While I totally adore traveling far and wide, I also love to explore interesting, unique places close to home. Being that I live in the Brandywine Valley, the birthplace of DuPont, I have the opportunity to visit many of the DuPont estates that are now open to the public. Where is the Brandywine Valley, you say? It encompasses southern Chester County in Pennsylvania, and northern Delaware, and is centered around the Brandywine River.

At my disposal, I have Longwood Gardens, with its beautiful color-themed garden walk, acres of fountains, summer fireworks, and year-round conservatory. There’s also Winterthur (“Winter-ter”), a 1000 acre estate with woodland and natural gardens, mansion, and expansive antiques collection. One that I haven’t yet visited is Nemours Mansion. They offer a guided tour of the mansion, and a bus tour of the European-influenced gardens. I guess I’m just too much of a freedom-loving American to be limited like that. But I may get the urge someday. Oh, enough of that….let’s go to where it all started: Hagley.

Stone buildings are plentiful at Hagley. Photo courtesy of Jill Fox

Hmmmm…why is it called Hagley? No idea! If you know, please enlighten me by commenting below. Here’s what I do know…Hagley is the site of the gunpowder mills founded by Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, in 1802. While DuPont may be best known for their more recent creations such as nylon, teflon, neoprene, and lycra, this empire surprisingly got its start in gunpowder! Of all things…gunpowder!

Better known as E.I. (wouldn’t you go by E.I. if your name was Eleuthère Irénée?), Mr. du Pont immigrated from France in 1799. The site that E.I. chose for his gunpowder mills was uniquely ideal for his purposes. At this point on the Brandywine River north of Wilmington, Delaware, the river descends rapidly, providing the power needed to run the mills.

Brandywine River, an ideal setting for gunpowder mills Photo courtesy of Jill Fox

As the gunpowder mills were built along the banks of the river, they were built with only three stone walls. The fourth wall, facing the river, was built out of wood. This provided an outlet in case an unforeseen explosion should occur. Unfortunately, this was an inescapable occupational hazard. Gunpowder is very unstable. Now, if a man were to lose his life while working in E.I.’s industrious mills, his widow would receive one year of her husband’s wages. I imagine this was unheard-of in those days. Another interesting discovery…the worker’s children also received an education in the schoolhouse that was started by E.I.’s daughter.

Hagley schoolhouse Photo courtesy of Jill Fox

On a visit to Hagley, you have the opportunity to take a self-guided tour, and also see some of the machinery and mills in action. We missed the tool shed, but had a great visit with a guide running the steam engine. Hagley also has special events on the grounds, such as an annual car show in September, and summer fireworks displays. To keep your budget to a minimum, try visiting on a Thursday in July or August, as admission is just $1. If Thursday doesn’t fit your schedule, try a Wednesday Bike & Hike night in July or August. Admission is just $2, and you can bike or hike along the Brandywine from 5 to 8 pm. Oh, come on Summer!

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10 Comments on Duponts of the Brandywine Valley – Part I – Hagley

  1. Mary,
    You mentioned not having been to Nemours, if I recall correctly, across the bridge and “kitty-corner” from Hagley Soda House. Nemours is one of the best places to understand the family by beginning with the origins in France. For instance,when mentioning Eleuthere, did you know he was imprisoned in the Bastille for “bad cartooning” in the family newsprint distributed in Paris that depicted Marie Antoinette in flagrante delicto? He was delivered just in time before the Bastille was sacked,by the “mob”(how words mean such different things today than then). It came down brick by brick or was perhaps “blown away” by the family recipe that he learned from Lavoisier, the Chemist to whom he apprenticed.

    Nemours (not the ferme: Nemours en France), the home of Alfred duPont, was built to approximate all the grand family memories of their homeland. I think it may be my favorite house, in some respects; but, then, there are numerous good points at the other homes as well. You may recall that Alfred I.duPont sent his son to Paris to study architecture. That alone may account for the strong presence of the house he named Nemours,that Alfred had such classic taste. It is said that his son was terribly impressed by,and spent much time studying, the horse-shoe shaped horse-watering-trough at Malmaison (the home of Josephine Bonaparte).

    Gardens and greenhouses descend from one side of the house, to keep the house supplied with flowers. You are hard pressed, upon the opportunity to enter the house, whether to withdraw your eyes from the magnificent pool in front and slightly below the house. But, you must go in, and will almost immediately encounter the sculpture busts, on their pillars, of Alfred’s ancestors. This is where you begin to comprehend that there is something very Roman about Alfred I.duPont.

    Going through the dining room as one must, I discovered that the kitchen of Alfred’s house was the beautifully best of all the houses. Plenty of Butler’s pantries to hold everything essential for serving the dining room, and the Harlequin black and white checkered floor of the kitchen, and the fact that the old fashioned white sinks were placed under spacious windows through which the light falls pleasently, you know that you are dealing with a gourmand. Later when you see Alfred’s game-rooms, his billiard table, you will also find out that he bottled his own fizzy water and kept it chilled in the basement.

    Before I depart from this, as there is so much more to say, you will find his own tiny study quite wonderful(his private place)and as we stood spying into these roped off rooms, I noticed something amazing. Two quite tiny(in keeping with the size of the room)but framed Breughels on the walls where Alfred could view them from his desk and let his mind carry him back into that world.
    Next, I will tell you something of my adventure in wandering the pool-side…

  2. Mary says:

    Thanks for the info and for stopping by. I enjoyed reading more about Hagley.

  3. Great post! To answer your question, Philadelphia Quaker Rumford Dawes gave the area along the Brandywine River the name “Hagley” in 1783, prior to the E.I. du Pont’s purchase of the land in 1813. You can find more information here: http://www.hagley.lib.de.us/hagley-name.html

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  5. Mary says:

    Maybe, maybe not. The origin of the name is not entirely clear, but may have been from a ship carrying Dutch brandywine (a spirit). This ship wrecked at the mouth of the river. Another thought is that the name originated from Andreas Brainwende, who built a mill on the river. I like the first story better!

  6. Lucie says:

    Does anyone know why the Brandywine river was named like that? Anything to do with wine or brandy???

  7. Randy Averso says:

    Beautiful pictures of an area of the country I have never been! I have relatives in New Castle, PA near the Ohio central border, which is picturesque and full of Amish influences. Thanks for sharing, Mary!

  8. Jill Fox says:

    Hi Mary,

    Brandywine Valley is gorgeous in the summer. Between the chatty birds and serpentine river it is hard to believe that it used to be a gunpowder factory.

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