Pierre du Pont’s Longwood Home

Peirce-du Pont House at Longwood Gardens

Peirce-du Pont House at Longwood Gardens

When we began volunteering at Longwood Gardens we were told that the Longwood house was only Pierre du Pont’s weekend getaway, his country retreat. His real home, his legal residence, was the top floor of the Hotel du Pont where he lived like Donald Trump.

I agree with the facts, but I think they have it backwards.  Longwood was his real home.  The Hotel du Pont was only his workweek apartment.

Pierre was head of the DuPont company in the early 1900s when they still owned several vacant properties in Wilmington. He was concerned that visitors had no quality place to stay, so he built the Hotel du Pont as a first-class hotel close by the company headquarters in central Wilmington. Typically of Pierre, he built it all first-class, including a first-class ballroom (the Gold Ballroom), a first-class restaurant (the Green Room), and a first-class theater (the Playhouse, recently renamed the DuPont Theatre). All remain today as the pride of Wilmington, much better than you would expect in a city that small.

He was the first tenant of his own creation, taking part of the 10th floor as living quarters. His offices were on the 9th floor where he could meet with visitors. The hotel was within walking distance of the train station that connected Wilmington with the rest of the world. All very convenient.

He stayed at the hotel during the workweek and carefully documented his time there (someone did—not he, himself, obviously) so he would be counted as a Delaware resident where his family had political connections. Some said the du Ponts owned Delaware. He did use the Longwood home on weekends, and when Kennett Square tried to tax him, he could prove his Delaware residency by the majority of his time. But which was his real “home?”

I see the Hotel du Pont as merely his workweek apartment, even if it was his legal residence. His real love, his real home, was clearly the Longwood house. When traveling, he wrote that he longed to be back at Longwood, not the Hotel du Pont. I suspect he did not own the hotel apartment and have seen no evidence he even paid rent. The DuPont company most likely provided it for his use as had been their custom for over a hundred years.

All through the 1800s and into the early 1900s, the DuPont company owned the family mansions, and these were assigned to family members by the company president who was also the head of the family. The servants were company employees. It seems reasonable that the same familiar arrangement would be made at the hotel for Pierre, by Pierre, since he was now the company president. Longwood, in contrast, was purchased with his own money, and he continued to pour far more money into improving the property. He did not develop any of the land around the hotel in the same way.

I suspect he even had furnished apartments waiting for his use in other cities, as is common for top executives today. There is a photo of him in his office in the Empire State Building, and it seems reasonable he would also have an apartment there. The Empire State Building was built by his long-time protégé, John Rascob, who he hired right out of high school as his bookkeeper.

(Ta-da! Note the different spellings of “du Pont” depending on the context.  I think I have them correct, by no small effort.  The DuPont Theatre is in the Hotel du Pont.  DuPont is the current name of the business started by the du Pont family. The original name, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, is still the formal name, although a bit cumbersome. The Peirce-du Pont House at Longwood is named for two unrelated families, not a misspelling of “Pierre” as many assume.)

RWalck@Verizon.net

 

 

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About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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