Smithsonian exhibit about rural America is coming to Harrington

HARRINGTON — A Smithsonian touring exhibition highlighting how rural America has changed over the past century will arrive in Harrington in November.

Crossroads: Change in Rural America opens November 19 at 1 p.m. at the Greater Harrington Historical Society Museum at 108 Fleming St. The historical society is hosting the exhibit in partnership with Delaware Humanities and the Smithsonian Institute’s Museums on Main Street program.

The exhibit focuses on rural America from the 20th century to the present, said Robbie Davis, project manager for Museums on Main Street. It’s about “what it means to live in the country,” she said.

“(The exhibit talks) about the ways that rural America has changed; the way it fits—or doesn’t fit—with popular culture’s expectations of rural America,” said Ms. Davis.

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There will also be plenty of material appealing to Delaware, said historical society curator Doug Poore. There will be interactive displays, televisions, reading material and more. Visitors to the exhibition can write about their own experiences of how their communities have changed over the years, he said, and some of the most interesting responses could be featured.

There’s a lot to learn.

How much has rural Delaware changed since the beginning of the last century?

“Only by a factor of a thousand,” said Mr. Poore.

Railroads came, creating cities in their wake and exploding the populations of existing cities. Income and quality of life increased as goods and people could move faster – completely changing the way farms got products to market. Before there were trains, Mr. Poore said, the best way to get from Delaware to a place like Philadelphia was to take a day-long trip on a steamboat.

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“It affected everything. I mean, there’s just no other way,” said Mr. Poore.

And as roads began crisscrossing the state — like the DuPont Highway built in the 1920s — the travel they facilitated helped Delaware’s beaches grow into the gargantuan attractions they are today.

Despite all of these changes, rural Delaware is still very much about agriculture, Mr. Poore said. But all the changes were gradually fading away from something elusive that Mr. Poore found difficult to define — people’s sense of community.

“When a farmer needed to gather his crops and he was preparing for bad weather, every other farmer would help him bring his things,” said Mr. Poore. “No one understands what that was like,” he said, “because it’s not happening.”

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He said the exhibit will provide exhibit visitors with an opportunity to see how all of these massive economic, social and cultural changes have been unfolding in Delaware’s cities.

“It gives you a chance to see… how this city existed,” said Mr. Poore.

The exhibition was all over the country. Versions of these are currently available in Massachusetts and South Dakota, as well as Delaware’s own Ocean View.

The exhibition is open from November 19th to January 28th in Harrington.

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