Weekend in Wilmington, Delaware
Shows Magnificence of DuPont
Photos by Tim Boxer
PEND a delightful weekend in Wilmington, Delaware, and you will learn how much this pleasant place is infused with the social and economic fabric of the DuPont legacy. Thank goodness for that munificent family, for it has contributed enormously to the cultural well-being of this great city.
As this is the 200th anniversary of the founding of the DuPont Company, it is a great time to visit.
Most of the places I saw had the family stamp. I stayed at the Hotel du Pont in downtown. The imposing building is part hotel, part Playhouse Theater and part corporate headquarters of du Pont.
Built 89 years ago, the Hotel du Pont is a prime example of European craftsmanship in America. No wonder such notables as Prince Rainier of Monaco, Ingrid Bergman, John F. Kennedy and Katharine Hepburn chose to overnight here.
All 206 rooms and 11 suites were renovated a decade ago at a cost of $40 million. My room was extremely comfortable, with bar, color TV, safe, two phone lines and a large leather-inlaid desk.
Since I missed the musical Titanic on Broadway, I made sure to see the touring company at the 1200-seat theatre here. I did not regret it. The show was absolutely riveting. The last offering of the season is Swing, playing May 10-19.
In keeping with the spirit of the musical production, the hotel came up with a creative menu offering what would have been the last dinner of the ill-fated cruise.
After Champagne, iceberg martinis and hors d’oeuvres, you were treated with a spectacular dinner consisting of quail eggs in aspic with caviar, pea soup, lobster with potatoes, tournedos with morels on a bed of braised cabbage, quail with cherries, asparagus, fruit salad, sponge cake with strawberries and cream, and custom roasted coffee. Plus a current vintage wine comparable to what was served in 1912.
All that for a mere $135. Well worth it, no?
Service was attentive and gracious, as you would expect where the ambience is not glitzy or trendy but elegant with timeless charm, and the public rooms are adorned with oak paneling, crystal and gold chandeliers, and priceless artworks, many from the Wyeth family and other Brandywine artists.
For your reservation at this historic hotel, suffused with years of tradition, call 800 441-9019 or 302 594-3100.
Nina at Hagley
HE du Pont dynastic roots were planted in 1801 when Eleuthere Irenee du Pont, who’d emigrated from Nemours, France, the previous year, formed E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Cie which he incorporated in Paris.
Irenee had worked at the national powder works in France, where he served as secretary to the famed chemist Lavoisier. So it wasn’t a stretch for Irenee to establish his own gunpowder plant on the banks of the Brandywine River.
That plant has since sprouted into the gigantic DuPont science company with branches in 70 countries.
Inside the Hagley kitchen
Naturally I had to check out the original powder mills, since transformed into the Hagley Museum and Library on 235 acres. The machine shop, built in 1870, boasts the best machine tools of its time.
Standing in the first DuPont company office, I marveled at how the family could have built such a mammoth enterprise as the E.I. du Pont Gunpowder Works – which contributed enormously to America’s industrial growth from 1802 to 1921 – without computers, faxes, beepers and cellular phones!
Two new long-term exhibits are being added at Hagley to commemorate the 200th anniversary of DuPont Company.
Nina in the Hagley office
The first floor of the reception building will show the first century in an exhibit called, DuPont The Explosives Era. The exhibit on the third floor, DuPont Science and Discovery, details the company’s progress in the 20th century, including a hands-on exploration of materials science.
A visit can last from two hours to a full day. There are free parking, lunch and snack facilities, and picnic areas. For more information call 302-658-2400.
EXT stop was Winterthur, a lavish country estate established in 1837 by Irenee’s daughter and her husband. Since 1951, the exquisite property has been transformed into America’s premier museum and garden.
On view is a magnificent collection of American antiques and decorative arts, arranged in 175 period rooms. On view are furniture, textiles, paintings, prints, ceramics, needlework and metalwork – all made or used in America between 1640 and 1840.
The Du Pont dining room contains Federal-style furniture. The huge mahogany table was made in Baltimore and the chairs in New York, just after the Revolution.
Personally, I was struck by the wild designs in the Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens. Of course, you know that a tureen is a large, decorative soup vessel that makes an imposing presence on the dinner table.
These ceramic and silver pieces came from Europe, China and the United States from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The vast research library draws scholars for the study of American arts and material culture.
The surrounding landscape is a wonderland of waterways, rolling meadows and woodlands. Winterthur is renowned for its exotic plants and dramatic vistas.
If you come children in tow, you mustn’t miss the Enchanted Woods. It’s a fairy tale garden spread over a three-acre plot. From the Tulip Tree House to the Faerie Cottage, your kids will delight in a new world to explore.
The kids will also love the Touch-It Room, a hands-on area where they can examine various objects, play in the kitchen of a by-gone era and play in the general store.
From June to September, there will be a display of work by Myer Myers (1723-95), a Jewish silversmith in colonial New York. You will see 150 examples of American silver, including teapots, tankards, and religious objects made for Jewish and Christian rituals.
You can easily spend an entire day here, and come back for more. The museum offers several types of tours. To plan your day, obtain a Visitor Guide which describes the tours, times and fees. Call 302-888-4600 or 800-448-3883, or visit www.winterthur.org.
In celebration of Winterthur’s 50th anniversary, DuPont will exhibit a selection from its collection at the National Gallery of Art (West Building) in Washington, DC, from May 5 to October 6.
UNIQUE treasure for any adventurer is a tour of Nemours. This is the magnificent 300-acre country estate of Alfred I. DuPont north of Wilmington. He built this modified Louis XVI chateau in 1910, with landscaped gardens spotted with pools, fountains and statuary surrounded by natural woodlands.
The 102 rooms of the mansion are filled with fine European and American furniture, rare rugs, tapestries and works of art.
The English Gates to the property were built in 1488 for Wimbledon manor in England. The Russian Gates were made about 1755 for Catherine the Great’s palace outside St. Petersburg.
The Reflecting Pool takes three days to fill. It holds 750,000 gallons of water. The Sunken Gardens were constructed between 1928-1932. The walls and steps are travertine from Rome. The figurines in the Rock Garden date to the beginning of the last century and are from Czechoslovakia.
HIS is a magnificent horticultural showplace, spanning 1,050 acres of gardens, woodlands and meadows. It’s a delightful world of 20 outdoor gardens, 20 indoor gardens, and greenhouses, 11,000 different types of plants (who counted?), spectacular fountains spouting water and lights.
Check the schedule because during the year there are 800 events, from flower shows to gardening demonstrations to children’s programs and concerts, even fireworks.
This property was originally a farm, purchased in 1906 by Pierre S. du Pont (1870-1954), who designed what you see today.
Through May, the shrubs, trees and bulbs are in bloom. The color and fragrance of the flowering cherries, magnolias and forsythias are a wonder to behold.
The Visitor Center has books, horticultural gift items, plants and gardening supplies for sale. For information on times and fees to the gardens and conservatory call 610-388-1000 or visit www.longwoodgardens.org.
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