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
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.
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 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 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 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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.