This Couple Restored a du Pont Mansion to its Former Glory
Located in Greenville, Del., former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was among the home’s esteemed visitors.
In 2008, Anthony and Carrie Wedo were searching for land in northern Delaware’s picturesque Chateau Country, a place where they could build a home for themselves and their two sons. They found 10 sylvan acres in Greenville that offered them privacy and lovely views. There was only one obstacle: the faded mansion sitting on the property.
Their real estate agent persuaded them to take a look at the house, so they stepped beneath the sagging front portico, whose pediment is modeled after the White House’s façade, and went inside. There they beheld a grand staircase and basked in the glow of sunlight streaming through large arched windows on the landing.
In that moment, they went from prospective builders to preservationists. “Something said to us that we needed to be here,” says Carrie.
A NEW DEAL
The Wedos loved the storied history of the house, which was built by Eugene du Pont for his daughter, Aimee. Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited what was then the 30-acre estate in 1937, when Ethel du Pont married the president’s son. Previous residents also included the Carpenter family, whose members are former owners of the Philadelphia Phillies and notable benefactors of the University of Delaware.
To restore it to its former glory, the Wedos commissioned a historian to research the house and grounds. “I’m a huge history buff,” Tony says. “We both believe in preserving the architecture from an era in history we will never see again.”
Tony studied vintage photographs at Winterthur, the nearby 150-room estate-turned-museum owned by Henry Francis du Pont. “I could see that the moldings in our dining room were the same as the moldings in the dining room at Winterthur,” he says.
The couple interviewed a number of contractors, but they struggled to find somebody that shared their vision of retaining as much of the original house as possible and replicating elements that couldn’t be saved.
LEADING THE CHARGE
Instead, Tony decided to act as his own general contractor. A seasoned CEO in the restaurant industry, he has succeeded in turning around troubled companies. Why not a house?
Updating the mechanical systems for the 13,000-plus-square-foot structure was essential. “We could see the needle spinning on the gas meter,” recalls Tony. “That’s how much gas it takes to heat a home this size.”
Combatting the costs, the Wedos installed geothermal heating and cooling. “It keeps us comfortable for 10-15 percent of our previous energy costs,” Tony says.
Throughout the house, crumbling walls were taken down. The Wedos brought in plasterers from Lancaster, Pa., to create new walls. Workers laid historically correct six-inch flooring planks of European white oak in a herringbone pattern. All seven fireplaces were outfitted for gas, too.
A spacious new kitchen ushers the home into the 21st century. Elsewhere, a three-story addition to the main house includes a family room, a master bedroom and bath, a mudroom, a screened porch, an elevator, and a lower-level safe room. To match the addition to the original multicolored slate roof, acquired pieces from a vintage building in Vermont. “Putting a new roof on this house would’ve seriously compromised its character,” Tony says.
PAST MEETS PRESENT
In the 1950s, the mansion was home to Roxana Cannon Arsht, the first woman judge in Delaware, and her husband Samuel, a corporate attorney who chaired the committee to revise the general corporate law in 1967 that made Delaware a destination for businesses to incorporate. Their daughter, the philanthropist and arts patron Adrienne Arsht, gave her parents the tennis courts on the grounds, which the Wedos plan to restore.
Fittingly, Adrienne stopped by to meet the Wedos on a visit from Florida to see how the restoration was progressing. “She was so happy she was moved to tears,” says Tony.
Other enhancements to the estate include a new three-bedroom guesthouse and three-car garage, a larger original garage, and a swimming pool on a series of terraces that transition from the house to the tennis courts. “We wanted the pool to look like it’s been here for at least 60 years,” Carrie says.
After much work, the house retains its grandeur, exuding an elegant and relaxed vibe. The stately staircase that captivated the Wedos is now decorated with garland for the holidays.
The windows in the wood-paneled sunroom have no curtains, leaving the view of the grounds unobstructed. In the formal living room, a tufted sofa and zebra rug are grouped in front of the fire. Busy wallpaper has been traded for a serene palette of soft blues and creams. The dining room has upholstered chairs and a long, lean table. A marble fireplace is flanked by arched built-in china closets that glisten with crystal. A gilded mirror came from Tony’s 18th-century childhood home in Shippensburg, Pa.
All the effort doubled the time and expense of the project, Tony says. But he admits it was worth every minute and every penny, and he and Carrie love sharing their home with others. On holidays, they set up dining tables throughout the first floor to accommodate extended family. Carrie, who has 12 siblings, cooks with her sisters. More than 50 people join hands in the dining room for a prayer before the meal.
They hope to add more happy traditions to the house. Some day, they’d like to host their sons’ weddings on the grounds, beneath the shade of century-old trees the Wedos have come to think of as friends.
“We love our home because it’s warm, welcoming and not ostentatious,” Carrie says. “You just feel good when you’re here.”