Wilmington DE, DE
October 29, 2009
Today’s outing is to the Hagley Museum, the site of the first DuPont black powder works along Delaware’s Brandywine River. My memories of the Hagley are from a springtime visit 25 years ago when the dogwoods were in full bloom and they totally enchanted me; today it is colors of autumn.
In the powder yard stone mills and storehouses recall a time when water power was the source of energy. Blacksmith Hill focuses on the social and family life of the workers who operated the powder mills. Farther upstream sits Eleutherian, the home built by E.I. DuPont in 1803 and home to five generations of DuPonts. On the grounds are the carriage house, and a formal French garden that produced food for the DuPont family and the worker’s family members, today the volunteers reap the benefits of these harvests.
The explosive nature of black powder necessitated rigid safety standards and security was very tight; workers were checked each day as they began their workday for matches, metals or anything that might cause a spark and lead to an explosion, one might say it was the first “smoke-free” workplace. DuPont chose to follow the French tradition of building his home near the powder yard and shared the risks faced by his workers inherent in the manufacture of gunpowder. Despite all of the precautions there were accidents and explosions resulting in damage to the homes on site and the loss of over 200 lives in the 119 years of operation, including the death of a DuPont. The mill closed in 1921.
Strolling the beautiful grounds, along the Brandywine River or through the woods, can easily consume the better part of a day whether you have an interest in the history or just want for a beautiful place to walk.