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North Hills Monthly

Treasure Trail Passport Opens Door to Mansions and Museums of Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley

Apr 30, 2016 12:07PM ● By Vanessa Orr

A visit to Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley is to become immersed in the tale of two families: the du Pont family, whose mansions and gardens stand as a living legacy to their love of the area, and the Wyeth family, whose three generations of artists captured the beauty of the countryside and the warmth of its people. 

Visitors to the area, which straddles the Pennsylvania/Delaware border, can immerse themselves in the worlds of aristocracy and art by visiting 11 of its mansions, gardens and museums. Artwork by N.C, Andrew and Jamie Wyeth is showcased at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, a stunning museum that features floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the landscape that influenced N.C. Wyeth, whose house and studio are still nearby and are open for tours. While I appreciated seeing the work of all three artists in one place, I especially loved the second floor gallery of N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations for Treasure Island, and his paintings of Native Americans that he created after taking a trip out west. Considered one of the foremost illustrators of the 20th century, his work is still just as striking today as it was when it came out in book form in the early 1900s.

The Delaware Art Museum is a study in contrasts; home to American art from the 18th and 19th centuries, it also contains the largest pre-Raphaelite collection of art outside of the United Kingdom, as well as the largest collection of John Sloan’s art in the world. Built to preserve the works of Howard Pyle, it also contains art from some of his more well-known students, including N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish. As a huge fan of pre-Raphaelite art and pirate pictures, I was in heaven—and getting to see The Mermaid, the last painting by Pyle that was left unfinished at his death, was a highlight of the trip. Make sure to leave time to tour the outdoor Copeland Sculpture Garden as well—you’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the massive Crying Giant in the courtyard. 

Speaking of gardens, no trip to the Brandywine Valley would be complete without a visit to Longwood Gardens, Pierre Samuel du Pont’s 1,000-acre indoor/outdoor horticultural extravaganza. This place is simply breathtaking; though I visited in winter, when the outdoor gardens weren’t in bloom, the inside of this four-acre conservatory under glass made it well worth the trip. Pierre du Pont created the gardens so that his friends could have fresh fruit year-round, but the gardens are so much more than that; there’s something new and exotic to see at every turn. When I visited the outdoor fountains were under construction, but are scheduled to be completed in 2017, which will definitely be worth a trip back. 

If you want to know how the people who invested so much money and love into Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley lived, you can tour a number of the family’s homes, from Nemours Mansion and Gardens, the 70-room mansion built by the same architectural firm that designed the New York Public Library, to Eleutherian Mills, now part of the Hagley Museum and Library, which served as the ancestral home of five generations of the du Pont family. And of course you can’t overlook the Winterthur Museum, Gardens and Library, Henry Francis du Pont’s 175-room mansion that contains his amazing, and overwhelming, world-class collection of decorative arts. 

There is quite a contrast between the properties; Eleutherian Mills, built in the Colonial Revival Style, is elegant and yet still homey, featuring Louise du Pont’s collections of eagles and hooked rugs, and her husband’s collection of train paraphernalia. The DuPont company’s first office is also on-site, where the family’s reputation as producers of high-quality gunpowder was established, and a short drive down the hill will take you to the roll mill, where you can follow the Powder Yard Trail to see how gunpowder was made. It’s a much safer tour now than in the old days; in the company’s 119 years of business, there were 288 explosions and 228 deaths.

As the family’s fortunes grew, so did the size of their homes, and Winterthur, which was the home of four generations of
du Ponts, including Henry Francis du Pont from 1880 to 1969, is a showcase of the family’s success. This third-generation
du Pont was quite a collector, and in fact, created a cobblestoned street, lined with ‘shops’ inside the home to display a small part of his more than 90,000 American antiques. This thousand-acre estate also contains what is considered the greatest naturalistic garden in North America.

Now while you might think that you’d have to be just as rich as the du Ponts to get to visit all of these amazing places, visitors can access all of these museums by purchasing an individual Brandywine Treasure Trail Passport for $45 or a Family Passport for $95. Good between May 28 and September 5, 2016, these passports are the perfect way to see all of the above attractions and more while saving hundreds of dollars in entry fees.

To find out more, including a full list of attractions covered, go to

To learn more about the places mentioned in this article, visit:

Brandywine River Museum of Art: or 610-388-2700

Delaware Art Museum: or 302-571-9590

Eleutherian Mills (Hagley Museum and Library): or 302-658-2400

Longwood Gardens: or 610-388-1000

Nemours Mansion and Gardens: or 800-651-6912

Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library: or 800-448-3883