Built in 1910 by Alfred, one of the uber-wealthy du Ponts, as a gift for his Francophile wife, Nemours is almost as impressive as the Petite Trianon at Versailles after which it was designed. Named after the French home of the family’s patriarch, Pierre Samuel du Pont, the 105 room mansion is elaborately decorated and filled with antiques, just as it was when Alfred’s third wife died in 1970.
The basement contains everything that the well-off gentleman needs in his man cave: an office, billiard room, darkroom, fitness area and two-lane bowling alley/movie theater.
My personal favorite was the conservatory with these antique birdcages:
The grounds are home to the largest French formal gardens in the US.
However, the best part of a visit to Nemours is a chance to see how the downstairs staff lived. On the first floor, hidden behind the public spaces, are the staff areas, including the staff dining room, communal sitting room
and the butler’s pantry, with its warming oven and ice boxes, dumb waiter, and silver safe (with elevator feature to raise and lower the plethora of shelves needed to house the family’s silver):
In the basement, opposite Alfred’s personal spaces, you can see room after room housing the estate’s inner workings, including the original coal-fired furnace:
The bottling room where the estate’s spring water was carbonated and bottled, ready to be shipped to wherever the family was currently residing:
The machine room, filled with the pumps, compressors and filters that maintained the property:
The ice making room that made the ice to cool the numerous ice boxes, including those in the first floor room with wall to wall ice boxes:
The fur storage closets:
Plus, lots of other period details:
A short stroll from the main house is the chauffeur’s garage, said to be the oldest garage in Delaware. Alfred (who loved machinery, as evidenced by all the gadgets in the house!) owned the first car in Delaware. The garage was home to the chauffeurs, the estate’s cars, and a machine shop.
Today, it houses two Rolls Royces (1960 and 1951), a 1933 Buick, and two Cadillacs (1924 and 1921):
Note the “rules!”:
The bulk of Alfred’s legacy was left to fund children’s medical facilities in Delaware and Florida. Sharing the grounds with the estate is Nemour’s Children’s Hospital, today part of the nation’s largest children’s health system.
For more on the du Pont family, check out our other posts: Hagley: The Founding of an American Chemical Empire and Winterthur: Antiques, Gardens, & Decorating the White House
Nemours looks like a really interesting place to visit. It’s great that you get to go ‘behind the scenes’ and see things like the bottling room, the furnace and the ice room because you don’t always get to do that in these large estates. I love the bowling alley, too – it’s beautiful!
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I agree! The fancy things are great, but I think the best part was getting the chance to see all the behind the scenes stuff.
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