So much of our global history is housed between the walls of local museums so if you want to explore the inner workings of the United States, the museums of Delaware, the nation’s first state, are an excellent starting point. Delaware goes above and beyond when it comes to history, education and preservation. It cleverly combines elements of past, present and future with artistic backdrops that celebrate, innovate and inspire. From shipwreck artifacts to ornate mansion memorabilia, from an aviator’s haven to a child’s imaginative playground, here’s a glimpse at Delaware’s finest museums.
With so much of this section of Delaware being operated in the memory of the DuPont family, it’s nice to see a setting that features a different famous mansion, the likes of which was previously owned by the Shipley family of Wilmington. If you find yourself at all intrigued by Gothic Revival architecture and/or memorabilia, you’ll be delighted to hear that this hidden gem features a house complete with its original trim, furnishings and keepsakes. Everything here is authentic, all the way down to the clothes in the closets. Rockwood shines in winter, when the frost and snow add a magical element that’s easier to experience than it is to describe. Behind the glamour and prestige sits just a hint of suspense at the thought that the facility might very well be haunted. It has been featured on national television as a likely location for paranormal activity. If you’re a history buff or a paranormal fanatic, this museum is an off-the-beaten-track treasure and on top of that, it’s free to enter Wednesday through Sunday all winter long.
This grandiose museum will have you in an aristocratic mood in no time. Situated onto 1,000 rolling acres, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the high society, vintage atmosphere the facility affords, despite its modern city location. Visitors here will be presented with a surplus of more than 90,000 historically-significant artifacts all of which have been made to decorate an elaborate 175 room mansion. Highlights of the tour include formal gardens, galleries, a sprawling look at the DuPont Mansion, a romp through the “Enchanted Woods” and a nationally-renowned research center that is open to inquiring minds of all ages. Admission into the museum is priced at $20 per adult with children costing $5 and babies in arms welcomed onto the grounds for free. Several unique programs and discount packages are available and this is also a nonpareil place to host an event like a wedding or corporate luncheon. It’s an absolute must see in winter, hence the name.
The wee ones will certainly get a kick out of visiting this vibrant, waterfront attraction and its location makes it an optimal family choice. The Delaware Children’s Museum, known by locals as DCM, is an interactive space where children learn through touching, feeling and climbing. The museum is abundant with lively, colorful exhibitions that encourage the children who visit to problem solve in real time and to learn through experience. Noteworthy exhibits include a 600-gallon hands-on aquarium, a sustainable city, an art studio complete with colossal easels and on-site smocks and Structures, an exhibit that introduces young minds to the elemental building blocks of architecture. The museum opens at 10 a.m. sharp from Tuesday through Sunday and is closed on Mondays and most nationally-recognized holidays. Admission comes in at just under $9 per visitor. Nearby attractions that make this a worthwhile pit stop for the whole family include Iron Hill Brewery and the shops at Wilmington waterfront.
This Delaware museum is unparalleled in its efforts to preserve the history of aviation. With over 30 different aircrafts at each visitor’s disposal, not to mention its Open Cockpit Saturday program, a monthly event that showcases rare planes and the pilots who once flew them giving first hand recollections of their days in flight, visitors are guaranteed a one-of-a-kind experience. Admission here is free of charge and this is also a pet-friendly facility, making it a win, win for Fido and the family.
This little oddity by the sea is a bit of a novelty for the fact that it’s newer than most of its rivals it’s also independently run, making for some rather unexpected finds between its walls. A visit to the DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum puts you on-deck with some of the most bewildering maritime horrors. This location maintains a collection of over 10,000 shipwreck related objects. Its unique location allots an expansive view of the vast ocean along the Delmarva Peninsula and it’s easily accessible via Ocean City and the Delaware beaches of Rehoboth, Bethany, Slaughter, Dewey, etc. The museum is only open on weekends during the winter months but it’s worth a daytrip if you’re keen on frosty oceans and snow-covered sand. Feel free to visit seven days a week from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. during the summer months and be certain to plan around their annual renovations which take place during January, February and March. One of the coolest aspects about this museum, aside from its little-known presence and interesting niche, is the fact that it features several rotating exhibits so there’s sure to be something new to see with each visit.
This is your classic science museum, brimming with exhibits designed to ignite a sense of adventure and exploration while instilling a deep appreciation for ancient history. Here you can browse dinosaur fossils, gander at the giant squid, learn about mammals, wildflowers and Delaware geology and head home with a cool gift shop souvenir. The Delaware Museum of Natural History features the type of big city scenery found in Philadelphia museums but in Delaware the experience costs just a fraction of the price when you take into consideration the tax-free shopping, the discount admission (just $9 for adults, $7 for children and teens and free for children under three years of age) and the abundance of free parking within walking distance of this destination.
This multi-faceted museum is an ode to just about everything from science to enterprise, from the celebration of working-class heroes to a taste of the upper crust society. A trip here will give you a glimpse into the history of Delaware’s famous DuPont family, the automobile, 19th century machinery, industry, innovation and more. Parking is free and the museum is conveniently situated near an abundance of biking, driving and public transit options. Hagley is currently the only Smithsonian affiliated museum in the region. Its ever-brimming calendar is constantly filling up with adventures from winter break camp to twilight tours. Hagley is a community staple to behold.
If you have, or would like to acquire, a passion for 17th century Dutch history and/or lighthouses, this museum will certainly ignite that curiosity. The Zwaanendael Museum is unlike anything you’re likely to see elsewhere. Its dedication to the preservation of colonial Dutch social history is truly impressive, plus the lighthouses give it an enchanting feel. This is an ideal first date option that makes for a memorable evening.
The amazing history of the Underground Railroad awaits museum goers in this iconic location that was one of the first colonial courthouses ever constructed. This museum takes sightseers on a journey through one of the most celebrated escape stories in history and brings them through the social structures that brought forth the foundation of today’s legal system. This museum is both historically rich and thought provoking. Its sculptures and decorative arts are truly exquisite as well.
Who would have guessed that sound could look so good when placed on display? Founders of the Johnson Victrola Museum centered the entire theme of this unique, and at times, beautifully bizarre museum, on the look of sound. The result is a visual timeline of sound waves that is truly music to the eyes. Museum goers can gather around authentic talking machines, phonographs and other vibrantly colored and masterfully crafted sound equipment curated from the early 1900s. As a bonus, they can also enjoy free parking, free admission, wheelchair friendly amenities and more. If you’re seeking an odd chord in the way of museums, you’re guaranteed to strike it in Dover.
Delaware continues to be a leading state in both collecting and creating history. Be on the lookout for new exhibitions, art installations and interactive tour worthy facilities popping up in and near the region.