Same Hagley, Fresh Perspectives

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.

Walking tours, like H2 Oh!, offer a fresh view of the 200 year-old property. (Photo courtesy of The Hagley Museum & Library)
Walking tours, like H2 Oh!, offer a fresh view of the 200 year-old property. (Photo courtesy of The Hagley Museum & Library)

Interactive Hagley

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.

Hagley millrace in the Spring. (Photo Courtesy of the Hagley Mueum & Library)
Hagley millrace in the Spring. (Photo Courtesy of the Hagley Mueum & Library)

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.”

Coverdale: On the Grow

From Farm to Fork to a CSA to barn dances, the historic Greenville land is host to a cornucopia of creative and often delicious events

As stars flicker over the panoramic 352-acre sweep of Greenville’s Coverdale Farm, strings of lights illuminate a hill overlooking woodlands where 160 people are seated at long tables laden with courses of farm-grown vegetables and family-style servings of salad, ratatouille and Angus steak. Glasses tinkle lightly as guests make new acquaintances and pour each other paired tastings from Dogfish Head bottles—Midas Touch, 61 Minute, 90 Minute IPAs.

The occasion is Coverdale’s autumn Farm to Fork, a display of community in celebration of the harvest.

Coverdale Manager Michele Wales, who envisioned the now annual event seven years ago, describes the late-September experience as an evening of engagement and mindfulness of what’s on people’s plates.

“Sitting and dining on the land where so much of what’s on your plate came from—that makes my head want to explode,” Wales enthuses. “It’s so beautiful for me. I’m hoping for people to experience just how powerful a meal can be with other great people. We nourish folks with this beautiful food that we’ve worked so hard for throughout the year, and fall is the perfect time to celebrate what we’re growing and raising. To see our food transform to art on a plate is really exciting.” Note: the food was prepared by Susan Teiser of Montrachet Fine Foods, located on Kennett Pike.

The heart of Farm to Fork is aligned with all of Coverdale’s happenings and programs: creatively teaching the community about the sources of their food.

Guests are welcome to traipse through the farm's U Pick field for flowers and veggies. (Photo courtesy of Coverdale Farm Preserve)
Guests are welcome to traipse through the farm’s U Pick field for flowers and veggies.
(Photo courtesy of Coverdale Farm Preserve)

The farm, which dates back to William Penn’s time, was owned for years by the Greenwalt family. In the 1990s, the family turned the land over to the Delaware Nature Society, which also oversees Ashland Nature Center, the DuPont Environmental Education Center, and Abott’s Mill Nature Center.

In 2000, Wales became one of the first full-time farm staff members. “We transformed sallow fields and empty barns into a classroom where we were charged and are still charged with educating others,” says Wales.

The DNS, which recently celebrated its 50th year, is a private nonprofit environmental organization that promotes environmental education, advocacy and natural resources conservation—and is what Wales calls the gateway to connecting with the natural world.
This makes Coverdale wildly popular for school field trips, summer camps and more.

“We’re all so very passionate and dedicated to the mission of connecting people to the sources of their food by growing and raising food, and engaging and inviting everyone that comes down our driveway to get as excited and passionate as us about what we do,” says Wales.

She says an exciting seasonal change has come to Coverdale.

Aside from its dozens of events and programs, Coverdale has typically been closed to the public except for Wedneday afternoons during the season. But on Wednesdays and Saturdays this past May-September, the farm was open to the public on a more frequent basis. On these days, guests who visited could choose to stop by early in the morning to help with farm chores like bottle-feeding calves, collecting eggs and tending to pigs. They also were invited to forage in the farm’s U Pick field for tomatoes, peppers, flowers and other vegetables. For a more relaxing afternoon, guests were welcome to pack a lunch picnic at any of the tables beneath the oak trees along the driveway. Staff members were on hand to “teach you whatever you want to learn,” says Wales. She says these days are excellent low-key ways for families to enjoy the farm at their own pace.

“It’s been really successful, so we’re looking to increase activities and more opportunities for the farm to be open in 2016,” says Wales.

School children feed milk to a Holstein at Coverdale. (Photo courtesy of Coverdale Preserve)

A mainstay for Coverdale is its Community Supported Agriculture program, in which members are signed up to receive a select amount of produce from June-October each week. Free cooking classes are offered to CSA members, who may sometimes be in a creative stupor—when, for example an Oh, No, Not Another Week of Lettuce class might be of use. At the end of each season a party is thrown, and everybody brings homemade food to celebrate.

Coverdale’s education program—school field trips, programs for children, families and adults—runs year round, with dozens of classes for everyone. This includes an upcoming family hayride series in October and November featuring pumpkin carving on Oct. 18 and learning about the cider-making process on Nov. 8.

Then there’s what Wales calls the “big event”—the annual Harvest Moon Festival, Oct. 3-4. The weekend, free for members and nonmember children under 5, and $5 for nonmembers, is filled with artisan demonstrations, children’s activities and crafts, hayrides, music and food trucks.

For adults, a basket weaving class (Oct. 10) and a cookbook club are offered. The Cookbook Club, hosted by DNS and the Hockessin Book Shelf, serves up an evening of cooking and eating on Oct. 8 and Nov. 12. And for people interested in raising and butchering their own meat, there’s the two-day Pasture To Plate: Poultry Processing & Cooking, Dec. 12-13.

The key to knowing what kinds of events to host, Wales says, is implementing options that are connected to food, the farm, and the landscape at Coverdale. She says one important theme is “putting culture back in agriculture,” which was the inspiration for a new barn contra dance series. The dances are slated for Oct. 23 and Nov. 6, and will continue on various dates in 2016. Led by an experienced contra caller, the evenings will be filled with bluegrass, and guests from beginners to experienced will learn traditional dance steps from contra to square dancing.

With so much going on, Coverdale certainly utilizes its four full-time staff members, says Wales, but as she puts it, a lot of dedicated people are necessary to make all the moving parts move fluently. That’s why volunteers are so helpful, she says. “We couldn’t do it without them.”

Qualified people are invited to work in almost any area: program instructors, educators, animal husbandry, vegetable production, and more. For more information on how to get involved, visit the website.

Ultimately, sharing ideas and encouraging others to do so is what keeps Coverdale so fresh and creative, Wales says. While she and the other fulltime staff members are behind the scenes planning, they are constantly listening to ideas from instructors and volunteers.
“We’re part of a community,” says Wales. “We know each other so well, and people have ideas, so we share.”

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