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Mansions of the du Pont family built on gunpowder, marked by gardens

November, 2010

Brandywine Valley, near Wilmington, Delaware, is the perfect place to head for a weekend getaway. You can immerse yourself in luxury, visiting a few of the grand homes of America (those of the du Pont family) while driving through the relaxing countryside.

To understand where all the wealth came from, start at the Hagley Museum, where E.I. du Pont landed when he came from France and established the family fortune selling (surprise!) blasting powder and gunpowder. Besides the obvious use in war, these were used in the building of a nation: canals, roads, tunnels, to quarry rock and clear land.

Nemours Mansion and Gardens, built in 1909, was the home of Alfred I. du Pont. Photo:Sandra Phillips and Stan Posner

The museum’s 130 hectares include the original gunpowder mills used from 1802-1921 and the Eleuthurian Mills and Garden, the first du Pont house built in America. The home is filled with antiques and memorabilia from five generations. From the 1870s on, dynamite made gunpowder obsolete and the family had to think of a new direction – the one you probably know them for – chemical inventions. There are some interactive science exhibits relating to these: nylon stockings, an astronaut’s space suit, Nomex coats that protect firemen, etc. 200 Hagley Rd., 302-658-2400,

The Nemours Mansion and Gardens was the home of Alfred I. du Pont. It’s an opulent 102-room Louis XVI-style chateau built in 1909-10, and 36 rooms are on view, filled with exquisite antique furniture, rugs, tapestries, paintings and china. The 120 hectares have formal gardens with fountains. See if you can spot the gates once owned by Catherine the Great or Henry VIII. Alapocas Drive and Powder Mill Rd. (Rte 141), 302-651-6912, 800-651-6912,

Winterthur Museum & Country Estate is the former home of Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969), who used his fortune to collect antiques from the American arts and crafts period. He felt these objects had not received much attention, and decided to collect them to “show how America had been.” This opulent, early 1900s home houses 85,000 items in 175 period rooms. The items on exhibit were used in America between 1640 and 1860. Du Pont’s horticulturist instincts are shown off in nearly 400 hectares of hills, streams, meadows and forests. 5105 Kennett Pike, 800-448-3883 or 302-888-4600,

The Best Western Brandywine Valley Inn is a huge surprise. The grand lobby, with its raised panel mahogany walls and grand piano, should have given us a hint, but we were not prepared to sleep in a museum! The Winterthur Reproduction Suites and Chambers, created by the Winterthur Design Department, is set with museum-quality American-made reproductions of fine furniture. 1807 Concord Pike 800-537-7772 or 302-656-9436,



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