In the 1800s, water meant power, power that could be channeled into a millrace and harnessed to grind flour or crush and mix the elements used to make gunpowder.
The Brandywine River provided that power, making history as the site of early gunpowder mills and a gristmill dating to the 1690s. It’s fitting that Hagley Museum and Library, once the site of gunpowder works, has created an online digital project, “Delaware’s Industrial Brandywine,” documenting those early industries. The interactive website industrialbrandywine.org invites the public to provide any scraps of history they might happen to know.
“Delaware’s Industrial Brandywine” is the first comprehensive, online guide to industry along the Brandywine. The project, which documents 300 years of industry, currently identifies and explores 112 companies, 19 geographic locations, and 16 industries.
Visitors to the online exhibit will recognize familiar Delaware names such as Bancroft, Broom, Canby, du Pont, Gilpin, Hollingsworth, Kirk, Pusey, Shipley, and Tatnall as well as familiar locations such as Alapocas Woods, Augustine, French Street, Kentmere, Rockford, and Rockland. Hagley encourages comment from visitors to the site and asks citizen historians to share their knowledge of the area.
“The goal of this project is to produce a resource for teaching and scholarship,” says Hagley’s Digital Curator Kevin Martin. “In addition, while the project focuses on a specific region, it offers insight into the broad arc of industrial development in the United States from the Colonial period to the present.”
The Brandywine Valley was a center of industry and a vital part of Delaware’s economy. The Brandywine River drops 125 feet in elevation from Chadds Ford to Wilmington, making it an ideal area for water-powered mills. The topography influenced DuPont Company founder E. I. du Pont’s decision to build gunpowder mills in the Brandywine Valley and explains why so many other industries also prospered here.
The project is partially funded by a grant from the Delaware Humanities Forum, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Hagley Library is the nation’s leading business history library, archives, and research center. Current holdings comprise 36,000 linear feet in the Manuscripts and Archives Department, 290,000 printed volumes in the Imprints Department, 2 million visual items in the Pictorial Department, and more than 100,000 digital images and pages in the Digital Archives Department.