The accomplishments of Longwood’s founder, Pierre S. du Pont, are numerous and varied. He was a successful businessman, and as chairman of both the DuPont Company and General Motors in the early 20th century, he is often regarded as the father of the modern corporation. He was a family man, taking over the role of patriarch of his family after his father passed away suddenly in 1884 when Pierre, the oldest son, was only 14. He was academically gifted, having graduated from MIT in 1890 at the age of 20. He was a philanthropist, donating millions to local charities and helping to establish schools and hospitals in Wilmington, Delaware, and Southern Chester County, Pennsylvania. He was a traveler, visiting Europe and journeying throughout the United States. He was a lover of the arts, building a 10,010-pipe organ and employing a resident organist, and hosting many concerts and theatrical performances for his friends, family, and the public. He was a man of his age, amassing a great fortune during a time of unprecedented American prosperity and growth.
Like other wildly successful businessmen of his generation, he invested some of that fortune in his own American castle (think Rockefeller and Kykuit, Vanderbilt and Biltmore, or Hearst and Hearst Castle). In July 1906, Pierre purchased the rights to the historic Peirce’s Park and surrounding lands, thereby establishing Longwood Gardens. But Longwood Gardens—his castle—is strikingly different from many of the estates of the Gilded Age. Visitors won’t see a multi-story mansion with expansive wings, sprawling basement-level living quarters for maids, cooks, and other support staff, or elaborate furnishings and opulent collections of art and artifacts. Instead, Pierre invested in his gardens.
Just one year after purchasing the Longwood Gardens property in 1906, Pierre designed and built his first formal garden, the Flower Garden Walk. This garden is a simple design, a straight 600-foot walkway lined on both sides with planting beds and punctuated in the center by Longwood’s first fountain. As time went on, Pierre’s gardens became more elaborate and more ambitious. In 1921 he opened his palatial Conservatory, and in 1931, the culmination of everything that he learned from developing Longwood for the previous 25 years debuted. The Main Fountain Garden was a spectacle to behold, with hundreds of hand-carved limestone sculptures imported from Italy, billowing boxwood (which Pierre had planted years earlier and were already well established by the time the water was first turned on), and hundreds of fountain jets, reaching as high as 130 feet tall and illuminated by colorful incandescent lights in the evening.
One hundred and eleven years after Mr. du Pont’s purchase, we commemorate this historic act with our Founder’s Day weekend of festivities. As part of our Founder’s Weekend on July 13-15, 2017, we are premiering a fascinating documentary, Flowing Water, which traces Pierre’s creation of the Main Fountain Garden. The film takes viewers to the European gardens that Pierre visited and it introduces the team of designers, engineers, and horticulturists that made the revitalization possible. Join us in the Gardens for documentary screenings, presented on a large outdoor screen in our Orchard. Bring your own chair or blanket (after 5:00 pm) and relax on the lawn overlooking the Meadow. The documentary runs from 7:30 to 8:30 pm all three nights, weather permitting. Afterwards, stroll over to the Main Fountain Garden to experience the thrill of an illuminated fountain show beginning at 9:15 pm. We look forward to seeing you in the Gardens!
Flowing Waters crew, left to right: Phil Bradshaw, director of photography; Mike Bland, gaffer; Max Tubman, drone operator; Glenn Holsten, director; Meg Sarachan, associate producer; Chayne Gregg, producer; Matt Hamm, camera assistant. Join us Thursday–Saturday nights (July 13–15, 2017) for “Meet the Filmmaker” talks from 6:00–7:00 pm, prior to the documentary screenings.