The Oscar-nominated film “Foxcatcher” may have put the Du Pont name back in the spotlight, but black sheep John du Pont, notorious for shooting and killing Olympic gold-medal-winning wrestler Dave Schultz in 1996, was just one of thousands of descendants from one of the wealthiest families in America.
The family’s legacy and love of the arts, botany and philanthropy is evident in the stately mansions, museums and gardens tucked away in picturesque Chateau Country and Brandywine Valley where northern Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania converge, about 25 minutes from the Philadelphia airport.
The lush rolling hills, horse farms and elaborate, grand estates will have you feeling like you’ve stepped onto the set of a British costume drama.
Here are a few highlights:
Hagley Museum & Library
The Du Pont dynasty was forged here at the gunpowder factory along the banks of the Brandywine River. It was founded by Eleuthère Irénée (E. I.) du Pont in 1802 after he emigrated from France, where he studied explosive production techniques.
Visitors can learn about black gunpowder manufacturing with explosion demonstrations, a 16-foot-tall water wheel, turbine and 19th century machinery housed in historic stone structures before touring the Georgian-style estate and French influenced gardens of the ancestral Du Pont home.
Info: Hagley Museum & Library, 200 Hagley Creek Road, Wilmington, Del.; (302) 658-2400. Museum open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. (Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.) Library is open 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Admission: Adults $14; children 6-14, $5; students and seniors $10; children 5 and younger free. *Beginning March 2, tours are not visiting the interior of the Du Pont residence while it undergoes restoration.
Nemours Mansion & Gardens
Built in 1910 by Alfred I. du Pont for his second wife, Alicia (Heyward Bradford), the opulent Louis XVI-style chateau reflects the family’s French heritage.
The five-story, 47,000-square-foot estate designed by architects Carrère and Hastings features marble floors, coffered ceilings, a bowling alley, billiards room and antique car collection.
Illuminating the main dining room is a spectacular chandelier believed to be from Marie Antoinette’s childhood home, Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna.
The pièce de résistance of the 10-acre grand vista garden modeled on the Petit Trianon at Versailles, is the gilded 23-karat gold leaf sculpture “Achievement,” by French artist Henri Crenier.
Info: Nemours Mansion & Gardens, 850 Alapocas Drive, Wilmington, Del.; (302) 651-6912
Mansion and Gardens Tours open May 1-Dec. 31. Reservations required for groups. Guided Mansion Tours: Tuesdays through Saturdays: 9:30 a.m., 12 and 3 p.m. Sunday: noon and 3 p.m. $15 individual, $13 groups of 20 or more
Garden Walk: Tuesdays-Saturdays: 10 a.m., noon, 2 and 4 p.m.; Sunday: noon, 2 and 4 p.m. $10