Browse Exhibits (10 total)

A Tale of Two Brothers


In 1780 and 1786, two brothers were born to a Quaker cabinetmaker in Wilmington, Delaware. Benjamin, the elder brother, was apprenticed to Thomas Parker in Philadelphia to learn clockmaking. While learning his craft, he spent nearly all his free time going to lectures and meetings throughout the city, and, despite his mother's concerns, even learned French from the many emigrants fleeing the Revolution. While he initially pursued clockmaking as his trade, he later discovered that his true passion was history. Upon returning to Wilmington with his family in 1813, he gave up clockmaking and turned to writing as his main vocation.

Ziba, Benjamin’s younger brother, was apprenticed to Benjamin in Philadelphia from a young age. But he moved back to Wilmington much earlier, in 1807, and promptly opened his own shop. Through account books and newspaper records we know that Ziba pursued his trade with passion, but still contributed to the greater Wilmington community alongside his work.

Benjamin and Ziba’s stories offer a glimpse into the passions and interests prevalent in Wilmington during the 19th century. While the brothers initially had the same training in clockmaking, they diverged in their professional lives and how they wanted to be viewed by their peers. Do we perceive them today how they wanted to be seen, or has history imposed itself upon their stories?

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Arden Forge

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Arden is a village and craft colony that was founded in 1900 by Will Price and Frank Stephens. The town was intended to be a model of the Georgist single-tax system. Price and Stephens hoped that the success of Arden would show the power of the single-tax community and ignite an idealistic shift across the United States. To this day, land cannot be bought or sold in Arden. Residents purchase 99-year leases. Shakespearean plays are central to Arden’s character and have been performed in outdoor theaters since it’s founding. The Arts and Crafts industry also played an integral role in the growth and development of the town. Notable residents from Arden’s history include Upton Sinclair, Harry Kemp, and Ellla Reeve Ware. The 163-acre town is approximately 9 miles from Wilmington, DE.

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Bringing the Steam: Sharing the History of Steam Power at The Marshall Steam Museum

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The Marshall Steam Museum, founded by Thomas (Tom) C. Marshall, Jr. boasts the largest collection of original, operational steam cars in the United States. Built on the site of the Marshall family home in Yorklyn, Delaware, today the museum, its staff, and volunteers bring the history of steam power to hundreds of visitors per year.

As a boy, Tom Marshall watched his father tinker and collect the old Stanley steam cars he once sold in Northern Delaware, instilling in him a lifelong passion for technology. The love for his father, history, and steam cars eventually led Tom to share his father's collection with the public. First, opening up a steam-powered amusement park for children called "The Magic Age of Steam" in the 1970s and then creating the Museum in the 1990s, Tom Marshall's goal from day one was to teach younger generations the history and importance of steam power in Delaware and beyond.

This devotion to educate, as well as keep the collection operational, led Tom to create the Steam Team in 1997. Then and now, the Steam Team brings volunteers from Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and further to learn how to maintain and operate steam-powered vehicles. 

Since Tom's passing in February 2019, the museum has been re-thinking their founder's legacy, the significance of the collection, and the future of the Steam Team. Using oral histories from Steam Team members, this exhibition explores the history of the Marshall Steam Museum and how it brought steam back to Delaware.




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Maude Rhodes & The Story of Ardenweave


“Little is known about Maude Rhodes”

Maude Rhodes was a weaver.  She lived in the utopian arts colony of Arden, Delaware in the late 1910s and early 1920s, at which point she was an older woman, unmarried, with graying hair and glasses. She lived in Arden for roughly a decade, and then left in the mid-Twenties, retiring to Jamaica.  “Little is known about Maude Rhodes,” writes local Arden historian Mark Taylor in his book about the community, and indeed, the outlines of her biography are sketchy. During her time at Arden, however, Maude Rhodes was not only a weaver but also an entrepreneur.  The stylish promotional materials left behind from her business endeavors piece together an impression of a woman who was intent on making her community's small-scale, home-grown textile production available to the wider modern world.

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More Than Just A Cabinet-Maker: Understanding the 'Account of Coffins' in John Williams' Account Book 1700-1758

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John Williams worked as a cabinetmaker in New Castle, Delaware during the eighteenth-century. Although not much is known about his personal life, John Williams left behind an account book that details his work between 1700-1758. While far from complete or meticulously organized, this account book sheds light on the role this cabinetmaker played in the New Castle community. Various entries in the account book depict Williams’ work as related to his personal household expenses, cabinetmaking, building repairs and construction, joining, shopkeeping, importing and exporting goods, and coffin-making. From the entries in the account book, Williams’ appears to have worn many different hats, all of which required him to be relied on by the people of New Castle for everything from their furniture and repairs to their houses, to purchasing tobacco, to constructing a coffin for a recently deceased family member. In other words, both the well-off and the poor would have had dealings with Williams, and Williams would have seen these individuals at both their high and low points in life. 

It is not until a century later, in the nineteenth-century, that coffin making becomes highly romanticized and commercialized in America. However, John Williams’s account book, “Account of Coffins," reflects the trust and respect that the residents of New Castle must have had for his skills as a woodworker to entrust him with creating the container that would preserve their loved one’s dignity and body in death. It is for this reason that John Williams’ role as  a coffin maker will be further examined.

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Oak Knoll Books

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In 1976, a chemical engineer named Bob Fleck changed his profession and became a bookseller. He opened Oak Knoll Books, and two years later expanded to open Oak Knoll Press. Fleck ran the business and contributed greatly to the antiquarian book world until he passed away in 2016. His son, Robert Fleck III, now serves as the Antiquarian Director of Oak Knoll Books and Press.

When Bob Fleck first opened Oak Knoll, he traded and sold his personal collection in exchange for inventory, a stock that has now grown to about 23,000 books. While the company has expanded, its mission has remained relatively unchanged over the last forty-one years: to specialize in books about books, in the broad sense of the term. From the history of the book trade to the art of bookmaking and publishing, Oak Knoll has explored the objecthood of the book throughout its existence. The dual life of Oak Knoll as a collector and creator of books, specializing in books about books, is explored through trade catalogs and personal testimonies of the Fleck family in “Collecting and Creating.”

Oak Knoll is located in New Castle, Delaware, the first capital of the First State and the landing point of William Penn. Fittingly enough for its historic setting, Oak Knoll is situated in a building with a history of its own. What began as a Masonic Temple continued its life as the New Castle Opera House before eventually becoming home to the bookshop and press. To learn more about the building’s storied past, check out “The Locations of Oak Knoll Books.”

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Taverns of New Ark

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Many tales have been told about the noteworthy role alcohol played in the daily lives of colonial Americans. Whether it be their belief in its health benefits or simply for entertainment, colonists frequently visited local inns and taverns to enjoy a pint of beer, a gill of whiskey, or a mug of cider. Drinking and enjoying alcohol was so ubiquitous that under his pen name, Silence Dogood, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to the The New-England Courant on September 10, 1722 listing nineteen expressions signifying drunkenness. Over the next two decades, roughly two hundred and thirty expressions known as “The Drinker’s Dictionary” were compiled from varying lists in newspapers. One of the expressions, “He’s Swallow’d a Tavern Token” or “Has Swallow’d a Tavern Token,” is indicative of the economy and culture surrounding the drinking establishments that were cornerstones of communities. Frequently, tavens and inns—which will be used interchangeably throughout this exhibition—were more of a necessity than luxury in rural communities in which a high number of travelers passed through. As was typical of small colonial villages, two of the earliest businesses established along the main road in New Ark, New Castle County were a tavern and an inn. With its first proprietor and what is believed to be the location of its original building, the Three Hearts Tavern is depicted on the earliest known map of Newark. Established west of the Three Hearts Tavern, St. Patrick’s Inn is illustrated with its first landowner and the location of its original building on the second earliest known map of the village. Although it underwent various name changes, similar businesses were housed within the walls of these two original buildings. Even today, more than a century after the buildings were torn down, establishments distributing alcohol and promoting entertainment can still be found on those sacred drinking grounds.

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The Hagley Machine Shop: Stories for the Present-Day


The Hagley Museum and Library sits on the first site of the DuPont Company, which began as a black powder manufactory in 1802 along the banks of the Brandywine riving in Wilmington, Delaware. Manufacturing at the Hagley Yards ended in 1921 and today the site preserves the history of the DuPont company and of industry in America.

Visiting the museum means strolling along the banks of the Brandywine, past old structures which together composed one of America’s first gun powder factories. One of these buildings is the old machine shop, which has been open to the public as an exhibit since 1981. That year, the Hagley Museum opened several exhibit spaces which focused on the lives of the people who once worked at Hagley.

Once, the machine shop repaired the powder yard’s manufacturing equipment. The machinists and millwrights who worked there were responsible for making sure all gears turned smoothly in the powder mills. Today, museum guides give tours of the shop every hour. Their goal is to help visitors get their own gears turning as they learn about the men and boys who once worked in the machine shop, the work they performed, and the many ways in which the shop’s machines relate to technology we use today.

This page uses oral history interviews to explore the experiences of two of the guides who work in the machine shop, as they talk about their own interests in the shop’s history, and think about how best to pass along that passion to their visitors.

Traces of the Factory: H.P. Cannon and Son, Inc.

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H.P. Cannon and Son, Inc., which produced canned goods between 1881 and 1981, was one of the largest canning companies established in Delaware. Gradually moving from canning fruit to exclusively vegetables, the company experienced significant growth during their existence. At one point near the end of World War I, they were a leading producer of sweet peppers. With such an impact on the canning industry in Delaware, it is interesting that the Cannon name has drifted into the shadows of Delaware’s collective memory. It is difficult to find any extant examples of Cannon’s canned goods and many of the materials associated with the name are tucked away in archival collections. One trace of the company can be seen in Bridgeville, Sussex County today: the old Cannon Cannery factory. Although the building is repurposed for another company, it still provides us a glimpse into the past when Delaware’s industrial heritage really began. The large factory also captures a moment in the company’s success, where large-scale production reached its height during the 1950s. Looking at archival materials and photographic collections recounts the Cannon Company’s history and its impact on the Delaware agricultural industry. This will shed light on the factory’s workers who were integral to the success of the cannery, particularly, the lives of the African-American itinerant workers at the factory.

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Waterpower on the Brandywine


The Brandywine Creek winds through southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware. Today it is crossed by bridges and abutted by state parks. In the summer people float down it on inner tubes; it is a part of the natural landscape. Two hundred years ago, however, the Brandywine was viewed as a source of power and a site of industry. In the fourteen and half miles of creek between Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware, where it drains into the Delaware River, the Brandywine drops 160 feet. This change in elevation meant the Brandywine was the perfect site for establishing water powered mills in early Delaware.

By the early nineteenth-century, the river was churning with industry. This is evident on an 1816 map of the region, which resides today in the collection of the Hagley Museum and Library, a repository for America's early industrial history. The water of the Brandywine propelled the creation of paper, textiles, gunpowder, flour, and more. Many of its mill seats were also sites of innovation, where new technologies were implemented, or even invented.

The individuals who ran businesses on the banks of the creek were often involved in multiple industries, demonstrating their entrepreneurial spirit. One such man was William Young, who produced both paper and textiles at Rockland Mills between 1795 and his death in 1829. 

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