Points of Interest: Eleutherian Mills
Although the du Pont family would eventually become one of the wealthiest in America, their beginnings in this country were somewhat more modest than you might expect.
On New Year's Day in 1800, a rattled Éleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours and his hungry family disembarked from their transatlantic voyage. The voyage had taken longer than expected, and food had run short. The family was fleeing the wrath of the French Revolution, which threatened to engulf political moderates such as the du Pont family.
In spite of the difficult journey and the circumstances of their immigration, the E.I. du Pont and his family weren't entirely without means or options. The family brought with them some wealth from France, and E.I. du Pont already had a substantial knowledge of the process of making gunpowder, thanks to his studies with the renowned chemist Antoine Lavoisier.
Making a New Home
Du Pont was careful as he chose the site for his new home and business. Ultimately, he purchased a plot of land alongside Delaware's Brandywine River from Jacob Broom in 1802. Broom had built a cotton mill at the site in 1795, only for it to burn down two years later. Undeterred by the land's somewhat inauspicious history, du Pont quickly got to work building his home and gunpowder mill.
The house, which sits on a high bank of the Brandywine overlooking the powder mills, was completed in the spring of 1803. The stone-and-stucco dwelling was constructed according to Georgian architectural conventions, with symmetrical geometric proportions and tasteful, elegant accents and decorations. Du Pont, who was an enthusiastic horticulturist, also went on to cultivate a beautiful French-style garden and orchard in front of the house.
Over the next century and a half, the grand house would serve as the ancestral home for five generations of the du Pont family. But it was also more than just a home—together with E.I. du Pont's nearby office, it effectively acted as the center of all the activity in the larger Eleutherian Mills complex, which included the gunpowder mills, workers' quarters, and more.
Eleutherian Mills: an Important Piece of Delaware's Cultural Heritage
Over the years, the Eleutherian Mills residence has been renovated and rebuilt multiple times. Following the closure of the mills and the relocation of the du Pont family, the house was converted to a museum in 1957; in 1966, it was declared a National Historic Landmark.
Today, the house is open to the public, and remains one of the most significant landmarks in Delaware and industrial history. Thanks to careful historical preservation efforts, visitors can see the unique and prodigious collection of art, du Pont family artifacts, and historical items. The home and its contents remain a fascinating symbol of American industrial history.
The mission of Hagley Museum and Library is to foster innovation and inspiration through our historical collections. Located on the site of E.I. du Pont's gunpowder works, Hagley's offerings include a library dedicated to the study of American business and technology, a unique patent model collection, and the restored historical mill and workers' community, as well as the home and gardens of the du Pont family. Hagley also hosts a variety of events intended to educate and engage the wider community. Plan your visit today, or consider donating to support our work!