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Believe it or not, America’s chateau country is in Delaware. The First State has been home to the megarich du Pont family and their many mansions for two centuries. Want an inside peek? Read on.

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Hagley Museum and Library - Visitor Center

Hagley Museum and Library – Visitor Center | Flickr CC: Harvey Barrison

Wilmington’s Hagley Museum and Library, located on the banks of the Brandywine River, sets the stage. This is where E.I. du Pont established a gunpowder works in 1802 that led to the family’s fame and fortune. Staff-led tours take in the original gunpowder mill, along with restored workers’ quarters and the du Pont family mansion and gardens. Walking trails are available for visitors to explore on their own.

Nemours Mansion and Gardens

Nemours Mansion and Gardens | Flickr CC: Robert Lyle Bolton

Nemours Mansion and Gardens in Wilmington is reminiscent of Versailles (after which it was modeled). This megalith was built by Alfred du Pont in the early 1900s. The neoclassical mansion is filled with rare 18th century furniture, glimmering chandeliers and a vast first-edition book collection featuring the likes of Hugo, Balzac and Voltaire. The formal French gardens are filled with gilded statues and sparkling fountains.

Chinese Parlor in Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

Chinese Parlor in Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library | Flickr CC: Jim, the photographer

Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, dating from 1837, was home to a couple of generations of du Ponts. The lavish 175-room mansion is oft-considered the country’s premier museum of American decorative arts. Open tram cars traipse through 60 acres of naturalistic gardens overlooking the Delaware River.

Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens

In 1907, one Pierre S. du Pont established Longwood Gardens just over the state border in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. The garden-crazy industrialist added a four-acre mansion-like conservatory in 1921, and from there, the place kept growing. The outside gardens, more than 1,000 acres in size, are adorned with ornate flowers, fountains, topiary and ponds with lily pads.

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Rockwood Museum & Park

Rockwood Museum & Park | Photo courtesy of @sassyclassyandfab

Of course, the du Ponts weren’t the only rich family around town. Back in Wilmington, Rockwood Museum & Park was built in the mid-1800s by banker Joseph Shipley. The Gothic Revival-style mansion contains original furnishings, family memorabilia and a few ghosts. Reserve a Ghost of Rockwood Mansion Tour, where visitors are led by a medium to explore the attic and basement, both rumored hotbeds of paranormal activity.

Read House & Gardens

Read House & Gardens | Photo courtesy of @theflyingarchitect

Read House & Gardens in historic New Castle was the crib of George Read II, a prominent early-19th century lawyer. The 22-room Federal style mansion is located on the riverfront. History buffs can canvas rooms to observe well-preserved furniture, original paintings and hand-painted murals depicting the sumptuous countryside. The house is surrounded by one-and-a-half acres of formal gardens.

For those planning to tour several of these sites, save money by purchasing the Brandywine Treasure Trail Passport for $45.

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Tagged: Destinations

Laura Powell

Laura Powell

Laura is a 20-year veteran travel journalist. She was CNN's first travel reporter, and has written for publications ranging from Alaska Airlines Magazine to The Washington Post. Find her at the www.dailysuitcase.com or on Twitter: @dailysuitcase

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