Delaware is one of the oldest states in the US, making it home to a long history of innovation and important moments. Learn about the state’s social, cultural, maritime, and military history by exploring these seven museums.
1. The Winterthur Museum
The Winterthur Museum, the once-childhood home of collector and horticulturist Henry Francis du Pont, is a museum of American decorative arts. It is located in Winterthur, Delaware. Within its walls is a collection of nearly 90,000 objects made or used in America between 1640 and 1860. The house has 175 rooms and is set on 1,000 acres of meadows and woodlands. Also on the grounds is a 60-acre garden designed by du Pont himself. The museum also partners with the University of Delaware to offer masters degree programs in American material culture and art conservation. The programs are designed to train future curators, conservators, and other museum professionals.
2. The Zwaanendael Museum
Located in Lewes, Delaware, this museum commemorates the founding of Delaware’s first European settlement by the Dutch. In 1631, a group of settlers under David Pietersz de Vries landed near this spot to form a whale hunting station and agricultural settlement. The settlers of Swanendael, meaning “Valley of the Swans,” cross the Atlantic in the Walvis. The museum serves to showcase the city’s maritime, military, and social history. On top of group tours and individual tours of the museum, the center offers events, lectures, and special exhibits. Currently on display are exhibits entitled “Delaware Railroads,” “A Seaborne Citizenry,” and “The Zwaanendael Merman.”
3. The Biggs Museum of American Art
One of the finest collections of American fine and decorative arts can be found in Dover, the capital of Delaware. Housed in the museum are collections including the only comprehensive representational American paintings collection on the Delmarva Peninsula. You can also view examples of furniture by early-American cabinetmakers. There are changing exhibits throughout the year as well as educational programming and events for both kids and adults. Admission to the museum is free for kids always, and free for all on the first Saturday of every month. Currently on display is an exhibit entitled “Rooted, Revived and Reinvented,” and soon to come in 2019 are “Spirit Revealed,” and “Visualizing the Museum.”
4. The Nemours Estate
Alfred duPont owned the Nemours Estate, a 77-room mansion, in the early 1900s, and it now functions as a museum. It is home to the largest formal French gardens in North America, a Chauffeur’s Garage housing a collection of vintage automobiles used on the Estate, and nearly 200 acres of meadows and woodlands. Most visitors will self-guide through the museum but guided tours are offered first-come, first-served. Staff members are located throughout the grounds to answer questions and offer information when needed.
5. The Air Mobility Command Museum
The Air Mobility Command Museum dedicated to airlift and air refueling history is located in Dover. It houses over 30 aircrafts such as cargo haulers, fighters, helicopters, a presidential aircraft, and a bomber. There are exhibits throughout the museum dedicated to the humanitarian and war efforts that men and women undertook to help aid those in need and support the US military. Some of these exhibits include “Airlift During the Vietnam War,” “Airlift During the Korean War,” “Operation Vittles,” “Dover AFB Control Tower,” and the “Clark Airborne CA-1 Tractor.” The museum also hosts events such as “Open Cockpit Day” – tours inside of the planes, “Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day,” and summer camp!
6. The Hagley Museum
In Wilmington, Delaware, you will find the Hagley Museum and Library, a center located on 235 acres along the Brandywine. This is the site of the gunpowder works founded by E.I. du Pont in 1802, the founding that turned the du Pont family into one of the wealthiest families in the United States. The museum includes restored mills, a workers’ community, and the ancestral homes and gardens of the du Pont family. The library furthers the study of business and technology in America. Hagley is a place for people of all ages to investigate and experience the unfolding history of American business, technology, and innovation, and its impact on the world.
7. Lightship Overfalls
This historical landmark located in Lewes is one of only 17 remaining lightships out of a total of 179 built from 1820 to 1952. It is one of the few open to the public. A lightship is basically a lighthouse that floats. It is a light to aid navigation at night, a horn to warn mariners in fog, and a radio beacon for longer range identification. You can hop aboard the ship and take a guided tour. The Ship’s Store, next to the lightship, sells clothing, jewelry, original art work, books, maps, and other items related to the Overfalls. Tours begin at 10 AM and the last tour starts at 3:30 PM. The museum is open seasonally – Memorial Day through Labor Day on Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday; after Labor Day until October on Friday, Saturday, Sunday; and beginning of October until season close on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults aged 15 and over, free for kids 14 and under.