Charles I. du Pont & Co.

Also known as: Delaware State Mills, Rokeby Manufacturing Works
Owners: Charles I. du Pont
Industry type: Textile mill
Location: Louviers, Breck's Mill site (Breck's Mill and Rokeby Mill)
Active dates: 1827-1856

Summary: First established in 1810, the textile firm of Du Pont, Bauduy & Co. had been renamed Victor and Charles du Pont in 1815, when Peter Bauduy departed the company and Victor du Pont was joined by his 18-year-old-son, Charles. Victor du Pont died on January 30, 1827 and Charles took over the company, renaming it Charles I. du Pont & Co. The company continued to operate out of the Louviers Mill until the mid-1850s.In addition to the mill buildings and Charles du Pont's mansion, also known as Louviers, there were two groups of workers' houses on the Louviers property. The first settlement, Charles' Banks, consisted of three rows of stone houses and a few detached houses. The second, Chicken Alley, was located on the hillside and contained two rows of two-room houses arranged in an L-shape. The houses were occupied until 1933, when they were remodeled into two modern dwellings by William Winder Laird, Sr.

In the late 1830s, Charles I. du Pont decided to expand the company, and on March 27, 1839, he paid $17,000 to purchase the Breck's Mill site from William Breck, the husband of his niece, Gabrielle Josephine du Pont. By the time du Pont purchased the 35-acre property, it included a 62' x 42' 3.5-story stone woolen mill known as Breck's Mill as well as a 58' x 28' three-story stone and frame factory building known as Rokeby.The property also included a 30' x 20' two-story stone storehouse, a two-story stone house with outbuildings, stables, a barn, and 25 stone and frame workers' houses. The tenant housing was arranged in two groups: Long (also known as Beggars') Row, and Pidgeon (also known as Quality) Row.Charles I. du Pont renamed the Breck's Mill factory site, calling it Rokeby Manufacturing Works. William Breck remained superintendent of the lower mill site, which employed about 25 workers. Charles I. du Pont introduced wool processing to the site and also began to produce several new textiles, including satinet, kersey, beaver, and blankets. A turbine was installed in Breck's Mill in 1844. Breck's Mill was later destroyed in a fire on June 18, 1846 and was rebuilt in just six weeks.By 1854, William Breck had left the company, and Rokeby Manufacturing Works closed that year.

Charles I. du Pont retired in 1856, closing Louviers as well. He had already offered to sell both Louviers and Rokeby to E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company on December 25, 1850 for $55,220; they eventually purchased both mills despite the high price. Alfred du Pont explained the company's decision in a letter to his brother Henry, conceding, "The fact is the two properties [Louviers and Rokeby] are So wedged up in our lands that it would not do they should go out of our Control.”After Charles I. du Pont turned over both properties in 1856, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company rented the Louviers site to a variety of tenants and eventually took it over themselves, using the property for a variety of projects in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including manufacturing powder canisters in the years after the Civil War and gunpowder during the Spanish-American war. The office building was later used as the Louviers Club.The Rokeby Mill was used as a laboratory and, beginning in 1903, the first du Pont Company Experimental Station.

Rokeby was destroyed by a fire on April 28, 1906 and never rebuilt. Breck's Mill was used as a recreation center and dance hall in the 1890s and then later a photographer's studio and headquarters of the "Brandywiners" theatrical organization. It was owned by W. W. Laird in the 1950s and is now owned by the Hagley Museum & Library.

Citations: Boatman, Roy. The Brandywine Cotton Industry, 1795-1865. Hagley Research Report, 1957.

Hartmann, Thomas B. The DuPont Woolen Venture. Hagley Research Report, 1955.

Riggs, John Beverly. A Guide to the Manuscripts in the Eleutherian Mills Historical Library: Accessions through the year 1965. Wilmington: Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation, 1970.

Scharf, John Thomas. History of Delaware 1609-1888, Vol. 2. Philadelphia: L. J. Richards & Co., 1888.

Zebley, Frank R. Along the Brandywine. Wilmington: William Cann, Inc., 1940, 109-112.

Primary sources: Alfred du Pont to Henry du Pont, December 25, 1850. Winterthur Manuscripts Group VII: Letters of Alfred V. du Pont. Hagley Museum and Library.

Online primary sources / images: Product Label for Delaware State Mills blankets. Hagley Digital Archives.

Rokeby Mill Fire, Henry Clay Village, photograph, 1906. Hagley Digital Archives.

Rokeby Mill after fire, photograph, 1906. Hagley Digital Archives.