For most of us, the dream of living in mansions with crawling ivory, enchanting gardens and carefully decorated foyers is beyond us. Fortunately, those no longer enjoying that splendor have made the dream that much more approachable. In Delaware’s “Chateau Country,” complete with rolling hills and scenic forests, rests the mansions of the DuPont family. No longer inhabited, the DuPont mansions are now available to the public. This includes their lush, beautiful gardens, and all of the old-fashioned beauty that one would expect from a mansion built by Old European royalty.
Although the properties extend far beyond them, tourists come for three mansions in particular. These are the Nemours Mansion, the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library, and the Hagley Museum and Library. Each has their own unique charm and a story to tell, so whether you choose to see one or all of them, you’re in for a treat.
Hagley is by far the oldest, telling the story of the DuPont legacy. The property includes the first house of the DuPont family up on a hill, as well as the old, restored gunpowder mills. All of this rests on the Brandywine River. Inside the old mansion, built in the late 1800s, you’ll find the key to the beginning of a tale of power, wealth, and extravagance. The library features some of the oldest books the family has, as well as informative material on who the family were and where their roots are. If you want history, this is the place.
But when you walk toward the Nemours Mansion, you’re immediately transported back to that Old European beauty at its finest. Built by Alfred du Pont for his wife after they married in 1907, the 102-room Nemours is inspired by Versailles’ Petit Trianon. That’s the mansion where Marie Antoinette took refuge, so to say it’s a place built for a queen isn’t exaggerating. It’s filled to with old, rare 18th century French furniture, and the outside is decorated with large, well-kept gardens, complete with gilded statues and working fountains. When you think of splendor, a place like this immediately comes to mind.
But then there’s Winterthur. With gardens that you can ride through on open tram cars and a surrounding Enchanted Forest that the kids can frolic through, it’s definitely nothing to scoff at. Altogether, it’s got 60 acres of naturalistic gardens and 175 room displays featuring 85,000 objects, all from different periods of the decorative arts. If antiques are something you’re into, this place is basically paradise. Walking through it is like dipping yourself back into the past, and then further in, because some of the pieces on display were old for back then.
Whatever it is you’re looking for, one of the mansions probably has it. Extravagance isn’t a luxury we’re allowed often, so take a nice, long stroll.