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Greenville & Hockessin Life

Steam Rises at Auburn Heights

Apr 30, 2015 10:26AM ● By Kevin

Steam locomotive giving rides to visitors on a Steamin’ Day. Credit Mike Ciosek

Less than five minutes from the center of Hockessin, on first Sundays throughout the summer and fall, motorists along Route 82 in Delaware witness a historic estate come to life during Steamin’ Days at Auburn Heights. The grass parking lot fills, the gates open, and visitors are greeted by sights and sounds unfamiliar in our 21st-century world. Small locomotives on a 1/8-size railroad circle the property and it is not unfamiliar for the youngest visitors to jump up and down as the train passes them at the site’s entrance. As a visitor walks up the drive, a volunteer reminds them to mind the cars as they can sneak up on an unsuspecting visitor. Whether the automobile is the 1915 steam-powered Stanley Mountain Wagon or the 1916 Rauch & Lang electric car, both are unobtrusively quiet as they make their circles around the 1897 stone mansion. Upon cresting the hill of the drive, the scent of fresh popcorn from a vintage steam-powered popper greets you, and the rest of the site unfolds. Options for things to do abound; here a visitor can climb into a historic vehicle and experience traveling as you might in 1910, watch a firing up demonstration that explains once-prominent technologies, and enter the Marshall Steam Museum to explore the birth of the automobile and how it involved into a mainstay of American life.

Life was different when Israel Marshall first moved his family into the newly built Auburn Heights mansion in 1897. At that time, few trees dotted the landscape, the Marshall Brother Paper Company was a booming enterprise along the Red Clay Creek a few minutes’ walk from the house, and the train still stopped at numerous points along the creek, including Yorklyn, to serve the numerous mills in operation. In time, three generations of the Marshall family would call the estate home. In November of 2008, Tom and Ruth Marshall, the third and final generation, gifted to Delaware State Parks the estate land and buildings, while donating to the Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve, a 501(c)3 charitable organization, the extraordinary vehicles and trains of the Marshall collection and care of the Marshall Steam Museum. Today, the two organizations work in partnership to preserve this slice of Delaware history and to make it available to the public.

Turning 100 at Auburn Heights

The Marshall Steam Museum features the world’s largest operating collection of steam cars built by the Stanley Motor Carriage Company. In 2015, the museum’s Stanley Mountain Wagon Model 820 turns 100. The only 15-passenger version of the Stanley’s commercial offerings, the Model 820 was the largest passenger vehicle ever built by the company. Originally designed to handle the mountains of Estes Park, Colorado, the first Mountain Wagons served as shuttles for travelers and their luggage between the railroad stations and various tourist destinations.  Today, the museum’s Mountain Wagon delights visitors by giving rides on event days and participating in numerous community events. 

Volunteers Make the Difference

Wishing to share his knowledge and passion for steam technology, Tom Marshall founded the “Steam Team” in 1997 by inviting an interested group of people to his home and workshop to learn how to operate and maintain steam vehicles. The Steam Team evolved into the Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve, a nonprofit organization established in 2004 that today maintains the museum’s historic collections. In 2014, the volunteer corps of 90 individuals logged over 9,000 volunteer hours through their roles as train operators, tour guides, drivers, and event helpers. While the organization is still young, it is making strides every day to increase both their its public days and its educational programming and volunteer help is invaluable to the organization.

Steamin’ Days at Auburn Heights

During Steamin’ Days at Auburn Heights, the site truly comes alive. Here visitors are encouraged to climb into an antique automobile or board a train and experience what it was like to travel at the turn of the 20th century. There is something at Auburn Heights for everyone, whether you are 2 or 92.

First Sundays, June through November

12:30 to 4:30pm

Plus Steamin’ Halloween, Sunday, October 25 and Steamin’ Thanksgiving, Saturday, November, 28

Included with all admission options:

  • Fresh steam-popped popcorn from our vintage popper
  • A Firing Up Demonstration, to see how we set a Stanley in motion
  • Entry to the Marshall Steam Museum, featuring the world’s largest operating collection of Stanley steam cars plus a 1930s working Lionel electric trains display, a hands-on engine display, kids activities, and exhibits

Tours of the antique-furnished Auburn Heights mansion, which dates to 1897, are also available, along with rides on the Auburn Valley Railroad and in select antique automobiles from the Marshall Collection. Ticket prices vary. Visit for complete details.

Written by Jesse Gagnon, Director of Education, Marshall Steam Museum and Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve

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