I left the house around 9 am this morning though could have stayed on the couch all day and watched football. Our first stop of the day was the Brandywine Battlefield, where US troops under Washington’s guidance were out-maneuvered by British troops on September 11, 1777. In preparation for the battle, Washington established his headquarters at the Benjamin Ring House, home of a Quaker farmer and miller, which was located near the Chadd’s Ford area.
The Gideon Gilpin house, home of another Quaker farmer with a wife and six children, was a farmstead located nearby the battle that was later plundered by the British. Gilpin filed claims of the following losses: 10 cows, a yoke of oxen, 48 sheep, 28 swine, 12 tons of hay, 230 bushels of wheat, 50 pounds of bacon, a history book, and a gun. With his farm no longer operable, Gilpin converted his home into a tavern to support his family.
After traipsing around the battlefield, the dogs and I moved on to see the home of John Chad, a farmer who ran a ferry back and forth across the Brandywine River in the early 1700’s and for whom the town Chadds Ford is named. The house was closed for the season so we continued to the Brandywine River Museum, a converted gristmill housing works by a variety of artists, but mostly celebrates those of NC Wyeth and his son Andrew Wyeth.
One painting that I found fascinating was by Jefferson David Chalfant. He placed a stamp by his painting of the stamp and simply wrote, “which is which?”. I looked around the room to see if there was a no photography sign and even looked for a docent and didn’t see one so I snapped a photo with my phone. As I walked out of the room, there was the no photography sign…oh well.
I crossed the border from Pennsylvania into Delaware and visited Winterthur, the home of Henry Francis Du Pont. The original home of three stories and 12
rooms was expanded to a nine-story mansion over time and is home to 90,000 pieces of Americana dating from 1640-1860. Du Pont collected so many pieces of furniture, china, and the like, that when he moved out of the main house in 1951 to live in a smaller home on the 983 acre compound until his death in 1969 the bathrooms, closets and kitchen in the mansion were converted to display areas for his collections.
The tour took us through an entire floor of living and dining areas, of which almost every room had a theme based on the wallpaper and the type of furniture. Du Pont collected works from each of the 13 colonies and purchased woodwork from old houses that he used in decorating many of the living spaces.
The house also included an entire floor for guests, two floors for the family bedrooms, an indoor bowling alley, an indoor squash court, and more. The grounds included a golf course, tennis courts, a pool, a Koi pond, and countless flower gardens including 4 acres of cutting gardens. The mansion was like a 5 star resort for guests who were only invited for dinner if they could play bridge, the Du Ponts favorite evening pastime.
This was my only day to spend in Delaware, thus I had to act quickly to find a cache. Lucky for me, one was placed not far from the parking lot at Winterthur – an ammo can hidden behind a cherry tree! It was nice to have my dogs to walk around so I didn’t look completely out of place randomly walking into the woods nearby.
My final stop of the day was at the Hagley Museum, site of the Du Pont Company’s early gunpowder mills, E.I. Du Pont’s home, the workers compound, and school. I only had time to visit the Millwright and Machine Shop and Powder Yard before the museum closed, but that is the part I was most interested in seeing.
At the machine shop, Stephen showed me how to make a gear with the newest machine being constructed in 1869. The machines were powered by a turbine as well as a metal gears and leather bands. The machines operated easily and smoothly, but the process was extremely slow with it taking at least four days of labor to construct a gear. I wish I had a pamphlet to reference the process as there was too much information for me to soak in and note the process correctly, but the process included lathes, grinders, and drills. The workers received 25 cents a day and worked mostly on repairs needed for the gunpowder mills. It was really fascinating to see machines from the 1800s work so well.
George then showed me how gunpowder is made, also a fascinating process. The three ingredients required to make gunpowder are Saltpeter, Sulphur and Charcoal. The ingredients are mixed and measured in a composition house. A cart including each component is rolled to the Rolling Mill. The roller is operated by a turbine (used to be a water wheel), and it turns and crushes the ingredients. The mill area is open to the river, surrounded by three thick stone walls with a protective wall between the mill and the race, and a flimsy ceiling so if an explosion occurs, the only damage is to the roof and a few stones, and of course to the worker who is pouring water on the powder to keep it from getting too hot. A term used for an explosion is being thrown across the river.
After the powder is milled, it is pressed, dried, packed and shipped. As with milling, each of these processes is very dangerous. While the mills were in operation, there were 117 explosions and 288 workers died. After operating the turbine and roller and explaining the gunpowder making process, George demonstrated a gunpowder explosion! It was really fun to see all the Du Pont operations. I wish I could have stayed a little longer to see the steam engine room demonstration.
I finished the day returning to Villanova to enjoy a house again. Tomorrow I head to Maryland and plan to stay with a cousin in DC. I have to get an oil change, so I’m turning in early to try to get an early start to the morning. Good night! ETB