Longwood Gardens, the renowned botanical gardens that is a major tourist attraction right over the Pennsylvania border, will acquire the roughly 505-acre du Pont family estate known as Granogue following the passing of its longtime owner.
Owned by Irénée “Brip” du Pont Jr., who passed in January at age 103, the estate represents one of the largest undeveloped private tracts of land in the Montchanin area and, by all accounts, one of the best-preserved pieces of architecture in the du Pont family heritage that is still privately held.
In a statement, Longwood Gardens said it has entered into a binding purchase agreement within the estate’s ownership LLC, Granogue Reserve Limited (GRLLC), and once completed it intended to open the property to the public. The nonprofit announced the deal Wednesday through an interview with The News Journal/Delaware Online.
“Longwood Gardens is honored to play a part in the preservation of Granogue,” said Paul Redman, president and CEO of Longwood Gardens, 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.”
The terms of the purchase agreement, including an acquisition price, were not disclosed. No legal documents pertaining to the agreement have yet to be recorded by the county. While a purchase agreement does not guarantee a deal to close, the long connections between the nonprofit and the family make it likely.
Pierre S. du Pont, uncle of Brip du Pont, acquired a 202-acre arboretum in the Kennett Square, Pa., area in 1906 to preserve it for the public. About 30 years later, the Longwood Foundation was established to protect, maintain and operate the property that now encompasses a 1,100-acre public botanical garden that saw 1.6 million visitors last year.
“Preserving this beautiful land is important to our family,” said Grace Engbring, daughter of Brip and family representative for GRLLC, said in a statement. “Longwood Gardens has shown great care in stewarding our great-uncle Pierre’s former estate, and I know Longwood will ensure Granogue thrives into the future.”
“My father was committed to keeping Granogue as open space to be enjoyed by many and he did this very gracefully just as Longwood will continue to do,” she added.
Discussions between the du Pont family and Longwood Gardens, facilitated by The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit that helps facilitate large-scale land preservation, began in 2016. A preliminary study assessing site conditions and a future master site plan was developed in 2018-2019.
The ties that bind the large du Pont family will also continue to support the Granogue, as the Mt. Cuba Center and the Longwood Foundation – both founded by du Ponts in prior generations – have donated to help fund the estate’s acquisition. In addition, du Pont family members have established a permanent endowment for future operations and advancement of the vision for Granogue.
How exactly Longwood Gardens would utilize the Granogue property that lies about 8 miles southeast of its own property remains to be seen. Redman told the News Journal that preservation of all the land would be the first priority and that public access would be part of the plan.
The Granogue estate was established by Brip’s father, Irénée du Pont Sr., who brought his family there in 1923 while he was president of the DuPont Company – meaning a transition of ownership comes on its century anniversary.
While much of the 505 acres is preserved forest or meadow, or actively farmed for corn, soybeans and more, the stately Colonial Revival house is the key asset. Designed by architect Albert Spahr, a classmate of du Pont Sr. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the brick home is faced with granite mined in Germantown, Pa., according to the Society of Architectural Historians. Flourishes like iron hardware from metal craftsman Samuel Yellin, a romantic landscape mural by artist Maxfield Parrish and an antique Aeolian pipe organ also adorn the home’s interior.