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Brandywine Valley

Du Pont Country

As all CEOs know, Delaware is a desirable state in which to incorporate. But unless you are traveling to Wilmington to attend board or shareholders' meetings it might seem like an unusual destination. Wilmington, located at the base of the Brandywine Valley, is within striking distance of many memorable history-laden sites. The town is a great base from which to explore them.

The Brandywine Valley, that small corner where southeastern Pennsylvania meets northern Delaware, is a throwback to a vanished era, but one whose heritage is fiercely preserved. The Brandywine River is really not more than a creek, two east and west branches meeting at Chadds Ford and flowing in a 20-mile journey to join the Delaware River at Wilmington. Talented and creative people like the Wyeth and the du Pont families found the area to be a place where they could pursue their dreams of success and leave behind a legacy for all to enjoy.

Winterthur Museum and Gardens

Winterthur was home and hobby to Henry Francis du Pont, a superb landscaper and the world's most prodigious collector of American decorative arts made or used in this country from 1640 to 1860. As museums go Winterthur is still in its infancy and is not as widely known as might be expected given the premier quality of its contents and its gardens. www.winterthur.org

Du Pont inherited the original 18th-century country house in 1927, transformed it into a 175-room home and moved out in 1951 when it became a museum. He bought facades and entire rooms of gracious American residences and restored and installed them here. Du Pont then filled the quarters with appropriate furniture, art and accessories. He purchased entire portions of the house of a Philadelphia mayor, a Pennsylvania Dutch farm, a 19th-century Delaware inn named the Red Lion and the family room of a 17th-century Essex, Massachusetts dwelling. A free-standing staircase and several rooms at Winterthur had originally been part of an estate called Montmorenci in North Carolina.

Du Pont had a discerning collector's eye and a keen sense of imagination. For example, four walls, each from a different building, face each other to form an enclosed courtyard of cobblestone, brick and slate. Illuminated as though it were dusk in the 18th century, the courtyard serves as entrance to a tavern so authentic you want to sit down and order a tankard of ale.

Each room is a marvel in its own way—the old general store filled with just about everything people bought in bygone times and the Chinese parlor that was built to accommodate wallpaper hand painted in 1770 in a continuous panorama of Chinese village life. There are about 5000 pieces of Chinese porcelain, a figure worth noting as a benchmark for the magnitude of du Pont's collecting. He also accumulated chandeliers, mirrors, paintings, maps, candlesticks, statues, tapestries, wallpaper, pewter, clocks, silverware, vases, knife urns and more—all that was beautiful, valuable and gratifying to own.

As he left his old dwelling for his new one, du Pont was asked how he felt about moving. His response was, "I'm still the chief gardener here at Winterthur."

His former home is the ultimate decorators' showcase.

Longwood Gardens

An estate of 1,050 acres with several hundred of them under intense cultivation, 1,700 fountains, three and one-half acres of conservatories and 11,000 different varieties of plants and flowers is a staggering statistic. They encircle the relatively modest Kennett Square weekend house that was purchased by the industrial magnate Pierre S. du Pont, cousin of Henry Francis du Pont, in 1906. Another confounding detail—du Pont designed every garden himself. He briefly employed a landscape firm, but was so dissatisfied with the results that thereafter he laid out every garden himself. He and his wife traveled frequently to Europe to garner inspiration from villas and gardens.

Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA
(credit: Edwin Fancher)

Because Pierre S. du Pont was a man of eclectic tastes—he enjoyed entertaining and theater—Longwood Gardens is more than an arboretum. Fireworks, colorful fountain displays set to music, organ and vocal concerts and other special events take place throughout the year. www.longwoodgardens.org

New Castle, Delaware

New Castle, Delaware was settled by the Dutch in 1651 and the subsequent centuries seem to have passed it by. America likes reconstructed Colonial towns, but New Castle, the state's first capital, has an authenticity about it. Working-class people would have lived in the two-story tiny homes that line the unevenly paved brick sidewalks. The houses are still occupied and the gardens are well tended. In 1804 George Read, scion of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, completed work on the "grandest house in Delaware." The federal-style mansion remains the most elaborate residence in New Castle.

Nemours Mansion and Gardens

Nemours is Alfred I. du Pont's 102-room French-inspired château. Built in the style of Louis XVI, the mansion is reminiscent of Versailles and set amid 300 acres of natural woodlands and colorful manicured gardens. The house contains antique furniture, Oriental rugs and tapestries dating back to the 1700s. Accouterments of the family's life in this century—vintage automobiles, a bowling alley and bottling room—are also on view. www.nemours.org/no/mansion

Hagley Museum and Library

Hagley Museum is the original site of du Pont mills, started in 1802, and the family's first American home. It is an outdoor museum and its many parts are spread over 240 acres along the shores of the Brandywine River. Workers in the 19th century lived on the property and part of their community has been restored. Eleutherian Mills, the Georgian-style home of E. I. du Pont, founder of the company, is high on a hill above the remains of the original powder yards. Demonstrations taking place at various shops and exhibits illustrate the powder making process. www.hagley.lib.de.us

Brandywine River Museum

The Brandywine River Museum is housed in a brick gristmill, circa 1864, on the banks of the river. Three generations of Wyeths are shown here, but other American artists share the space, too. N. C. Wyeth moved to the area early in the century to study with Howard Pyle. The museum owns some of Pyle's best works. Landscapes painted by Edward Moran and Asher Durand, who like the Wyeths were inspired by the local scene, are displayed, too. www.brandywinemuseum.org


Winterthur Museum and Gardens, Route 52, 6 miles northwest of Wilmington, DE 19735. Tel. 302-888-4600, 800-448-3883. Open Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Reserve in advance by phone for one- and two-hour decorative arts tours

Longwood Gardens, U. S. Route 1, northeast of Kennett Square, PA 19348. Tel. 610-388-1000. Gardens open at 9 a.m. and conservatories at 10 a.m., close at 6 p.m., April to October, close at 5 p.m., November to March. Open some evenings for special events. For a schedule listing events send SASE to Schedule, Longwood Gardens, PO Box 501, Kennett Square, PA 19348-0501.

George Read II House and Garden, 42 The Strand, New Castle, DE 19720. Tel. 302-658-2400. Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday; Sunday, noon to 4 p.m., March to December. Open weekends only in January and Febuary. Pick up a map at the museum and follow the Heritage Trail or arrange a walking tour of the town. Advance reservations needed. Old Court House, Old Presbyterian Church, Amstel House Museum and Old Dutch House should interest visitors, too.

Nemours, PO Box 109, Rockland Road near routes 141 and 202, Wilmington, DE 19899. Tel. 302-651-6912. Open Tuesday to Sunday, May to November. Tours start at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Call for reservations.

Hagley Museum and Library, PO Box 3630, Route 141, Wilmington, DE 19807. Tel. 302-658-2400. Open daily March 15 to December 30, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; open weekends Januaruy 1 to March 14, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Brandywine River Museum, P.O. Box 141, U.S. Routes 1 and 100, Chadds Ford, PA 19317. Tel. 610-388-2700. Open daily 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

There are more than 25 other historic attractions and museums in the Brandywine Valley.

For information contact Brandywine Valley Tourist Information Center at Longwood Gardens, Route 1, Kennett Square, PA 19348. Tel. 800-228-9933. Information also available from the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1300 Market St. Wilmington, DE 19801. Tel. 302-652-4088.

Where To Stay

The granite block facade of the Hotel du Pont is big and square and looks as though it might belong to a large hospitality chain. But when the doorman guides you through the entrance, the subsequent impression quells the first one. Italian and French artisans carved, gilded, painted and polished and laid marble and mosaic for several years to create an elegant classic lobby in the style of Europe's grand and famous hostelries. Marble walls and columns soar to an ornately-coffered ceiling, gleaming mahogany balconies ring the double-height room and a beaded crystal chandelier lights up the space.

If the hotel is not precisely what you might expect to find in downtown Wilmington, it must be remembered that it was fashioned to the taste of Pierre S. du Pont. Early in the century he and John J. Rascob, secretary-treasurer of the DuPont company, decided that Wilmington needed deluxe lodgings for corporate travelers.

The hotel opened in 1913, but one of its most impressive rooms was added in 1918. Again craftspeople were imported from Europe. Thirty of them stayed for a year to decorate the Gold Ballroom in sgraffito, a kind of carving in plaster, the depth of which creates different shadings and colors. Famous women in history is the theme on the walls. Two twelve-foot high walnut doors are fashioned with birds and urns and set in marble carved to look like basket weaving.

Perhaps the most unusual feature of the Hotel du Pont is the on premises Playhouse with a seating capacity of 1,250. The hotel's earliest guests enjoyed after dinner professional performances here. Today the theater hosts six Broadway-type productions a year, starring some of the top names in show business.

Not long ago the Hotel du Pont updated its comfortable and attractive 216 guest rooms and was awarded the prestigious Gold Key Award for international hotel design. Pierre S. du Pont would have been proud.

Hotel du Pont, 11th & Market Streets, Wilmington, DE 19801, tel. 1-800-441-9019 or 302-594-3100. a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, 800-554-5713 and Historic Hiotels of America. Rates start at $149. www.dupont.com/hotel/home.htm

Where To Dine

The Green Room at the Hotel duPont

Opulent and old world is the description that best fits the Hotel du Pont's formal restaurant, the Green Room. It features fumed oak paneling that rises two and one-half stories high and is interspersed with tall arched windows; a coffered ceiling recessed with oak beams, accented with gold leaf; and six handcrafted gold chandeliers. A harpist seranades diners from above in the musician's gallery.

Happily the food matched the expectations. Dinner in the Green Room is a memorable experience. Slices of tuna carpaccio were so fresh and translucent that the colors of the red pepper and green pesto sauce shined through them. A galette of lump crab meat, fried to a crisp, was bathed in champagne sauce and surrounded by silky shrimp mousse providing subtle contrasts. A salad of harvest greens was a composition of parts. The well-dressed maché came with grilled quail and an unusual polenta cake filled with diced red pepper and corn kernels. Openfaced lobster ravioli was imaginative, an entire lobster spread on a sheet of pasta and covered with a Riesling sauce light enough to compliment the other flavors in the dish. Two thick venison chops were juicy and tasty and were paired with an unusual side dish of fried wonton skins filled with mashed potatoes. The dessert, lemon mousse, was uninspiring. But with a dinner like that, we might have considered skipping dessert.

Chadds Ford Inn

The Chadds Ford Inn dates back to 1736 when it was known as a stop for travelers, " the tavern at Chad's fording place." On a recent Friday night the bar was crowded with neighbors drinking under a friendly roof. Throughout the years the inn has served as the watering hole for local artists. It must be the ambiance that draws them. The old stone building with its two candlelit dining rooms is dripping with charm, but the food on the whole was lacking. Popovers arrived at the table in a soggy state as though they had been hanging around for awhile. Large, plump New Zealand mussels were insipid. We saw a nearby table send theirs back. Snapper soup was passable, but did not measure up to some of the delectable versions we've sampled. The grilled quail had an off-taste and the tuna had none. The salad was nice and the vegetables were properly cooked. An apple-blueberry-apricot strudel would have been palatable had it been served at room temperature instead of straight from the refrigerator. The service was excellent. All that Chadds Ford Inn needs is a new chef, one that restores the kitchen to what it probably once was. No restaurant could have lasted this long unless it had seen better days.

The Green Room, Hotel du Pont, 11th & Market Street, Wilmington, DE 19801. Tel. 1-800-441-9019, 302-594-3100. Open for dinner on Friday and Saturday only; open for breakfast, lunch and Sunday brunch. Expensive. www.dupont.com/hotel/dining.htm

Chadds Ford Inn, Route 1 and 100, Chadds Ford, PA 19137. Tel. 610-388-7361. Open for lunch, Monday to Saturday and Sunday brunch; open all week for dinner. Moderate.

Fall 1995