History of the Fountains of Longwood Gardens

Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University of Delaware
Longwood Gardens has some of the most spectacular fountain displays to be found anywhere. These waterworks were the creation of Pierre S. du Pont (1870-1954), industrialist, financier, and garden enthusiast. Even before he acquired Longwood, Pierre as a youth enjoyed visiting gardens whenever he could. In 1893, he was impressed with the lavish fountain display at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago; it provided the inspiration, he later remembered, for illuminated water at Longwood. He also landscaped the family's residential property in Wilmington. When Pierre purchased the old Peirce property in 1906, he had no intention of building lavish gardens; he simply wanted to restore the farm to its former condition and to make it a place where he could entertain his friends. During the first few years, however, he designed and planted an expansive, "old-fashioned" flower garden embellished with two pools, one of which spouted a fountain. The garden was such a success that he began hosting a garden party each June. This annual visit to Longwood soon became the highlight of the Wilmington summer social season. In 1910 and again in 1913, Pierre toured Europe. In Italy, he delighted in visiting the famous villas. After his 1913 visit to Siena's Villa Gori, noted for its outdoor theatre, Pierre constructed his own open-air facility at Longwood. Equipped with simple secret fountains built into the stage floor, the theatre became the setting for the garden party entertainments. In 1926, Pierre rebuilt the theatre and installed elaborate, electrically-illuminated fountains in the floor. Since its debut in 1927, this hydraulic display has thrilled thousands of viewers. In 1925, after a tour of the great gardens of France, Pierre began work on a water garden based on the design of the Villa Gamberaia near Florence. He made all the hydraulic calculations and literally designed the garden himself. Reminiscent of Italian villas and French bosquets, the Water Garden at Longwood is a peaceful combination of water, stonework, and green vegetation. Inspired by the success of the Water Garden and Theatre, Mr. du Pont planned an even larger display to rival that which he had seen at the Chicago Fair thirty-five years earlier. in the partially developed area south of the huge Conservatory (completed in 1921), he integrated into the existing plantings two long canals, a huge rectangular basin, and an immense water recirculation system. Additional plantings of huge specimen trees created the effect of a mature garden, and stonework imported for Italy produced an Old World feeling. Several hundred jets of water, shooting as high as 130 feet and recirculating a total of nearly 10,000 gallons each minute, create a hydraulic display as magnificent as can be found anywhere. Illuminated at night in every conceivable color, the Conservatory Fountains are the culmination fo Pierre du Pont's fascination with ornamental water in a garden setting.
Fountains, History - public garden, Longwood Gardens (Kennett Square, Pa.), History - Longwood Gardens (Kennett Square, Pa.), du Pont, Pierre S. (Pierre Samuel)