They say that when one door closes, another opens. And so it was in 1915, when an explosion at Eleutherian Mills rocked the banks of the industrial community along the Brandywine, sending 30 souls across the creek. By 1921, the mills were closing, and parcels of the property were being sold by the DuPont Company. In 1923, Louise du Pont convinced her father, Col. Henry A. du Pont, to purchase the property. She and her husband, Frank Crowninshield, would move into the home above the derelict yard.
That mansion—the du Pont family home— sits at the top of a rocky slope overlooking the Brandywine Creek and the mills complex founded in 1803 by Louise’s great grandfather, Eleuthère Irénée du Pont. Over the years, the couple built a garden on the terraced ruins of the first DuPont company industrial site in the United States. Eschewing professional advice, Frank, who’d been one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, would design while Louise did the plantings. They also employed craftsman from the surrounding community.
As overgrowth is removed, thousands of once-dormant bulbs have begun to slowly reappear.
After almost a decade, the Crowninshields saw their vision come to fruition. While the garden isn’t easily classified, it’s based loosely on some of the architectural features the couple had witnessed on trips to Rome. Some might call it neoclassical, and it’s plantings recall English gardens. “The couple channeled centuries of human fascination with ruins into their work, drawing from… such artists as Hugo Robert, Claude Lorrain and Poussin to create a garden unlike any other in the United States, with an unsettling yet provocative sense of hyperreality,” wrote Katharine T. von Stackelberg in her book, Housing the New Romans: Architectural Reception and Classical Style in the Modern World.
Hagley Museum was created in 1957 to display and celebrate American industry—not American gardening. So Crowninshield Garden was left to nature. When Louise passed away, it was taken apart, and some of the statuary was given away. Since then, weeds and invasives have overtaken the columns and terraces. “The Roman gates and bathhouse on the Brandywine were removed, as they didn’t fit with the landscape narrative that the new Hagley Museum wanted to tell at the time, about the history of the powder mills,” says Paul Orpello, Hagley’s director of gardens and horticulture. “The garden entered a state of abandon. It was looked at as a nuisance.”
Landscape architect Nelson Byrd Woltz has prepared a plan to resurrect the unique gem on the banks of the Brandywine. Orpello and his team must roll back 50 years. As overgrowth is removed, thousands of once-dormant bulbs have begun to slowly reappear. If plans go as hoped, this lost oasis will be fit for discovering again, joining the gardens of Henry, Pierre and Alfred as a treasured horticultural stop in the Brandywine Valley.
While the garden isn’t easily classified, it’s based loosely on some of the architectural features the couple had witnessed on trips to Rome. Its plantings recall English gardens