This is part two of our “Discovering Delaware in 19 delightful places” series.
If there’s an area that is over-endowed with fabulous gardens and magnificent mansions, it would have to be the Brandywine Valley and Scenic Byway. Just north of Wilmington, the area and its visual riches will take your breath away. It did ours. For more information, visit visitwilmingtonde.com.
7) Nemours Mansion and Garden You’ll only be minutes away from downtown Wilmington, but you’ll feel like you are in another part of the world here at Nemours Estate (850 Alapocas Dr, Wilmington, DE 19803; (302) 651-6913.) This is the home of inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Alfred I. duPont.
The 47,000-square-foot home, referred to as the “grandest house in Delaware” is pure French in design, with 77 rooms and fabulous gardens.
Much to the dismay of his renowned architects, DuPont selected a heretofore unknown local builder to build this prestigious mansion. It was done without contract – with just a handshake. Construction of the home took only 18 months, but the builder stayed on for another ten years, building additional structures around the estate.
Built in 1909, the home was completely restored 100 years later. Before any restoration could start, 110,000 original DuPont pieces were cataloged and shipped out for storage. That took a mere 49 truckloads and five months to clear the home.
Now, with everything restored, down to the custom-woven draperies, and with the estate open to the public, the home fulfills DuPont’s insistence that the estate be “maintained for the pleasure and benefit of the public…” and that it “become more beautiful and attractive to those who view it as time passes.”
Photographers will want to take their cameras as there is so much to capture, and thankfully, the foundation does allow photography, just no flash.
Dozens of rooms are open to the public, and while the antiques are stunning on the first and second floors, I was captivated by DuPont’s inventions in the basement. Be sure to get a docent to explain this area to you if possible. Shuffleboard, bowling, billiards anyone? They were all available to DuPont and his guests.
There is limited availability to view the mechanical areas of the basement, but today they still are as impeccably maintained as they were in DuPont’s time. He believed in redundant systems for safety, so you’ll find doubles of many of the mechanical and electrical hardware here. Engineers will really appreciate this space. Write firstname.lastname@example.org to see if you can score a viewing.
Outside, the 300-acre estate features the largest formal French gardens in the U.S. Stunning iron gates to the right and left, lead to both the southern gardens and the 18,000-gallon water tower. Proceed straight out to “The Long Walk” down cascading urn-lined, bluestone terraces, to the 800,000-gallon reflecting pool with fountain.
Don’t miss a stroll behind the mansion to the Chauffeur’s Garage. It’s a garage like none you’ve seen. Complete with machine shops for custom made parts, the garage holds many of the historic vehicles owned and used by DuPont.
Open early May through the end of December (with fabulous Christmas displays) each year, this estate alone would be worth the trip to Wilmington, Delaware….but there’s more. In our next article, we’ll explore the arts, flora, as well as great places to stay and eat. Stop back next Thursday.
Also published on Medium.