Longwood Gardens, founded by Pierre S. du Pont in the early 1900s, is about to get another dose of du Pont.
The Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, gardens and The Conservation Fund will acquire and operate the longtime du Pont estate Granogue located in New Castle County.
The 505-acre private estate includes the long-time residence of the late Irénée “Brip” and Barbara “Barbie” du Pont Jr. He died last month at the age of 103; she died in 2021 at the age of 96.
The move answers a question that area residents have wondered aloud about for decades: What would happen to Granogue when the du Ponts died?
The agreement — which includes all the land and buildings — was worked out between Longwood Gardens, The Conservation Fund and Granogue Reserve LTD LLC, which owned the property.
“Longwood Gardens is honored to play a part in the preservation of Granogue,” said Paul B. Redman, 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.”
It will become the latest large tract of land to be put into conservation, a move that guarantees it will not be used for development. A conserved property usually has sold the property’s rights to be developed in perpetuity.
It’s become a popular financial move that allows owners to cash in some of their properties’ value while preserving its existence as open land, but it also is a move that can prevent erosion and protect water by reducing runoff.
Granogue is one of the last remaining pieces of unprotected open space in the Brandywine River Corridor with large sections of farmland, forest, pasture, and meadow, the Longwood press release said. The house was built in the early 1920s by Irénée’s parents, who had nine children.
Much of the property is actively farmed for corn, soy, hay, and dairy production, and it includes large sections of forest, pasture and meadow.
Longwood Gardens began with Pierre du Pont’s wish when he bought in in 1906 to stop the trees in a 202-acre arboretum from being turned into lumber. Since then, Longwood has become one of the world’s great gardens, but it also focuses on conservation and sustainability.
“Today, we are honoring the legacy of Longwood through an act of conservation to protect another landscape,” Redman said.
Granogue opened for events
While private, Granogue has often opened its gates to the public. Brip and Barbie hosted events including bicycle and foot races, Boy Scout events and more. Granogue was often used by local organizations to hold events and fundraisers.
“Preserving this beautiful land is important to our family,” said Grace Engbring, daughter of Irénée and Barbara du Pont, Jr. and family representative for Granogue Reserve.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Granogue Reserve 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.
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The Conservation Fund, which works to protect the most critical lands and waterways in the United States to provide greater access to nature, strengthen local economies and enhance climate resiliency, has protected 8.5 million acres of land across all 50 states since 1985.
“We are proud to play a role in preserving this ecologically vital parcel of the Brandywine River Corridor and ensuring it remains a pastoral jewel for the Brandywine Valley region to enjoy,” said Blaine T. Phillips, senior vice president of The Conservation Fund.
While Longwood Gardens will own and operate Granogue, Mt. Cuba Center and the Longwood Foundation have provided generous support to help fund the acquisition, the press release said.
In addition, du Pont family members have generously contributed funds to establish a permanent endowment for future operations and advancement of the vision for Granogue, the release said.
Ann C. Rose, president of the Mt. Cuba Center Board of Managers and Thère du Pont, president of the Longwood Foundation, said in the release that the move will not only elevate Mt. Cuba Center’s ongoing efforts to maintain a healthy ecosystem for the region, but also benefit the cultural fabric and quality of life for area residents, which is core to the work of the Longwood Foundation.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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