By Saul Schwartz
My wife Fern and I met my brother-in-law Paul and sister-in-law Karen for a very pleasant weekend in Wilmington last August. With 73,000 residents, Wilmington is Delaware’s most populous city. Over the weekend, we learned how Wilmington was shaped by the Du Pont’s gun powder mills in the early nineteenth century, then turning the city into today’s industrial and financial hub.
We had a lovely stay at the Hotel DuPont. Set in the heart of downtown, this 1913 luxury hotel is a city landmark. The hotel features a lavish lobby with an elegant working grandfather’s clock and a shimmering gold ballroom. We ate a splendid breakfast in the café, after working out in the extensive fitness center. As part of our hotel package, we received six of the hotel’s famous almond macaroon cookies, as well.
Hotel DuPont sits directly across from Rodney Square. Named after revolutionary leader Caesar Rodney, the square features a large statue of Rodney, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. A plaque on the square tells how Rodney rode 70 miles through a thunderstorm to break a deadlock in the vote for the Declaration of Independence. Pierre du Pont donated the property for the downtown Wilmington Library, which was dedicated in 1922. The Beaux Arts style library building sits on Rodney Square. The interior features a series of motifs from Greece and Italy.
We had a fine dinner alfresco at Chelsea Tavern on North Market Street. The menu was varied, the food was tasty and the service was good. We enjoyed a post-dinner snack at UdairyCreameryMarket on North Market Street, right across from the Opera House. The premium ice cream is made and sold by students from the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The milk for the ice cream comes from the school’s farms. Their motto is from the cow to the cone! Undergraduate students learn to create ice cream in house. We each enjoyed different fun flavors.
Unfortunately many downtown storefronts were boarded up and vacant. The downtown became quiet at night and we noticed a homeless population.
Winterthur Museum, Garden and Estate
We spent several hours at the former home of Henry Francis du Pont. This English country estate holds a rich collection of American decorative arts, reflecting early America and the du Pont family’s life at the estate. One of America’s most beautiful historic homes and mansions, Winterthur is comparable to the Vanderbilt’s Biltmore home in Asheville. Today Winterthur is displayed as a museum where the rooms reflect hand-made furniture and decorative arts from the period of 1640 to 1860.
The general admission fee included an informative one hour tour of portions of the elegantly furnished 175 room house and a one-half hour narrated tram tour through the gardens. The 1000 acre estate contains a 60 acre naturalistic garden. We finished with an informal lunch in the visitor center coffee shop, where we were able to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air.
These superb gardens are just down the road from Wilmington in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Like Winterthur, these gardens were also once a du Pont country estate. Longwood was the estate of industrialist Pierre S. du Pont. The general admission fee included the evening illuminated fountain performance. We were surprised at size of the crowd at the gardens.
Longwood’s grounds include elaborate fountains, formal gardens, informal gardens and a huge indoor conservatory. The conservatory featured a large display of water lilies and plants of every possible color, shape and size. To stroll through the 400 acres of gardens, we walked several miles.
On a beautiful summer evening, we particularly enjoyed a colorful Las Vegas type display of water in various shapes, sizes and heights. During this particular night, the thirty minute show was set to music of the Beatles.
We ran out of time before we ran out of attractions to see in the Wilmington area. With a nice mix of history, culture and gardens, Wilmington is a worthy mid-Atlantic destination for a weekend trip!