Since March 2020, museums around the world have been remarkably resilient in responding to ever-changing circumstances.
Hagley Museum and Library is no exception.
As public spaces began to reopen in 2021, Hagley was on course for a banner year.
In September, the groundbreaking new “Nation of Inventors” exhibit, featuring more than 120 19th-century patent models from Hagley’s collection — the largest private collection of its kind — was due to open after years of pandemic-related delays.
Nature had other plans.
The remnants of Hurricane Ida caused record flooding in the region. On September 2, the Brandywine peaked at 23.1ft – three feet above the record.
Hagley, who finds himself famous along “Brandywine’s finest mile”, felt the full force of the raging water. Extensive damage occurred throughout the 235-acre property. Large areas of land have been stripped away, leaving holes and craters in what is normally scenic terrain.
The narrow-gauge railway, bridges, wooden trestles and fences throughout the property were swept away. A huge amount of silt has filled the mill reach, clogging a waterway that, on a typical day, provides clean, renewable water power to run the museum’s 19th-century machinery and recharge its 21st-century electric shuttle century. And the visitor center, where the new “Nation of Inventors” exhibit was days away from opening, had more than nine feet of water in the basement, knocking out the museum’s utility systems.
Earlier:Hagley Historical Museum bounces back after flooding
Hagley’s buildings have remained structurally sound and Hagley’s staff have never been in danger. Artifacts were removed from display and placed in secure storage. But the property appraisal made it clear that more than half of the museum would not open for some time.
Remarkably, in just five days, the museum’s historic house and gardens – located high above the Brandywine – have reopened for visits with a temporary visitor center and museum shop located in the Hagley Library. The annual car show took place a week later, and in October the annual craft fair saw record attendance.
Throughout it all, Hagley has never lost sight of its mission to inspire innovation. As the Wilmington Museum welcomed tens of thousands of visitors, the Collections and Design teams developed and installed an exhibit of patent models for the new Design and Innovation Building at the University of California, San Diego.
And, through the end of 2022, passengers flying to and from Philadelphia International Airport will see an installation of 50 patented designs as part of the airport’s “exhibition program.” From coast to coast, Hagley continues to fulfill its mission to “inspire everyone to innovate in their own lives” with its incredible collections and the stories behind them.
After:New name, new look at the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science
Back along the Brandywine, flood recovery continues to be a focus. We learned a lot about how to prepare for the future. Knowing that it’s not a question of “if” there will be another flood, but a question of “when and how high,” flood recovery efforts are focused on rebuilding in a way that better prepares the museum. at the next flood.
More than 80% of the systems lost in the flooded visitor center have been moved to higher floors. A transformer that sat at ground level was raised above the 2021 high water mark. The mill reach was dredged by about 100 trucks loaded with silt deposited by the flood.
Masonry work to buttress the historic structures is in progress.
There is a lot of work to do in the months ahead and Hagley continues to make great strides in recovery and restoration.
Today, visitors to Hagley can experience more than 200 years of Delaware and American history on “Historic Home and Garden” tours of the du Pont family’s first residence in America and along the Powder Yard Trail where ancient industrial history comes to life at the site of the DuPont factories that produced explosives from 1802 to 1921.
Visitors can experience Hagley on a walk through breathtaking natural and historic scenery or with a convenient shuttle service.
Special programs return all summer long, from the 40th Anniversary Fireworks in Hagley to Science Saturday hands-on learning programs and more.
After:Stroll through the Delaware Botanical Gardens to discover the natural beauties of Sussex County
And, in September, the long-awaited “Nation of Inventors” exhibition will finally open to the public.
Whether responding to a global pandemic or rebuilding after a devastating natural event, the Hagley Museum and Library truly embodies the spirit of resilience in a way that reflects the stories of generations of people who have lived and worked on the historic site during its more than 200 years of history. Visit Hagley and be inspired!
Visit Hagley.org or set your GPS to 298 Buck Road, Wilmington, DE 19807.
Mike Adams is Director of Museum and Public Engagement for Hagley Museum & Library.
Open Call is a weekly column that offers Delaware arts and culture organizations the opportunity to share their vision, challenges, and upcoming programming with our readers. Groups interested in participating can email Editor-in-Chief Tammy Paolino at [email protected]