Experience Delaware’s Natural History at Iron Hill Museum & Science Center!
Early Delawareans: 2000 BC to 1600 AD
The existence of a workable, crypto-crystalline rock called Jasper was discovered on Iron Hill by Native American hunter-gather bands that traveled throughout the region harvesting resources necessary for their survival. Jasper, along with chert and chalcedony, is restricted to a small region call the Delaware Chalcedony Complex and provided native tool-markers with an excellent material to make stone tools from. Iron Hill was geographically the southern-most point of access for this important resource. Groups who were traveling south would have stopped to quarry stone and fashion tools before continuing their journey into areas where suitable stone materials were unavailable. Groups from the south may likewise have traveled north to Iron Hill to acquire necessary stone resources for tool making. It is likely that the Iron Hill site was used from Paleo through the Woodland II periods, since artifacts from each cultural period have been discovered in the area.
In the early 1700’s land in New Castle, including Iron Hill, was discovered to have large deposits of a valuable iron ore. This land soon became known as the “Welsh Tract” due to the fact that a large number of employees in the iron mine came from the iron manufacturing districts of Wales. Soon after the discovery of the iron ore several small shafts used for mining the ore were opened throughout the area. In 1723 Samuel James built a forge on land near Iron Hill. This effort attracted the attention of some of the leading iron masters of Pennsylvania, eight of whom formed a company for the purpose of buying the land and building a furnace to be called the “Abbington Furnace.” In May 1726 they erected a furnace and forge on Christiana Creek which they named “Abbington Iron Works.” Although this company failed only a few years later, Samuel James continued to work the mine 1735. Since the failure of Abbington Iron Works, the Iron Hill Ore Pits were worked twice more. From 1841- 1862 D.C. Wood of Philadelphia operated the mine and after 1862 George F. Whittaker of Principio Furnace operated the mine until 1884 when the ore deposits failed.
The Iron Hill Schoolhouse
Iron Hill School, constructed in 1923 in a rural area of northern Delaware, was one of more than 80 schools for African-American children built between 1919 and 1928 as part of philanthropist Pierre Samuel du Pont’s “Delaware experiment.” The early 20th century in America was a period characterized by nationwide social reform and is often referred to as the Progressive Era. Delaware’s educators were eager to reform their schools, which were often old, too small, and in very poor condition. Pierre Samuel du Pont was a member of the family that established the Du Pont Company in the early 19th century in Wilmington, Delaware and strongly advocated for better schools in Delaware. Using his own money, du Pont established a two-million dollar trust fund for remodeling existing school buildings and constructing new ones, especially schools for African-American children. A popular belief of the Progressive Era, and one shared by Pierre Samuel du Pont, was that a well-designed school building improved the overall quality of education received by students. Therefore, du Pont wanted to hire the best architect possible for the important work of improving Delaware’s education system. du Pont hired James Oscar Betelle, a nationally-known architect of schools, to design his schools. Betelle recommended a classroom for 40 students be 24 feet wide by 32 feet long. Natural light was considered very important in the design, and had to be unilateral (meaning one-sided) and come to the pupils’ left side. Therefore, windows could only be located to the left side of the buildings. Also, every school should have blackboards in the front of the room, and on the opposite wall from the windows, closets for storage, movable seats, a room for hanging hats and coats, specific play equipment, and a place to prepare hot lunches. du Pont’s African American schools also had something that many homes and white schools of the time did not: indoor bathrooms. On May 17, 1954 the United States Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. The Board of Education ended racial segregation. Iron Hill School continued to operate until September 1965 when it was shut down and its students were integrated into the surrounding schools. In 1967 the Delaware Academy of Science purchased the building and transformed it into the Iron Hill Museum.