As Hagley Museum and Library prepares for its September opening of “Nation of Inventors,” it’s packed summer at the original du Pont family estate with activities such as Bike & Hikes & Brews.
Among the offerings are cannon firing demonstrations, Science Saturdays for children, specialized walking tours, Dog Days and Summer Saturdays for kids that include Fishing on the Brandywine, Hand-cranked Ice Cream, Edible Dirt and Fun-powder, a kiddied-up version of gunpowder, the product that made the du Pont family rich.
The family was French, and on July 14 Hagley will salute those roots with Hagley Alfresco dinner for Bastille Day, with food by Le Cavalier, the French restaurant at the Hotel du Pont.
Tickets must be purchased in advance for $35 and diners have their choice of Bavette Steak Brochette with Tahini au poivre, Shawarma Chicken Brochette with Harissa chili crisp, or Trumpet Mushroom Brochette with Pine nut tarator.
“We just finished a successful series with Hagley Alfresco in May and had tremendous response with advance ticket sales,” said Laura Jury, spokeswoman for Hagley.
The variety of things to do at Hagley, its link to the famous family and company and the beauty of the property helped the venue earn a Travelers’ Choice Award on travel site TripAdvisor. The award is given to the Top 10 best-reviewed sites on the website. There, it’s ranked No. 1 among things to do in Wilmington and has a 4 ½ star rating.
“All the demos of gunpowder and machine shop of gears was fantastic,” one review said. “All the employees were super friendly and informative. The grounds are absolutely beautiful. Well worth a visit, rain or shine.”
“Definitely a must visit to enjoy some history, the beautiful outdoors, great docents, and a way to understand the history of the Dupont family and black powder production,” another said. “Entry fee is a bargain … We spent 3+ hours there and could’ve spent more.”
“You don’t have to be a history buff to be fascinated by this gorgeous gem of a place!” said one review. “The grounds are beautiful, the tour guides phenomenal and you really get to know the history of the Brandywine through the eyes of those who lived at this great estate and manufacturing spot.”
The summer’s most popular activity is a bit more focused.
“The perennial favorite is Bike & Hike & Brews,” said Jury. They happen each Wednesday night. “So many people have renewed interest in bicycling from the pandemic, and Hagley provides a safe place to bike along the Brandywine. It’s traffic free, so families can bike without any worry or concern and enjoy the beautiful scenery.”
In addition, Bike & Hikes will feature a rotating schedule of food trucks, from American favorites like Uncle John’s Barbecue and Julian’s Mac & Cheese to ethic offerings of Zaikka on Wheels or Mojo Loco. Julian’s is set to be there Wednesday, July 14. Admission for Bikes & Hikes is $3 per person. A package of 10 tickets for $25 will knock the price down a bit more.
On the last Wednesday of the months, Hagley admits dogs during Hike & Bikes — accompanied by their two-legged families for its Dog Days of Summer. Dog Days also is only $3 admission per person on July 28 and Aug. 25.
Families interested in the catch-and-release Fishing on the Brandywine will find that Hagley provides bamboo rods that are already strung. Kids can fish in the Brandywine River or along the mill race. This is included in admission.
“They can catch a sunfish, a bluegill or a large mouth bass,” Jury says. She took her own son and a friend, and they had a blast.
Hagley’s Science Saturdays are designed to expose young visitors to science, technology, engineering and math, with topics such as Kitchen Chemistry on July 10, Blast Off! on July 24, Egg Newtons on Aug. 14 and Float Your Boat on Aug. 28. This, too, is included in admission.
The next cannon firing — and they insist on using Hagley personnel to fire them, darn the luck — will be July 25 at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. The demonstrations take place next to the Machine Shop, and are weather-dependent. You can also see on Aug. 29. This is included in admission.
The next walking tour is July 11 and will focus on explosions at Hagley. Other upcoming topics include the sights, sounds and smells of Hagley, water power, a what’s for dinner garden tour, and rocks and roll mills. These are included in admission.
Admission to Hagley is $15 for adults, $11 for students with a valid id and seniors who are 62 and older; and $6 for children ages 6-14. Admission is always free for children 5 and younger, Hagley members and current members of the military and their families.
Starting this month, guests will be allowed back into places that had been closed because of the pandemic, or for renovations to the infrastructure at Hagley.
That includes Hagley’s newly remodeled Visitor Center. It will serve as a ticket counter, as well as the entrance to September’s “Nation of Inventors” exhibit.
Part of that exhibit will be the new kinetic Velocipede Time Machine that is a steampunk sculpture evoking the spirit of invention and the way that inventors often borrowed ideas from each other.
Guests also once again will be admitted to Eleutherian Mills, the first du Pont family residence. It has been closed since March 2020, but the first floor of the Georgian-style ancestral home will be open this summer.
The Machine Shop and Workers’ Hill also will reopen. The shop includes period equipment and visitors can see the Hercules “Type A” water turbine.
At Worker’s Hill, guests can see the 19th century village that included Gibbons House, home of the Hagley yard foreman and the Brandywine Manufacturers’ Sunday School where Victorine du Pont taught workers’ children on Sundays for more than 30 years.
Summer will end at Hagley with its fireworks displays. They usually are held in June to celebrate the birthday of Éleuthère Irénée du Pont, who landed in the American colonies on Jan. 1, 1800.
The members-only display was moved to Aug. 13 and Aug. 20 this year to accommodate the state’s COVID-19 restrictions, which end July 13.
Visitors may want to take advantage of the Brandywine Valley Adventure Pass, which allows purchasers to create their path through 13 history, culture and gardens in the Greater Wilmington area. Buying the pass means seeing each site for less moolah.
Hagley’s big moment of 2021 will come in September with the opening of “Nation of Inventors.”
The historical site expects its new permanent exhibit, which will include a display of patent models, to draw a lot of attention.
“Hagley is changing the equation by offering a new gateway to our property with the opening of ‘Nation of Inventors’ in September, celebrating innovation and ingenuity in America,” Jury said. “The exhibition will be a starting point to witnessing centuries of innovation in action throughout Hagley’s powder yard, immersive Workers’ Hill community and breathtaking du Pont ancestral home and gardens.”
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience.
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