Longwood Gardens to buy du Pont’s Granogue estate and mansion – The News Journal

  • The Granogue mansion and estate’s estimated worth is at least $50 million
  • It may take up to a year before Longwood Gardens officially owns Granogue estate
  • No timetable is set for when the public can visit Granogue

Longwood Gardens is buying Granogue, the stunning 505-acre private estate near Centreville, Delaware, owned by the late Irénée du Pont Jr., and will keep the property as open space, Delaware Online/The News Journal has learned.

In exclusive interviews, Longwood officials said they will announce Wednesday that it has entered into a binding agreement with Granogue Reserve, LTD, LLC (GRLLC) to buy and operate du Pont’s estate in northern New Castle County. GRLLC is the limited liability company that owns the 100-year-old Granogue property.  

Irénée du Pont died on Jan. 16 at age 103. He was the great-great-grandson of DuPont Co. founder Éleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours. The acquisition continues a long history between Longwood Gardens and the du Pont family.

The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit that’s worked in all 50 states to protect 8.5 million acres of land, helped facilitate the deal.

Details of the agreement were not disclosed. Longwood officials declined to say how much they agreed to pay for the estate, which is eight miles from the gardens near Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

Longwood Gardens is the most visited paid public garden in America. It broke record attendance last year with 1.6 million visitors, surpassing the previous record set in 2019 by 5%.

Real estate experts have estimated Granogue, widely considered the symbol of Delaware’s Chateau Country, is worth at least $50 million, likely more.  

The estate will not be open to the public anytime soon, though it will play a crucial role in continuing the du Pont family’s legacy of horticulture and land conservation.

“Longwood Gardens is honored to play a part in the preservation of Granogue,” Paul Redman, president and CEO of Longwood Gardens, said in a statement.

“We understand the important role this iconic landscape plays in our region’s ecology, community, and quality of life, and we look forward to working with our partners to ensure this treasure is stewarded for future generations to enjoy,” Redman added.

Irénée du Pont:Patriarch of Delaware’s du Pont family, dead at 103

Granogue is from a bygone era  

Longwood Gardens has entered into a binding agreement with the Granogue Reserve, LTD, LLC (GRLLC) to acquire and operate the late Irénée “Brip” and Barbara “Barbie” du Pont's Granogue estate that sits on a hillside near Centreville off Smith Bridge Road in New Castle County.

The stately Granogue estate, which sits on a hillside near Centreville off Smith Bridge Road and offers spectacular, panoramic views, is one of the largest privately owned open spaces left in northern New Castle County.  

The mansion, with its mile-long driveway, was built in 1923 and is a vestige of a bygone era. It has 11 bedrooms for family members and six for live-in employees. An oak-paneled music room is home to an Aeolian pipe organ that’s similar to one at Longwood Gardens.

du Pont and Barbara, his wife of 77 years who died in 2021, were known for opening the grounds of their estate to local organizations for fundraisers, trail runs and mountain biking, as well as summer camps hosted by the Delaware Nature Society.

“I want people to enjoy this beauty,” he said in a 2009 News Journal interview as he drove his 1918 Cadillac around the estate.

Giving the public a peek at Granogue was a tradition started by his father Irénée Sr., who with two brothers Pierre S. and Lammot du Pont served as president of the Wilmington-based DuPont Co.

In the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, du Pont’s father Irénée Sr. hosted spectacular fireworks displays held on the grounds of Granogue. Spectators lined fences and fields along Smith Bridge and Thompson’s Bridge roads to watch the display. Autos often were parked for more than two miles around the property.

As early as 1979, du Pont Jr. began to worry about maintaining the sprawling site.

The 505-acre Granogue estate sits on a hilltop and can be seen along points of Smith Bridge Road near Centreville. It was the home of the late Irénée and Barbara du Pont. Photo was taken on Thursday, April 24, 2008.

“We’re hanging on by our fingernails,” he told The News Journal. “Right now, we’re trying to keep this pile of rocks standing.”

In the past century, some of the grand du Pont mansions and properties, such as Bellevue Hall in north Wilmington and Carousel Farm in Pike Creek, have been donated to the state or New Castle County, turned into museums such as Nemours in Rockland and Eleutherian Mills in Wilmington, or quietly razed.

Inflation, taxes and family fortunes spread among several generations have made maintenance difficult.

While area developers would have liked to get their hands on the prime real estate, representatives for du Pont began talks with Longwood in 2016 about preserving Granogue’s rich natural heritage.

Strong family ties

The du Pont family has long had a connection to Longwood.

Irénée du Pont Jr.’s uncle was Longwood Gardens founder Pierre S. du Pont, who in 1906 purchased Longwood’s original 202 acres to save a public arboretum the community adored.

The Longwood Foundation was established in 1937 to ensure the property, now a 1,100-acre botanical garden, would forever be open to the public.

Longwood GardensTucks visitors into a warm flowerbed of Winter Wonder

In June 2000, the 200th anniversary of the du Pont’s arrival on American soil in 1800 was celebrated at Longwood Gardens. More than 1,900 family members were expected to attend.

The CEO and president of Longwood Gardens said the nonprofit’s goal of acquiring Granogue is in keeping with the spirit of why Longwood was founded.

“Here we are in 2023, we’re invoking that same legacy and spirit of conservation to save this important piece of land that is connected to so many other parts of the Brandywine Valley that are already conserved,” Redman said.  

This agreement is “a natural marriage” that brings two properties with a familial connection even closer together, he added.

How will Longwood utilize Granogue?  

Beauty and splendor will decorate Longwood Gardens, even in the cold months, with its annual Winter Wonder display through Sunday, March 26, near Kennett Square, Pa.

While detailed plans for how Longwood will use the property are not yet available, officials said their primary goal is to conserve the land.

Redman said one of the best ways to preserve the mansion and land is to ensure a level of visitation that maintains the character of the historic landscape. 

Longwood Gardens travel guide 2023: What you need to know if you go

Longwood’s vision for Granogue is to preserve the property and conserve it in a manner so that the “beautiful bucolic” green space can be shared with visitors, Redman said.

There are no details yet for how the mansion will be used.

Redman said Longwood and Granogue share a legacy of being gracious and welcoming to others, and they’re committed to continuing that spirit of hospitality. How they’ll achieve that is still to be determined.

When can we tour Granogue?  

Redman said “we have a way to go” before Longwood is ready to host the public at Granogue.

Longwood first needs to complete the process of getting more familiar with the mansion and grounds to understand Granogue better. This includes assessing the plant communities and ecosystems on the estate, he said. 

Granogue also hasn’t officially transferred to Longwood’s ownership. That process can take up to a year, Redman explained. 

Blaine Phillips, senior vice president of The Conservation Fund, said their organization’s aim is for that transaction to go through before the end of this year.   

The Fund led negotiations between Longwood and GRLLC, and helped facilitate the deal, Phillips said.  

A gem in Brandywine Valley

This agreement is a huge deal for The Fund and for conservation in general, Phillips explained, because Granogue is “the most important, unprotected big piece of property left in the Brandywine Valley.”  

People have been talking about this property for decades, he added.   

“What we have in the Brandywine Valley compares to or exceeds anything else around the country … because of the scenic elements, the recreation elements, the historic elements and really the cultural landscape that defines this area,” Phillips said.  

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer is calling Longwood’s plan to own Granogue a major win for Delaware.  

“As a staunch supporter of green and open spaces, I join New Castle County residents as we celebrate the protection of such a vital piece of land that will now stand for generations as a part of Delaware’s history and heritage,” Meyer said in a statement.   

He continued, “I want to extend our gratitude to the du Pont family who, in spite of increasing commercial pressure, chose to preserve this land for future generations.”  

‘Dad supports this plan’   

Irénée duPont, Jr., and his wife, Barbara, in their 1918 Cadillac at the 38th annual Point to Point at Winterthur in May 2016.

Grace Engbring, daughter of Irénée “Brip” Jr. and Barbara “Barbie” du Pont, is a family representative for GRLLC. 

Engbring said her family never considered selling her parents’ home to a developer.

While she’s still grieving the recent loss of her father, Grace said she’s pleased his lavish estate will be in good hands with Longwood. 

“Dad supports this plan wholeheartedly. He did. He knew every step of the way. He wasn’t involved in the actual meetings or anything, but I was the mole. I kept him up to date,” she said.  

Talks started in 2016

Although Longwood Gardens will own and operate Granogue, the Mt. Cuba Center and the Longwood Foundation provided generous support to help fund the acquisition, Longwood officials explained.

Additionally, du Pont family members contributed funds to establish a permanent endowment for future operations and advancement of the vision for Granogue, they said.

GRLLC began discussions in 2016 with Longwood Gardens and The Conservation Fund about the 1923 estate’s future.   

A preliminary study assessing current site conditions and encompassing site master planning was developed in 2018-2019, “with a commitment for Granogue to remain a pastoral cultural landscape,” Longwood said in a statement. 

Look for updates on new developments regarding this agreement between Longwood and GRLLC, and for future coverage of Longwood events, on Delaware Online.

To learn more about Longwood Gardens (1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.), visit longwoodgardens.org or (610) 388-1000.

Contact Patricia Talorico at ptalorico@delawareonline.com and follow her on Twitter @pattytalorico

Andre Lamar is a features/lifestyle reporter. If you have an interesting story idea, email Andre Lamar atalamar@gannett.com

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