You may not have heard of Nemours Mansion, but you will have heard of its owner Alfred I du Pont. The DuPont company is the 4th largest chemical company in the world but it started as a gunpowder mill set up on the Brandywine Creek near Wilmington in 1802 by French immigrant Éleuthère Irénée du Pont. Alfred I du Pont was the great grandson of Éleuthère du Pont born in 1835. He joined the family business at the Brandywine Creek Mill, starting at the bottom working but working his way up to VP Operations and Director of the Board. In 1916 Alfred du Pont was voted off the board following a dispute over share ownership and he devoted the rest of his life to finance and philanthropy. Alfred was married three times, his first marriage ending in divorce in 1906. In 1907 he married Alicia Bradford and he decided to build a mansion north of Wilmington as a gift for his new wife. Constructed between 1909 and 1910 the 102 room mansion was designed in the Louis XVI-Rococo style by the firm of Carrère and Hastings from New York City. Alfred gave it the name Nemours after the ancestral town in France of his great-great-grandfather, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours. The mansion stands in landscaped grounds of 120 hectares (300 acres) that include both formal gardens and natural woodland. Alicia du Pont died in 1920 and in 1921 Alfred married Jessie Ball. They lived in Nemours until 1926 when they moved to Jacksonville in Florida. Alfred died in Jacksonville in 1935.
Staff quarters from Conservatory Roof
Because of the photography ban then in force we have no pictures of the sumptuous interior of Nemours Mansion. The only place where we were allowed to take photographs during the tour was when we went out on the conservatory roof. A mansion of this size required a lot of staff, and a whole wing was built to house them.
Front facade of Nemours Mansion
Alicia du Pont was a frequent visitor to Paris and a fan of the French, so the Louis XVI Rococo French architecture was designed to appeal to her. The mansion is is furnished with fine examples of antique furniture, rare rugs, tapestries and outstanding works of art, all collected by the du Ponts. One of Alfred’s philanthropic activities was the Nemours Foundation to improve children’s health. After his death the foundation also took over the management of the mansion. Nemours Mansion was extensively restored between 2005 and 2008. The mansion and its gardens are open to the public between May and November. When we visited back in 2012 tour groups were led by guides familiar with the duPont family history, but the website indicates that tours are now self guided although staff are still available to answer questions. Another change is that photography was then not permitted inside the mansion, but the web site indicates that they have now bowed to the impossibility of enforcing this in the smartphone era and photography is permitted without flash.
Boxwood Garden from Conservatory Roof
It is said that the gardens were designed in the French style based on the gardens at Versailles but some experts see a Germanic influence in the design. Since the gardens at Nemours are a product of the 20th century it is perhaps not surprising that other influences may have crept in. The conservatory roof is a good vantage point to get a birds eye view of one of the most formal parts of the garden, the Boxwood Garden.
Cars owned by Alfred & Jessie du Pont
The Chauffeur's Garage is now used to exhibit some of the cars owned by Alfred and Jessie du Pont.
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View to the Mansion through Colonnade
The Colonnade was added in 1926 as a memorial to Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours and his son Eleuthère Irénée du Pont. It was designed by Thomas Hastings.