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The Du Ponts: Houses and Gardens in the Brandywine

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Nemours

1802, renovated 1923-25
Residence of Alfred I. du Pont

IN DECEMBER 1907 Alfred had divorced his first wife, Bessie Gardner. Ten months later, Alicia divorced her husband, Amory Maddox, and within two weeks married Alfred. They brazened out the resulting scandal (second cousins, they endured family condemnation on both sides) by building a whipped-cream wedding cake of a house. Nothing like Alfred and Alicia’s new house had ever been built in the Brandywine Valley. A century later, the opulent Nemours, now a public museum, remains unique.
 

Page 2: Eleutherian Mills

 

H.F. du Pont (center) visiting his cousin Pierre (right) at Longwood, ca. 1925

Forecourt in the 1920s

Copy of the Frascati Gate Installed by Frank Crowninshield in the Colonnade Garden, 1935

The Colonnade Garden, ca. 1928

 Eleutherian Mills

1802, renovated 1853, 1923-25
Residence of Eleuthère Irénée du Pont

THE HOUSE HAS THE COHESIVE STORYLINE of a survivor: development, maturity, degradation, rescue, and resurrection. The garden’s story is more common: development, maturity, destruction. What makes Eleutherian Mills a bit of a conundrum is that the house—an 1802 structure rebuilt several times in the 19th century, restored in the 1920s, and now a museum—was never more than a mildly interesting piece of architecture, albeit with sentimental value. On the other hand, the garden was considered one of the most successful romantic conceits of the 20th century. Its loss is lamentable.
 

 Page 3: 808 Broom Street

 

Christmas at 808 Broom Street, 1933

808 Broom Street, after the 1906-07 addition

Coleman du Pont’s camper, where he lived while building the DuPont Highway, in the backyard, ca. 1912

808 Broom street

1809, renovated 1906-07
Residence of Coleman Du Pont

THOMAS COLEMAN DU PONT was far more interested in real estate than architecture. After resigning from the presidency of the DuPont Company in 1915, he constructed what was then the largest office space in the world, the Equitable Building in Manhattan. Among other hotels, he owned the McAlpin and the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City; the Bellevue-Stratford in Philadelphia; and the Willard in Washington, D.C. This was the Age of the Skyscraper, but Coleman, who loved performing magic tricks, declared, “I am going to build a monument one hundred miles high and lay it on the ground.” A decade before he became a U.S. senator from Delaware (1921-22, 1924-28), he was a pivotal figure in the Progressive Era’s Good Roads Movement, launching the National Highway Association. In 1911 he spent $2 million of his own money to build the DuPont Highway in Delaware.
 

 Page 4: Pelleport

 

Pelleport, ca. 1900

Pelleport

1881, Residence of Louisa Gerhard du Pont
and Evelina du Pont

PELLEPORT was designed in 1881 as a fashionably moody and baronial residence.… But the big, gray, stone pile lost its charm quickly. The ponderous architectural style combined with the unhappy histories of its successive occupants turned Pelleport into a doleful ruin long before it was torn down in 1954.… The house, complete with a stable and two tenant houses, was therefore available when William’s mother, Louisa, needed a new home. She and her unmarried daughter, Evelina, were without a residence after an 1890 explosion severely damaged their own home, Eleutherian Mills. They stuffed Pelleport with all the heirlooms they could salvage and lived among a congestion of family portraits, Orientalia, and plush draperies until Louisa’s death in March 1900.
 

Page 5: Old Nemours

 

Ethel Hallock du Pont’s children (Hallock, Paulina and Wilhelmina) at Stillpond, after 1913

Old Nemours

1824, renovated 1838, 1890
Residence of Eugene du Pont

IN 1913 ETHEL HALLOCK DU PONT, the widow of William K. du Pont, modeled her new home, Stillpond, after Old Nemours, the house where her husband had been born. Ten years later, her brother-in-law Pierre Samuel du Pont, who had written so scathingly of his childhood at Nemours, bought the house as a wedding present for his niece Paulina, Ethel and William K. du Pont’s daughter “who, as a girl of sixteen, had longed to own Nemours one day.”
 

Page 6: Gibraltar

 

Ann, Hugh and Bayard Sharp in the pool at Gibraltar, ca. 1918

The garden, ca. 1923

Gibraltar

1844, renovated 1915, 1927
Residence of H. Rodney and Isabella du Pont Sharp

GIBRALTAR was the family home of H. Rodney Sharp, his wife, Isabella du Pont, and their four children. Sharp’s influence on du Pont houses and historic preservation in Delaware was enormous. He was singularly responsible for what would later become a distinctive Brandywine style: highly textured, rooted to the past, with a sophisticated sense of place.
 

Page 7: Saint Amour

 

Family and friends, ca. 1900

Saint Amour, ca. 1905

Saint Amour

1892, renovated ca. 1920, 1934
Residence of Mary Belin du Pont

MARY BELIN DU PONT built Saint Amour after her husband, Lammot, died in a nitroglycerine explosion.… In 1900 the house was chosen by family consensus to host the January 1 reunion that celebrated the 100th anniversary of the du Ponts’ arrival in the United States…. This generation of du Ponts re-created the company housing of the 19th century on a more luxurious scale. In some ways, the clustering was reminiscent of that associated with the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York; the Pratts in Glen Cove, Long Island; and the Pews on the Main Line outside Philadelphia… Mary Belin du Pont died in 1913, and her son Lammot took over Saint Amour. He enlarged the house and hired Marian Coffin to design a walled formal garden in front.… When family members gathered at Saint Amour on January 1, 1900, to celebrate their first 100 years in America, 14 family houses were located within a three-mile radius: Eight were partnership houses owned by the company, but the communal system [of family ownership], which had survived for a remarkable three generations, was giving way to private ownership.
 

Page 8: Chevannes

 

Chevannes, ca. 1929

Chevannes

ca. 1926
Residence of Bessie G. du Pont

CHEVANNES was born of a messy emotional triangle. In 1910 Bessie G. du Pont, the first wife of Alfred I. du Pont, was left homeless when Alfred razed Swamp Hall, the house where she had been living. A rambling Victorian frame house near the DuPont Company mills, Swamp Hall was Alfred’s childhood home, and he and Bessie lived there during their 19-year marriage. After their divorce in 1906, Bessie stayed on with her four children. In 1910 she was abruptly informed that the house would be torn down within a week and so moved to downtown Wilmington, where she rented a much smaller dwelling.
 

Page 9: Owl’s Nest

 

Ethel du Pont on her wedding day, June 30, 1937.
Photograph courtesy of the FDR Library

Owl’s Nest

1917
Residence of Eugene du Pont Jr.

OWL’S NEST became one of the most famous houses in America in 1937. On June 30 of that year, debutante Ethel du Pont married Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr., the president’s son, and the reception for 1,300 guests was held at the bride’s childhood home, which appeared to be a storybook setting for romance. A thunderstorm drenched the ceremony, and political differences between the families froze the celebration, but the press duly covered the event as “the wedding of the year.”
 

Excerpted with permission of the author, Acanthus Press and Winterthur Museum & Country Estate.

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