The duPonts

Research & Collections
 

The duPont Family

Montpelier was under the stewardship of the du Pont family for eight decades. William and Annie du Pont expanded and decorated the mansion in the style of an early twentieth-century country house. Their daughter Marion made a name for Montpelier in the world of championship horse racing. The du Ponts appreciated Montpelier’s heritage as the home of James Madison, ultimately making it possible for Montpelier to be restored and opened to the public.

William and Annie du Pont

William du Pont Sr. employed  his secretary William King Lennig as his agent to purchase Montpelier in 1900. The property was formally transferred to du Pont in January 1901. The du Ponts, who were then living at Binfield Park outside London, relied on Lennig to organize the initial changes and enlargements to the house. A year later William du Pont, his wife Annie Rogers Zinn du Pont, and their two children, Marion and William (Willie), moved to Montpelier. When completed, the du Pont renovations more than doubled the size of the house, with floors added above the one-story wings, and new wings constructed on the rear of the house. Annie du Pont furnished and decorated Montpelier after the family arrived in 1902, using chandeliers, mirrors, sofas, and tables she had selected while in England.

Daughter Marion recalled:
"My father was here at Montpelier pretty solidly the first two or three years after we got the place. Then he went back to business in Wilmington [Delaware]. He would come down on the train to Montpelier Station Friday night and go back Monday morning. The train would make a special stop for him."

Annie and William maintained other homes as well: one close to the du Pont enterprises in Delaware, another in Pennsylvania, and a winter home in Georgia. Annie enjoyed overseas travel and frequently returned to London during the summer months. Montpelier, however, remained the family’s primary residence. After the deaths of Annie in 1926 and William in 1927, Montpelier passed to their daughter Marion.
 

Marion duPont Scott

Marion duPont was born in 1894, in Wilmington, Delaware, during a family visit home from England; her brother Willie was born in England in 1896. The children were ages eight and six when the family moved to Virginia.

“Soon after we came to Montpelier we were clamoring to have ponies,” Marion recalled. “Father was for it. Mother was a little fussy, talking about how impractical it was – bowed legs, and everything. Finally, we got the ponies.”  This led to a lifelong interest in riding, showing, racing, and breeding horses. In 1915 Marion raised eyebrows as the first woman to win a Madison Square Garden show competition while riding astride (rather than sidesaddle). “I didn’t think it would cause so much commotion,” she later reflected. “I’m not so sure it created as much comment as some people now say it did.”

After the deaths of her mother in 1927 and her father in 1928, Marion kept much of the Montpelier house as her parents had left it. She did, however, create an Art Deco-inspired Red Room featuring photographs of her champion horses on the walls and a working weather vane in the ceiling. A second-floor room became her Trophy Room. Marion added race tracks to the grounds and developed Montpelier as one of the nation's leading horse-training centers. Her most famous horse was Battleship, who in 1938 was the first American horse to win the British Grand National steeplechase race.

Marion’s two marriages (to Thomas Somerville in 1925, and to rising actor Randolph Scott in 1936) ended in amicable divorces. She had no children. In her will she expressed a wish that her heirs would transfer Montpelier to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, since she felt it was “appropriate ...  to restore the mansion house in such a manner as to conform as nearly as possible with the architectural pattern which existed when said property was owned and occupied by President Madison." She also expressed in her will that it would be "appropriate that the mansion house be furnished with furniture and furnishings formerly owned by James Madison" and "be made available to the general public as an historic shrine."

Marion duPont Scott died in 1983, and her heirs transferred Montpelier to the National Trust the following year in accordance with the wishes expressed in her will.

Du Pont Family Relationships

How was William du Pont Sr. related to...

The du Ponts associated with the chemical company?
William’s grandfather E. I. du Pont established the original company as a gunpowder mill in 1802.  William’s father Henry ran the company from 1850 to 1889. William’s cousin Lammot established the Repauno Chemical Company, which manufactured dynamite, in 1880. William was president of several du Pont companies, including Repauno, the Hercules Powder Company, and the Hercules Torpedo Company. In 1899 the family business became a corporation. William’s brother and cousins were the officers of the corporation. William was a major shareholder and, for a time, a director.

The du Ponts associated with Winterthur?
William’s nephew Henry Francis du Pont developed Winterthur into a museum of decorative arts.
The Winterthur house had been built by William’s uncle Jacques Antoine Bidermann (son-in-law of E. I. du Pont). Bidermann sold the house to William’s father, who passed it to William’s older brother, who passed it to his son (William’s nephew), Henry Francis.

The du Ponts associated with Longwood Gardens?
William’s cousin P. S. du Pont bought Longwood for a residence in 1906. The estate already had a well-established arboretum. Pierre Samuel developed it further and established the Longwood Foundation in 1937 to preserve Longwood Gardens for public enjoyment.

The du Ponts associated with Bellevue?
William du Pont Sr. purchased Bellevue Hall (originally Woolton Hall) and left it to his son Willie (William duPont Jr.). Willie remodeled the house so that resembled Montpelier, his childhood home. The estate is now a Delaware state park.

The du Pont for whom Du Pont Circle is named?
Du Pont Circle in Washington DC is named for William’s cousin, Admiral Samuel Francis du Pont (1803-1865). Samuel’s naval career was launched in 1815, when his father (Victor-Marie du Pont) requested a midshipman’s position for Samuel, by writing to then-President James Madison.

The du Ponts who knew James Madison?
James Madison corresponded with the three du Ponts who emigrated from France to the United States in 1799: Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours and his sons Victor-Marie and Eleuthère Irenée. They were William’s great-grandfather, great-uncle, and grandfather, respectively. Pierre Samuel shared his writings on economics with Madison, and used his influence with the French government to support the Louisiana Purchase. Eleuthère Irenée corresponded with Madison regarding his gunpowder manufacturing process.

 

A Lifelong Love of Horses

“Soon after we came to Montpelier we were clamoring to have ponies,” Marion recalled. “Father was for it. Mother was a little fussy, talking about how impractical it was – bowed legs, and everything. Finally, we got the ponies.”

Painting of Annie du Pont in the William du Pont Gallery.

Entrance to the Annie du Pont Formal Garden.