The Hagley Museum and Library celebrates the landscape heritage of Delaware’s Brandywine Valley, interpreting and preserving historic industrial and post-industrial sites along the Brandywine River. The Crowninshield Garden, unique among Hagley’s cultural landscape heritage, is a ca. 1920s neoclassical garden built upon the terraced ruins of Eleutherian Mills––the first DuPont Company manufacturing site in the United States. Operating from 1803-1921, Eleutherian Mills was the foremost gunpowder production facility in America. The site was the foundation of a sprawling global chemical and business empire tied to the du Ponts, who rose to become one of the wealthiest families in the world by World War I.
Several decades after Eleutherian Mills exploded in 1890, du Pont descendent Louise du Pont Crowninshield, alongside her husband, Frank Crowninshield, constructed a neoclassical Italianate garden upon the remains of the industrial complex. The garden defies stylistic categorization and simple explanation, with no known commissioner, hired designer, or original garden plan, appearing to have been constructed slowly over the course of a decade by local craftsmen and by the Crowninshields themselves, who attempted to create exact scale replicas of ruined architectural features they had observed on their travels in Rome just before the emergence of Italian fascism. In so doing, the Crowninshields preserved one ruin by building another. Their cascading layers of Italianate pools, columns, statuary, and colonnades were carefully constructed to appear worn away by time. No other known garden in the United States was built so intentionally to convey the patina of time as was the Crowninshield Garden.
After the site fell into obscurity and disrepair over the past half-decade, NBW was engaged to reconsider the future of the Crowninshield Garden alongside Hagley Museum and Library staff and structural engineering firm, Robert Silman Associates. The team engaged a rehabilitative approach to the ruined site to provide safe access, while also carefully identifying opportunities for restoration and reconstruction of historic structures and garden features. The final Concept Design outlines a clear, flexible framework for design interventions to guide creative horticultural display, public visitation, and long-term preservation. This process was supported by the development of a Cultural Landscape Research Synthesis package which serves to reveal the multiple layers of material and social history that this garden represents. The final comprehensive plan engages a 21st century approach to preservation, focusing on revealing multi-layered material and cultural histories through targeted design intervention.
Collaborators: Silman Design Engineers, MCWB Architects