When you flip through history books, oftentimes you’re reading about places that you’ll never get to experience. After all, over hundreds of years, things change. Battlefields turn into strip malls, famous homes are lost to fire and never rebuilt, and enormous cemeteries are abandoned and reclaimed by nature. When you find a historic site that remains unchanged, it’s a real treat. Visit Eleuthèrean Mills at the Hagley Museum and see not only where the du Pont family got their start, but where you can step back in time to the Industrial Revolution in Delaware and learn oh so much about this state.
E.I. du Pont quickly got to work establishing Eleuthèrean Mills, the first du Pont home in America.
His dream for the property was that it would become one of the most beautiful parcels in the country, and that his gunpowder operation would be a success. If only he could see this family's legacy now!
The first mills on the site were cotton mills, built in 1795.
When the site of the cotton mill burned down in 1797, the owner held onto it for a few years before selling to Eleuthère Irénée du Pont. Some parts of the cotton mill's machinery were included in the sale.
The Mill's location on the Brandywine was close to the ports of Wilmington, and far enough inland that there was access to lumber, charcoal and other supplies.
The train cars that brought the du Pont gunpowder to and from the Mill are still hiding throughout the museum today. You can see the railroad lines as you drive through the area, too.
du Pont had learned about gunpowder manufacturing when he lived in France, working and studying in the explosives industry.
He built the Eleutherian gunpowder mill on the Brandywine Creek using some leftover equipment from the cotton mill, and based his designs on French gunpowder mills he was familiar with. Gunpowder machinery was imported from France and the French government offered consultation in the planning of the site.
Take a look at this postcard from 1905 - it looks exactly as the mills do today, well over 100 years later.
Oh, and the note reading "these blow up occasionally"? Yes, it's true. Working in gunpowder had its risks! A major explosion at the site in 1818 killed 33 people, and there was another large explosion near the mill in 1847. In 1854 three gunpowder wagons exploded right in the heart of the city of Wilmington.
The du Pont operation at Eleutherian Mills continued to grow throughout the industrial revolution.
du Pont was changing the explosives industry for good. Prior to his company's success, most gunpowder was imported, or made at small mills where quality control was an issue, and explosions were common. By 1813, the du Ponts bought a neighboring property and doubled the size of their grounds. They continued to lead the industry through the Mexican-American War, Crimean War, and the American Civil War. During the civil war, du Pont sold over 4 million barrels of gunpodwer to the federal government.
However, the legendary mill would not last forever. As smokeless powder took over in the early 1900s, there was little need for the du Pont products made at the Mills.
The mills attempted to close in 1910, but the federal government requested the mill still run until the end of World War I. Thanks to E.I. du Pont's huge influence on manufacturing, production, and mill technology, the site had become legendary. In 1952, E.I. du Pont's descendants donated the land, and the Du Pont company set up a $6 million endowment to turn the property into a museum of industrial history - the Hagley Museum and Library.
Many of the mills have been restored at the museum, but with nearly 200 acres of property, there are still plenty of buildings and workshops that exist exactly as they did 100 years ago.
You can see evidence of the workers that lived here, the families that have visited, and the industry that was forged along the banks of the Brandywine in Delaware.
Visiting the Hagley museum today is an incredible experience, because it is one of the few spots in the country that has remained nearly unchanged since the Industrial revolution.
It's the perfect spot to stroll, learn, and mingle between both nature and industry. The grounds are a favorite site for photographers and artists to enjoy.
The du Ponts themselves certainly left a mark on our state – from the highway names to the estates that are spread throughout New Castle County. Have you been to the most magical of them all, Winterthur? If you haven’t, fall is the perfect time to explore
The One Place In Delaware That Looks Like Something From Middle Earth.
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