is “Rocks and Roll Mill,” which takes guests through the property as a geologist would, asking questions like, “How is the Brandywine Valley formed, what’s so special about this blue rock that we named our baseball team after, and why did the du Ponts settle here?” says Hoge-North.
The tours are included in regular admission prices, are about an hour-and-a-half long, and require about a mile of walking. Additional tours include H2 Oh!, What’s for Dinner?, and Sights, Sounds and Smells. Tours run September through November and April through June on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
A new tour is being prepared now for spring 2016 that will focus on explosions and the dangers of working at a live gunpowder mill in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
New this past summer were Bike & Hike Nights on Wednesdays. The grounds were open until 8 p.m. and guests were encouraged to cycle, run or walk and on specific evenings, and even bring their dogs. Hoge-North says those nights are unique because they are the only times guests are allowed to explore the entire property on their own. Look for these opportunities again next summer.
Additionally, Hagley members get a walking pass and are invited to come early in the morning before the museum opens, year-round. Hoge-North says many trails will be expanded within the next two years.
Fun weekend activities are also part of the facelift, she says. Last year, Hagley launched indoor-outdoor Science Saturdays. These cater mainly to family groups, with teams of family members challenged to solve simple engineering problems. Groups are taught basic principles and then asked to solve the problem. Like the walking tours, Science Saturdays are included in ticket prices.
In December, look for Twilight Tours, which capture the beauty of Hagley during the evening, highlighted by Christmas lights and decorations. Twilight Tours are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and guests are asked to sign up in advance.
Hoge-North notes another small but important tidbit: “This year we changed our hours for the first time in 50 years,” she says. “Now we’re open until 5 p.m., and next summer we might experiment with 6 p.m.”
Rev The Engines!
Hagley’s biggest day of the year, which may come as a surprise to some, is the annual car show, which draws upwards of 6,000 car enthusiasts and participants. Sept. 20 marked its 20th year, with the theme “Fins, Chrome and the Rocket Age,” which looked at the influence of the Space Race on car design.
The annual show started two decades ago because a couple of local car groups asked to hold an event on the property, and that morphed into the Hagley Car Show of today.
For more car fun, starting Oct. 2 through October of next year, a new special exhibition will run in the visitor’s center. Called Driving Desire, it displays automobile advertising from 1895 to 2011. The exhibition asks visitors what role marketing has played in forming ideas of the American dream, specifically relating to automobiles. “Is this something we need, or did ‘they’ create it and we bought into it?” says Hoge-North.
Guests also can look forward to curator talks and a road rally next June.
There is a strong connection between cars—their invention, innovation, technology—and Hagley, says Hoge-North. She also points out that the du Ponts had an automotive history within the family. DuPont Motors produced marine engines during WWI, and later, high-end automobiles.
“Big Plans” for the Future
This year is the first in a five-year unfolding strategy for “big plans—really big plans,” Hoge-North says.
The plans include a new, year-round opportunity to walk through Hagley. Guests, whether solo or in a group, can choose their own “intellectual pathway” she says.
“For our general visitors, they miss a lot because they’re not part of a guided experience. So for them we’re installing new features that help people choose specifically what they want to learn about.”
If a guest wants to understand the workings of waterpower or black powder, for instance, repurposed buildings will be the start of his or her visit. Inside, people will be taught about the processes of their specific interest, then head out to the property to look at the real thing. This is a multi-year project beginning in 2016.
Additionally, a “makerspace” called Spark Lab is slated to open in February 2017. There, guests will be taught about the process of innovation, and they’ll be able to experiment, work on creative projects, and experience a balance of guided programs and the simple fun of tinkering with things.
“We want to show that everyone can be an inventor,” says Hoge-North. “You don’t have to even have a college degree.”
Finally, between 2016 and 2017, a playground will be built that incorporates simple machines, like the wheel, to help children—and adults—understand the building blocks of how all engineering works.
“Ultimately, what we’re looking for is to inspire people to be creative, to think innovatively, and to build confidence,” says Hoge-North. “Everybody can do it, and we’ll help them by giving them examples of what’s been done before.”