Greenville: A suburb with some flairNov 24, 2021 08:39AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Delaware has long been considered a sleepy, less noticed suburb of
Wilmington. Yet it is so much more, not just for places within its
borders, but sites nearby which have regional and national
It is only 2.74 square miles, but Greenville has had an oversized impact on our culture and politics. Besides being the home of President Joe Biden, people who changed our country and the world have lived here, including Pierre Samuel du Pont, as well as notable descendants Alfred I. du Pont and Pierre S. “Pete” du Pont.
Driving toward Wilmington on Route 52 from southeastern Pennsylvania, you quickly see the verdant rolling hills of what has come to be called “du Pont country.” The area got its nickname for good reason—hundreds of those in the family lineage have resided here for generations. Sweeping green fields adjoining rustic country estates is the rule, for many the by-product of successful careers with Du Pont. The origins of Du Pont are in France, where the namesake of the family, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (1739- 1817) was an esteemed writer on economics, inspector general of commerce under King Louis XVI and later helped negotiate the Treaty of 1783 which ended the Revolutionary War. His son E. I. du Pont studied chemistry under French scientist Antoine Lavoisier. He later came to America and bought land outside Wilmington along the Brandywine Creek in northern Delaware, the site for a major gunpowder operation. E. I. du Pont later met with Thomas Jefferson, who applauded his pursuit of the powder business which would help support the American army. The Du Pont company would later be one of the most dominant gunpowder producers in the country and the largest supplier to the U.S. military, providing nearly 40 per cent of the powder used by the Union Army during the Civil War. The firm subsequently expanded its operations to include a wide variety of chemicals and materials and became one of the most innovative and successful chemical companies in the world.
People coming into the region recognize the A. I. du Pont Middle School, one of the highest rated in the region. Pierre Samuel “Pete” du Pont served as the U.S. Representative in Congress from 1971 to 1977 and Governor of Delaware from 1977 to 1985; he passed away earlier this year. Numerous members of the du Pont family have made lasting contributions to the area, including support for local foundations, hospitals and charities. Some of their former homes now stand as tourist attractions, including Winterthur, Nemours and other locations. The Hagley Museum and Library sits on the site of the former gunpowder operations and is now a nonprofit educational institution and research facility; E.I. du Pont’s home within the complex was the first home for the du Ponts in America.
St. Joseph on the Brandywine Church was constructed in 1841 by the family for Irish and Italian workers at the nearby Du Pont facility. The church grounds once contained several buildings, including a school and a convent, but some structures burned down; it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. President Joe Biden’s mother and father, as well as his daughter and first wife are buried in the cemetery there, near his son Joseph R. “Beau” Biden. A site that helped the Union win the Civil War is not far up the road. A blue and gold historical marker on Briars Lane mentions the First and Second Delaware Regiments who served during the conflict. In September 1862, Pennsylvania troops were sent to the area to guard the crucial powder mills. The Fourth Delaware Regiment relieved those men the following month when the site was known briefly as Camp du Pont, subsequently as Camp Brandywine.
You can’t pass through Greenville without noticing a shopping center which holds several different stores and restaurants, as well as a local landmark. Janssen’s Market has been a Greenville ‘resident’ for decades. Run by three generations of the Janssen family, it was founded in the Fall of 1952 by Joseph Janssen Sr. When you walk inside its doors, you find much more than your average supermarket. Janssen’s has a full-sized bakery, butcher shop and deli, where you can order delicious fresh-made sandwiches and soups. Their cheese shop offers more than 250 selections from around the world. Hungry workers in the area enjoy their lunch break at Janssen’s, with freshly baked bread making their sandwiches delightful. Nearby, Elizabeth’s also offers a wide variety of delicious soups, gourmet salads, pizza and other entrees, as well as a cocktail bar and piano music.
Greenville’s heritage includes what is considered the oldest schoolhouse in the state. The Walnut Green School, also known as District School Number 25, is a one-room structure at the intersection of Delaware Route 82 and Owl’s Nest Road. Founded in 1808, the building is a Colonial Revival styled one-story, white-stucco rectangular stone structure which was remodeled from 1918- 1924. Although the school closed in 1947, it was listed on the National Register in 1994.
So, if you’re driving toward Wilmington and are looking for a place to shop, have lunch or delve into local history, Greenville has much to explore. Aside from enjoying the nearby countryside and numerous landmarks, you’ll get a better sense of the rich heritage of the region.
Gene Pisasale is an historian, author and lecturer based in Kennett Square. His ten books focus on the history of the Chester County and mid-Atlantic region. His latest book is titled: “Forgotten Founding Fathers: Pennsylvania and Delaware in the American Revolution.” His books are available on his website at www.GenePisasale.com and on www.Amazon.com. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]