William du Pont, Jr.
|William du Pont, Jr.|
|Born||February 11, 1896
Lonely Park, Surrey, England
|Died||December 31, 1965
|Residence||Bellevue Hall, Bellevue, Delaware|
|Occupation||Businessman, banker, racetrack owner, racehorse owner/breeder, racecourse designer|
Board member of
|Delaware Trust Company|
|Spouse(s)||1) Jean Liseter Austin
2) Margaret Osborne
Children with Jean:
5) William III
|Parents||William du Pont & Annie Rogers|
|Awards||Delaware Sports Hall of Fame (1979)|
William du Pont, Jr. (February 11, 1896 - December 31, 1965) was an American businessman and banker and a prominent figure in the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing. He developed and designed more than 20 racing venues, including Fair Hill at his 5,000-acre estate in Maryland. A member of the Delaware Du Pont family, he was the son of William du Pont and Annie Rogers Zinn, and brother to Marion duPont Scott, a noted horsewoman and breeder.
Early life and education
William (also called Willie) was the second child and only son of William du Pont and Annie Zinn (née Rogers). His older sister was Marion, and they grew up at Montpelier, the historic home of President James Madison, which their parents had bought and expanded.
They both were educated in private schools and became interested in the world of Thoroughbred horseracing, including steeplechase, hunts, and horse shows. William specialized in Thoroughbred racing and breeding. Marion also became known for her contributions to horseracing and breeding.
Marriage and family
On January 1, 1919, William married Jean Liseter Austin. Their marriage celebration in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, was billed as the "Wedding of the Century" in media accounts because of the wealth of each family. Jean's father William Liseter Austin was an executive of the Baldwin Locomotive Works. He gave the couple more than 600 acres (2.4 km2) of land as a wedding gift. William's father built Liseter Hall for them on the property in 1922. The three-story Georgian mansion was a replica of Montpelier, where du Pont had grown up.
Willie and Jean developed a notable horse farm on their property. In the 1920s and ’30s, Liseter Hall Farm was considered the ne plus ultra of Mid-Atlantic horse facilities. In addition to the indoor galloping track, the first in the United States, the farm featured a large barn for race horses; a 40-foot (12 m)-wide by 120-foot (37 m)-long indoor riding ring, used by trainers for schooling young horses; the half-mile training track and its adjacent combination viewing stand/water tower; a breeding shed; a hunter barn; a show horse barn; a loading barn with ramps, for transporting horses to competition; and a grassy, half-mile chute that connected the training track with the race horse, hunter and show horse barns.
William and Jean had four children together, two girls and two boys. They divorced in February 1941, when the youngest, John, was two years old. Jean Liseter du Pont retained the property her father gave her. She bred Welsh ponies, Thoroughbreds, a herd of Guernseys dairy cows, and other livestock at the farm.
Du Pont remarried in 1947 to Margaret Osborne, a tennis champion. They had a son, William du Pont III, born July 22, 1952. They divorced in 1964. Their son William du Pont III also was active with Thoroughbreds and later owned Pillar Stud in Lexington, Kentucky.
At Lister Hall Farm, du Pont, Jr. established a large Thoroughbred racing stable in the 1920s; he raced its horses under the nom de course, Foxcatcher Farm. During this period, he also established breeding operations at Bellevue Hall, his family's estate in Wilmington, Delaware. He had another operation at Fair Hill, where he established a steeplechase course on his 1,000 acres.
In 1927 du Pont imported Satrap from England and brought the son of The Tetrarch to stand at his second facility, the new Walnut Hall Farm near Boyce, Virginia. In 1936, duPont was part of the syndicate that bought and imported the stallion Blenheim II, Aga Khan's Epsom Derby winner.
In the mid-1930s, Richard Handlen took over as the trainer, managing the stable operation into the 1960s. During this time, du Pont won the 1938 Preakness Stakes with Dauber, the second race of the Triple Crown for three-year-olds. Other of his horses won six American championships and prominent races:
- Fair Star - 1926 American Champion Two-Year-Old Filly
- White Clover II - 1932 Suburban Handicap
- Rosemont (horse) took the 1935 Withers Stakes, beating that season’s Triple Crown winner, Omaha; he also beat Seabiscuit in the 1937 Santa Anita Handicap, a match race
- Ruler, duPont’s first homebred stakes winner, won the Brook Steeplechase in 1929 and 1930.
- Fairy Chant - 1940 American Champion Three-Year-Old Filly and 1941 American Champion Older Female Horse
- Parlo - 1954 American Champion Three-Year-Old Filly and the 1954 and 1955 American Champion Older Female Horse.
- Berlo - 1960 American Champion Three-Year-Old Filly.
Their successes contributed to the value and reputation of his stables.
William du Pont's interests in racing extended to the development and design of racecourses. In all, he created twenty-three racecourses, including Fair Hill, a steeplechase course at Fair Hill in Cecil County, Maryland, and Delaware Park Racetrack for flat racing. The latter opened on June 26, 1937. He had also helped write the legislation to authorize development of the park and was the major shareholder. The Thoroughbred farms and racing were important parts of the Delaware and Maryland economies in those decades, although racing gradually drew smaller crowds.
Du Pont, Jr. died at the Wilmington Medical Center at age sixty-nine on December 31, 1965.
In 1928 Marion du Pont Scott, the older child, inherited Montpelier after their father's death. Located four miles (6 km) south of Orange, Virginia, the estate had been the plantation home of James Madison, fourth President of the United States. In 1934, William and Marion established the Montpelier Races, a National Steeplechase event, which continue to be run each fall on the grounds at Montpelier.
At her death in 1983, Marion had bequeathed the estate, designated a National Historic Landmark, to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Her father's will had said that if she were childless, the property would be inherited by her brother and his children. Her will included a provision for his children to sell or give their interests in the property to the National Trust or forfeit their share of a separate $3.1 million trust. In addition, she provided $10 million to the National Trust to buy the property and to establish an endowment. As her brother had died in 1965, his five children inherited Montpelier. Three sold or gave their interests to the National Trust; although two nephews sued the National Trust in an effort to break the will, they finally sold their interests in 1984.
The National Trust acquired the property to preserve and interpret as a public history site for James and Dolley Madison, his presidency, and the architecture and society of Montpelier. There has been increasing emphasis on such interpretation including a full accounting of the lives of the slaves at Montpelier during the Madisons' tenure.
Legacy and honors
- In 1979 du Pont was honored posthumously with induction in the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame.
- Associated Press (January 1, 1966). "William du Pont of Wilmington, Banker and Sportsman, 69, Dies. Head of Delaware Trust Co. Was Noted as an Architect of Race Courses". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-26. "William du Pont Jr., banker and sportsman, died tonight at the Memorial Division of the Wilmington Medical Center, where he had undergone surgery ..."
- "Last hurrah for historic Liseter Hall Farm", Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, September 2005
- "Divorce to William du Pont, Jr.", New York Times, 26 February 1941
- The Wilmington, Delaware Sunday Morning Star - November 3, 1935
- "DAUBER WINS PREAKNESS; CRAVAT SECOND", Chicago Tribune, 15 May 1938
- History of Delaware Park", Official Website
- Marjorie Hunter (NY Times News Service), "James Madison's Montpelier to become museum:, Gainesville Sun, 18 November 1984
- Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame