Delaware Agricultural Museum undergoes renovations amidst closures

Museum director Carolyn Claypoole and operations assistant Sara Busker observe social distancing and safety protocols while painting Museum space. Submitted photo

DOVER — The Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village sits eerily empty off U.S. 13 in Dover, awaiting patrons who are prohibited from visiting due to state restrictions because of the coronavirus. But instead of letting their historic facility collect dust, museum executive director Carolyn Claypoole is working on various renovation projects to attract more visitors upon reopening.

The museum closed in March along with all other non-essential businesses per Gov. John Carney’s state of emergency orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In the interim, museum leaders decided to take up several renovation projects while their facilities are empty.

The museum already planned to go through with renovations prior to businesses closing, but museum board president Grier Stayton said the forced closure served as an appropriate time to execute them.

“We try to make lemonade out of lemons here. Because with the shutdown we were able to get a lot of [renovations] done that had been put on hold,” Mr. Stayton said. “We’re very happy with what we’ve gotten done.”

The Delaware Agricultural Museum, a privately owned nonprofit organization in Dover, serves as an important historical landmark memorializing 19th and 20th century Delaware.

The 30,000-square-foot facility is home to 10 historic structures from the mid-to-late 19th century. Inside the museum, patrons can view the multiple historical exhibitions, which includes authentic farming equipment. On the museum grounds are the structures that form the historical village, which hosts private events such as weddings and educational programs for children.

The renovations to the museum and village include multiple major projects, such as installing new flooring inside museum facilities, painting the museum interior and installing new air conditioning and heating units. The museum has also refurbished its website, which has been improved to be more user-friendly and informational. Visitors can also expect to see new and improved exhibits upon reopening, such as a new exhibit on rural electrification, which the museum is currently developing.

The St. Thomas Methodist Episcopal Church (circa 1857), which moved to the museum grounds from Millsboro, also has been a major project at the museum since August 2019. Renovations to the church have included restoring the stained glass windows and replacing the siding and roof. Museum officials expect church renovations to finish by mid-to-late June, and they hope to host a rededication ceremony for the church once state restrictions on non-essential businesses and group gatherings are lifted.

Ms. Claypoole said last week that the goal in renovating the museum and village is to bring in new visitors along with returning visitors.

“I hear from a lot of people that they haven’t returned since they were below the age of 12. We’re trying to give people a reason to come back here,” she said.

The funding for the construction projects came from state funding along with private donations. During a normal season, the museum and village can host multiple events and fundraisers, which provides much of the funding the museum needs to stay afloat. With no events happening since mid-March, Ms. Claypoole said the museum is already experiencing financial troubles.

“A lot of our funding comes from event planning. With COVID-19, we’ve lost approximately $35,000 already and are probably going to lose another $10,000 to $15,000,” Ms. Claypoole said.

She hopes the state will soon be able to lift restrictions.

“I’m hoping for everyone’s sake that these [restrictions] start to ease over the summer,” Ms. Claypoole said. “Our survival right now as an organization depends on our ability to generate funds privately.”

Despite having to cancel all recent events, museum officials are hopeful that they will be able to host events later in the summer, as the state works toward a reopening plan. Gov. Carney has identified June 1 for when reopening could begin and has already begun lifting some restrictions.

Specifically, Ms. Claypoole is optimistic that the museum will be able host the Delaware Beer, Wine and Spirits Festival in August, which they also hosted last year. She also hopes the facility will be able to host a celebration for its 40th anniversary in August. She acknowledged they will likely have to establish new social distancing protocols for such events.

Among other renovations, the museum is preparing to enforce new health protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus within the museum. Crews will install Plexiglass barriers at the admissions counter and place walking pathways in the exhibit hall to promote social distancing. According to Ms. Claypoole, the museum will remain compliant with the state’s health and safety regulations once they are allowed to reopen.

“I do think it’s time for the government to start allowing small-to-medium-sized businesses to reopen if we can demonstrate that we have safety protocols in place,” Ms. Claypoole said.

Mr. Stayton reiterated that following state health guidelines will be a priority for the museum once it re-opens.

“We’re going to continue sanitizing and I’m sure we’ll have social distancing in place,” he said. “We’re just trying to be resilient as far as keeping everything moving and looking towards the future.”

Ms. Claypoole said she plans to bring more employees back to work in the coming weeks as the museum prepares to open to the public. Although she is expecting to open before July 4, Ms. Claypoole and other museum officials are making decisions day-to-day in compliance with state restrictions.

Any persons who would like to donate to the museum should visit the donations page of their website at www.agriculturalmuseum.org.
For more information, call (302)-734-1618.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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