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A Look at Our Own Gilded Age

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Very few call Delaware the Duchy of Du Pont these days, but there was a time when the famous family and its chemical company—one of the first true multinationals—had a degree of influence on local culture that was out of all proportion to its size.

Du Ponts (and duPonts and du Ponts) gave us schools that are still living places. They gave us roads that we drive every day. They gave us museums and arts groups. They gave us a world-class hospital where cutting-edge medicine is advanced as a matter of course. And they gave us great estates such as Longwood and Winterthur as both monuments to a rich past and a gateway to the future of horticulture and art conservation.

I came of age in a time when the du Pont influence was changing, but just the same, that influence is still very much alive, so a fascination with the family has never died. Anyone who has driven Beaver Valley Road and seen Granogue on a distant hilltop, looming as the very vision of another time and place, must have wondered about the life and lifestyle of the family that has called it home.

This month we’re pleased to give you a glimpse of such places. Thanks to Vicki Saltzman at Winterthur, we have been permitted to excerpt Maggie Lidz’s beautiful new book, “The du Ponts: Houses and Gardens in the Brandywine,” published by Acanthus Press.

The book shows us 25 homes and tells the stories of the people who created them and lived there. In the book, you can see places such as Winterthur and the recently renovated Nemours as they existed long, long ago. You can also see how places such as Goodstay in Wilmington still look much as they did in the past. But the real treat is getting a glimpse at homes that were lost many years ago, as well as rarely seen places such as Granogue. How many of us have wondered about it as we’ve walked the footpaths through the Woodlawn Trustees property?

Lest we think of these places and people as vestiges or relics, please remember that the family is very much a vital force and its traditions still alive. Having had the great privilege of attending a party at Big Bend last spring, as well as a recent gathering at the home of Pete and Elise du Pont, I can assure you that a desire for beautiful design continues, as does an influence in our daily affairs. It is a special thing.
 

 

Mark’s Day Book
  • My very great thanks to Kim Hoey and Terry Strine of Leadership Delaware for their invitation to hear former Governor Pete du Pont speak to the group about leadership and successful political campaigns. The reception was lovely, and Elise du Pont is a most gracious hostess. Listening to Frank Biondi and the governor trade stories from the old days was a rare treat. This is why we love politics.
     
  • It was a pleasure to share a cup of coffee with Ed Tucker of People to People International. Ed leads a local group interested in exploring world affairs and celebrating various cultures. You will see more about the group in an upcoming issue.
     
  • Also my thanks to Ellen Rendle of the Delaware Historical Society for taking the time to show us vintage photos of the First State. I hope you’ll visit Delaware History Center and other guardians of our fascinating past. I promise that those hours will be well spent.
     
  • More thanks, these to chef Dave Banks for explaining to me what a nage was during a recent visit to his Harry’s Seafood Grill. My sister, a longtime resident of foodie San Francisco, enjoyed our night out during a recent visit home. Why ask about a nage? We had dined at Rehoboth’s always stellar Nage just a few days before. I just had to know.
     
  • A long-overdue welcome-to-Delaware to event planning ace Lou Marocco. It was good to catch up at Buckley’s Tavern.
     
  • The Stroud Water Research lecture on Lord Howe Island was fascinating, dinner in the Longwood Gardens Conservatory lovely. Thank you to Liz Brookings for the invitation. Having corners of the place to yourself—and bumping into the legendary Frolic Weymouth—was a delight.
     
  • A congratulations to my friend Janell Ostroski, wife of managing editor Drew Ostroski. Witnessing her investiture as a Family Court commissioner was a real honor. I have known Janell for a long time. She will make Family Court very proud.

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