From The Hotel Du Pont, Wilmington, Delaware’s Rich History Lies Right Outside Your Door

The historic Hotel Du Pont in downtown Wilmington, Delaware is humming these days with business and leisure guests, wedding parties, and fine dining habitués. And as reported in this last post, it’s also very pet-friendly. As is the entire city of Wilmington, from its walkable downtown just outside the hotel doors to its newish Riverwalk and vast green spaces at its edges.

To be sure, both the huge Brandywine and Rockford Parks are dog-friendly. But when it comes to Wilmington’s vast estates turned public gardens and art museums, you’ll need to leave your pooch in the hotel, or use the services of the Du Pont to arrange for a sitter.

From the Hotel Du Pont, a vigorous walk along the South Park Road that runs parallel to Brandywine Creek takes you up the leafy Kentmere Parkway lined with old estates. There, the Delaware Art Museum belongs to that class of many excellent regional art museums across America. The du Pont family were early patrons of the Wyeth clan and in recent years works by several Wyeths that hung in the hotel itself have been given to the art museum (though most are not on permanent display), as well as the Hagley Museum and Brandywine River Museum of Art in Pennsylvania.

Less known today beyond Wilmington than he should be, the local turn of the 20th-century artist Howard Pyle was a prolific and once famous book and magazine illustrator. Much of the eclectic work of this Wyeth teacher is on display, including paintings of buccaneers whose romanticized look are said to be the genesis of those Errol Flynn kind of Hollywood depictions.

Edward Hopper is represented, as is John Sloan of the Ashcan School, while the museum also holds a wonderful 1810 Raphaelle Peale portrait of Reverend Absalom Jones in robes and holding a Bible, a rare dignified presentation of an African-American figure at the time.

In addition to the museum’s splendid collection of Rossetti, Millais and other famous British Pre-Raphaelites, forty works in the current exhibit Forgotten Pre-Raphaelites showcase American Pre-Raphaelites. Half of the works bring women artists back to the fore who were crucial to the Pre-Raphaelite movement (through Feb 5, 2023).

Another short jaunt up the Brandywine Creek and just beyond city limits takes you to the original 1802 site of French-born Huguenot Éleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours’s gunpowder mill where the DuPont company empire started. Today, it’s the 235-acre hilly and wooded Hagley Museum with restored mills, stone buildings and gardens and library.

A few miles away, E.I du Pont’s grandson Alfred I. du Pont built the 200-acre Nemours Estate in 1910, the French château mansion of which was designed by the legendary Carrère and Hastings. It’s filled with European furnishings, while its fountains and reflecting pools make for magnificent Versailles-inflected formal gardens.

It doesn’t stop there. Keep going a bit north to get to Winterthur, Henry Francis du Pont’s estate for more antiques and gardens on lands that were owned and farmed by E. I. du Pont. Wait, folks, there’s still even more. Just across the Pennsylvania line, the popular 202-acre Longwood Gardens was also started by a du Pont.

Right outside the Hotel Du Pont doors, start a leisurely stroll down Market St, which is effectively the city’s main street, and it reveals how Wilmington’s downtown, like so many in America, is going through fits and starts of a revival. Thankfully, much of the original architecture remains, with The Grand Opera House and the Delaware Historical Society going strong, while many stately buildings are getting new life as condo conversions.

One of the town’s premier restaurants, the Italian Bardea on Market St. is joined by the new Bardea Steak house, with patio seating between the two (they also have a pizza and a taco outlet in the De.Co food hall within the Dupont Building).

Market St runs straight into the Christina River that flows into the Delaware River. Along the waterfront, the newish Riverwalk is a prime dog walking venue. What had once been a vital area in the long-gone industrial and shipyard ages and later turned into an eyesore is now a popular 1.3-mile trail along which natural wetlands have been retained.

Right at the trail’s start, the Riverfront Market is a huge restored brick warehouse with food and produce vendors. While a short jaunt off the Riverwalk takes you to another art experience: The Delaware Contemporary art museum is currently showing Through A Glass, Darkly, which literally focuses on glass as a material (until December 31, 2022).

Along the Riverwalk, you can stop at any number of restaurants and brew pubs with outdoor seating, live music, and views of the Christina River. At the trail end and leading into the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge, the DuPont Environmental Education Center is a 212-acre true urban/nature mashup of freshwater tidal marsh where you might spot herons, bald eagles and other bird and animal species. Note that the center is leashed-pet-friendly.

Before you head back to town proper and the Hotel Du Pont, the Riverwalk’s outdoor Constitution Yards is a big fun summer beer garden made out of old shipping containers. There are plenty of local beers on draft to go along with casual food. And there are plenty of other dogs in tow to keep yours company while you try your hand at axe throwing and other games before kicking back to some live music. Now you have something to look forward to all winter.

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