brandywine battlefield

Day 48 – Delaware’s and Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley

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Day 48 of a Year Long Road Trip Along America’s Scenic Byways

Brandywine Battlefield

I left my friend’s house in Villanova around 9 am this morning though could have stayed on the couch all day and watched football.  Our first stop in the Brandywine Valley was at the Brandywine Battlefield. On September 11, 1777, US troops under Washington’s guidance were out-maneuvered by British troops.  In preparation for the battle, Washington established his headquarters near Chadd’s Ford at the Benjamin Ring House, home of a Quaker farmer and miller.

brandywine battlefield

Gideon Gilpin House

Another farmstead located near the battle was the Gideon Gilpin House. This home was owned by another Quaker farmer with a wife and six children. The British plundered the home after the battle.  Consequently, 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.

Gideon Gilpin house in the brandywine valley

John Chads House

After traipsing around the Brandywine Battlefield, the dogs and I ventured to John Chads House. John Chads, for whom the Town of Chadds Ford is named, was a farmer who ran a ferry across the Brandywine River in the early 1700’s. Unfortunately, the house was closed for the season so we continued to the Brandywine River Museum.

John Chads house in the brandywine valley

Brandywine River Museum

The Brandywine River Museum is a converted gristmill which houses 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 for a “no photography sign” and even looked for a docent but didn’t see either, so I snapped a photo with my phone.  As I walked out of the room, a “no photography sign” was hanging at the entrance. Oh well.

Picture of stamps at the brandywine river museum

Winterthur

I continued through the Brandywine Valley from Pennsylvania to Delaware where I 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.

inside winterthur mansion in the  brandywine valley

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.

themed room in Du Pont's winterthur

The house also featured an entire floor for guests, two floors for the family bedrooms, an indoor bowling alley, an indoor squash court, and more.  The grounds encompassed a golf course, tennis courts, a pool, a Koi pond, and countless flower gardens including four 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.

The mansion, grounds and stories were quite remarkable. I definitely recommend a tour.

Geocaching

This was my only day to spend in Delaware, thus in my quest to find a cache in every state, I had to act quickly.  Lucky for me, one was placed not far from the parking lot at Winterthur. It was nice to have my dogs with me so I didn’t look completely out of place randomly walking into the nearby woods to find an ammo can hidden behind a cherry tree.

Hagley Museum

My final stop of the day was at the Hagley Museum. The museum comprises Du Pont Company’s early gunpowder mills, E.I. Du Pont’s home, the workers compound, and a 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.

Hagley Museum featuring Du Pont's gunpowder mills

How to Make a Gear

At the machine shop, Stephen showed me how to make a gear with the newest machine circa 1869.  The machines were powered by a turbine as well as metal gears and leather bands.  They 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, as there was too much information for me to soak in to note the process correctly. What I can recall is the gear making process included lathes, grinders, and drills, and workers received 25 cents a day repairing tools needed for the gunpowder mills.  It was really fascinating to see machines from the 1800s work so well.

drill in the gunpowder mill at the Hagley Museum

How to Make Gunpowder

After learning about gears, I got educated on gunpowder. George showed me how gunpowder is made, also a interesting process.  The three ingredients required to make gunpowder are Saltpeter, Sulphur and Charcoal.  The ingredients are mixed and measured in the composition house.  Then a cart including each component is rolled to the Rolling Mill.  Next, the roller, operated by a turbine (used to be a water wheel), turns and crushes the ingredients. 

While it is being crushed, a worker pours water the powder to keep it from getting too hot. If in fact there is an explosion, the mill is built to limit the damage. It is open to the river and has three thick walls with a protective wall between the mill and the race. The ceiling, however, is flimsy as the explosion is forced upward. Another name 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. Before I left, George demonstrated to me a small gunpowder explosion!  It was really fun to see all the Du Pont operations.  I wish I could have stayed longer to see the steam engine room demonstration.

I finished the day in 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 in order to get an early start in the morning.  Good night! ETB

Map of My Road Trip Across the USA

For a summary about my road trip across the USA, click HERE. For the interactive map, see the below link.

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

11 thoughts on “Day 48 – Delaware’s and Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley

  1. Totally fascinating!!! You must be taking notes as you go along because you are doing such a good job of describing historical dates and places. It is just wonderful!!

  2. Day looks great but no haunted houses? Bummer… We all missed your Halloween party this year.. Take care! Bill

  3. Reminds me of some of my descriptions of our visit to Biltmore a few years ago. Indoor bowling ally, full size tiled pool (top, bottom & all sides) and all the other things, hard to believe people lived/live like this. Biltmore is in Ashville NC about an hr or so from Gattlenburg both are worth a visit. Stay safe.

  4. Great stuff Beth….you and Suzanne made fun of me for watching the history channel…..no longer!!

    There is a museum somewhere missing a docent…

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