Brandywine Springs

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A watercolor by the architect

Brandywine Springs, an historic geographical feature near Newport, Delaware in northern New Castle County along the Red Clay Creek, has a fascinating, multi-century story. Its history traces from pre-colonial Native American times and early European settlers' interest in the iron-rich spring water as a medicinal cure. The site was then briefly the focus of a military encampment of about 12,000 Continental soldiers and militia led by General George Washington. In 1827, work began on what would later be designed as an elegant hotel on the property. An 1830s design of an expansive spa resort was executed by Thomas Ustick Walter, the fourth architect of the U.S. Capitol Building. After burning down in 1853, the hotel was rebuilt and continued operation for a number of decades. A new owner in 1886 began to add tennis courts, boating, a merry-go-round, and a primitive roller coaster, and soon the Brandywine Springs had become a popular amusement park which would draw crowds until 1924, when it was shut down. Today, the Friends of Brandywine Springs preservation society encourages archeological digs and historical interest in the site.

The mineral waters

The springs that percolate up in the Hyde Run at Brandywine Springs are known as "Chalybeate waters", meaning that they contain iron. Since the early 17th century, many have believed such mineral springs can have a restorative, medicinal effect on those who drink the waters. Indeed, one similar English spring's waters were said to have "Cured the colic, the melancholy, and the vapours; made the lean fat, the fat lean; killed the flat worms of the belly, loosened the clammy humours of the body and dried the overmoist brain, and besides these and many other benefits, warded off the Plague."[1]

Revolutionary tension

During the Revolutionary War, in August 1777, George Washington and his colonial army took positions along Red Clay Creek near Brandywine Springs to defend against a British advance on Philadelphia. British forces under Earl Cornwallis headed for Washington's position while a separate force under Sir William Howe flanked the colonials to the north, forcing Washington to withdraw across the Brandywine Creek on September 9. Washington chose to hold at some hills next to Chad's Ford on the Brandywine.[2]

On September 11, Howe and Cornwallis 18,000 soldiers attacked Washington's 11,000 men at Chad's Ford, resulting in the Battle of Brandywine. Washington's men held off the British for much of the day, but were finally outflanked and forced to concede the field. The British, having marched for much of the previous night and needing rest, did not immediately pursue, and Washington's army, having suffered around 1,200 casualties, was able to escape to Germantown.[3]

Hotel and spa

In 1827, work began on what would later be designed as an elegant hotel on the property. An 1830s design of an expansive spa resort was executed by Thomas Ustick Walter, the fourth architect of the U.S. Capitol Building.

In 1853, Captain Alden Partridge organized a large fundraising meeting in Philadelphia,[4] in support of his idea to launch a military academy on the site of Brandywine Springs, which came to fruition on May 16, 1853, as the National Scientific and Military Academy. However, in December of that same year, the buildings burned down.[5] The hotel was rebuilt and continued operation for a number of decades.

During the American Civil War, a temporary "Camp DuPont" was established on the grounds. First established May 1861, the camp was home to the Fourth Regiment, Delaware Volunteer Infantry from June through October 1862, whence they moved to a camp of the same name near Kennett Pike (now Route 52). The remustered First Delaware Regiment then camped here in February 1864, following a 30-day furlough before returning to active service for the Union side in Virginia. The camp was named in honor of Rear Admiral Samuel F. DuPont.[6]

Amusement park


  • Pre-European settlement - Native American gatherings and legends about the iron-rich spring water. Indians came from as far away as Ohio to partake in the foul-tasting waters with supposed medicinal value.
  • 1777 - General George Washington preparing an encampment and defense works that was promptly abandoned against the oncoming assault of British generals Howe and Cornwallis
  • 1827-1853 - A fashionable spa and hotel (designed by U.S. Capitol Building architect T.U. Walter) located on the site and visited by such notables as Henry Clay. It burned down in 1853.
  • 1855-1885 - Rebuilt hotel in operation again.
  • 1886-1889 - Hotel lease turned over to Richard Crook, who adds tennis and croquet courts, boating, swimming, picnic grounds, and a merry-go-round.
  • 1890 - Crook added a restaurant and a toboggan slide (a precursor to the modern roller-coaster), and Brandywine Springs took on the characteristics of an amusement park.
  • 1891-1923 - With the addition of a Dentzel carousel, a 7-acre man-made "Lake Washington", an electric power plant (to illuminate and power the rides), a mile-long scenic railway, a labyrinth, and a roller rink, this was a thriving early 20th century amusement park along the Hyde Run tributary.
  • 1924 - The amusement park doesn't open for the season, having been overtaken in popularity by its sister venture in the northeast part of the county, Shellpot Park, as well as Riverview Beach in South Jersey.
  • 1925-1939 - The park falls into disrepair, is picked clean by scavengers, and is progressively overtaken by weeds and brush.
  • Today - The upper park serves the community with baseball diamonds, and the lower park presents visitors with various challenging hiking trails.




  1. ^ Journal of physical education, page 71, Ling Physical Education Association, (v. 41-43; 1949)
  2. ^ Cooch's Bridge
  3. ^ Battle on the Brandywine
  4. ^ Syracuse Evening Chronicle, All Sorts, April 22, 1853.
  5. ^ William Arba Ellis, Norwich University, 1819-1911, The Capitol city press, 1911.
  6. ^ State of Delaware, Department of State, Delaware Public Archives, historical markers program. Contact: Moira Conlan.

External links