Where Was ‘Dead Poets Society’ Filmed?

Admit it: At least once after watching Dead Poets Society, you wanted to attend Welton Academy.

It’s not an unpopular opinion. The 1989 drama starring Robin Williams not only offers an inspiration story, but makes us want to put on a cozy sweater and play in a pile of leaves. Setting is a critical part of any great film, as it allows us to become immersed in the story being told on the big screen. So where exactly do you need to go to walk the fictional halls of Welton Academy?

Surprisingly, it’s not Vermont, where the film’s story is set. Instead, you need to make a stop in the tiny wonder of Delaware, specifically, Middletown, DE. The first (and to date only) major film to shoot in the First State, Dead Poets Society filmed a majority of its material at St. Andrews School. The co-ed boarding school lent its hallowed halls to the crew behind the film to create the fictional Welton Academy. The rest of the film features locations throughout Middletown, New Castle, and Wilmington, DE.

Screengrab via Walt Disney Studios

So, how did a small town in Delaware become the perfect backdrop for an Academy Award-nominated film? It all came down to snow. Snow is a lot cheaper when it’s real. When Peter Weir came on as the director for Dead Poets Society, he knew that he wanted the film to capture the look of a New England boarding school. Previous director Jeff Kanew originally decided on shooting the film in Rome, Georgia, at Berry College. However, it doesn’t snow in Georgia, and if you’re going to pretend to be in New England, you have to have snow.

Forced to look for a new school to shoot at, Weir and his location scouting team searched though 100 new options for shooting locations. But when they came upon the images of St. Andrews School, Weir immediately knew this was his ideal pick for Welton Academy. Tucked away in a wood-filled lot, with Gothic architecture and nearly 60 years of history, it nailed the image Weir had for the film in his head. Once they got the go-ahead for filming at the school, it was just a matter of finding the other ideal locations for shooting.

The cast of 'Dead Poets Society' outside the Everett Theatre.
Screengrab via Walt Disney Studios

Thankfully, Historic New Castle has cobblestone streets and colonial-style homes, making it feel like New England. And the local theater in Middletown, the Everett Theatre, was the perfect stage (no pun intended) for the film’s fictional production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, fans will be disappointed to hear the cave where the titular Society had their meetings is not what it seems.

The cave scenes in Dead Poets Society were based on the Beaver Valley Cave (previously known as the Wolf Rock Cave). Unfortunately, the cave isn’t easily accessible, making it nearly impossible to film in. So all the cave scenes in the film were in a man-created cave in a warehouse in Wilmington, DE. We apologize for those hoping to take a trip to the cave to read poetry with the bros.

While the majority of people probably don’t even think twice about Dead Poets Society, the small wonder was changed by the filming of the hit film. Many people in the state were featured as extras in the film, or got the chance to interact with Robin Williams as he was staying in Wilmington during the shoot. The Everett Theater, in memory of Williams, even blacked out the chair he sat in during the theater scene in the film upon his death in 2014. Maybe Keating’s statement about reminding ourselves “we must constantly look at things in a different way,” isn’t so wrong after all. Such a simple movie to most, yet to this one town, the tagline of the movie hits hard: “He made their lives extraordinary.”

 

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