HARRINGTON — A traveling Smithsonian exhibit highlighting how rural America has transformed over the past century will arrive in Harrington in November.
Crossroads: Change in Rural America opens Nov. 19 at 1 p.m. at the Greater Harrington Historical Society’s 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 director for Museums on Main Street. It looks at “what it means to live in a rural place,” he said.
“(The exhibit talks) about the ways that rural America has changed; the way it fits in — or doesn't fit in — with popular culture expectations of what rural America is,” Mr. Davis said.
There will also be plenty of material that speaks to Delaware, said the historical society’s curator, Doug Poore. There will be interactive displays, TVs, things to read and more. Visitors to the exhibit will be able to write about their own experiences with how their communities have changed over the years, he said, and some of the most interesting answers could be featured.
There’s a lot to learn about.
Just how much has rural Delaware changed since the beginning of the last century?
“Only by a factor of a thousand,” Mr. Poore said.
Railroads came, creating towns in their wake and exploding the populations of existing ones. Incomes and quality of life went up as the speed goods and people could move about increased rapidly — completely changing how farms got products to market. Before trains, Mr. Poore said, the best way to get from Delaware to a place like Philadelphia was a day-long trip in a steamboat.
“It impacted everything. I mean, there's just no other way around it,” Mr. Poore said.
And when roads began to crisscross the state — such as DuPont Highway, built in the 1920s — the travel they facilitated helped Delaware beaches to grow into the behemoth attractions they are today.
Despite all those changes, rural Delaware is still very much about agriculture, Mr. Poore said. But all the changes gradually wore away at something elusive, which Mr. Poore struggled to define — peoples’ sense of community.
“When a farmer had to bring in his crop and it was getting ready to have bad weather, every other farmer would go help him bring his stuff,” Mr. Poore said. “Nobody understands what that was like," he said, “because it doesn't happen.”
He said the exhibit will offer visitors to the exhibit a chance to see how all these massive economic, societal and cultural shifts played out in Delaware towns.
“This gives them a chance to see … how that town existed,” Mr. Poore said.
The exhibit has been all over the country. Versions of it are open right now in Massachusetts and South Dakota, as well as in Delaware’s own Ocean View.
The exhibit will be open in Harrington from Nov. 19 to Jan. 28.