William du Pont, Jr.

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William du Pont, Jr.
Born (1896-02-11)February 11, 1896
Loseley Park, Surrey, England
Died December 31, 1965(1965-12-31) (aged 69)
Wilmington, Delaware,
United States
Resting place Du Pont de Nemours Cemetery
Residence Bellevue Hall, Bellevue, Delaware
Occupation Businessman, banker, racetrack owner, racehorse owner/breeder, racecourse designer
Board member of Delaware Trust Company
Spouse(s)
Children with Jean
with Margaret William III
Parent(s) William du Pont & Annie Rogers
Relatives Marion duPont Scott (sister)
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.[1] 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[edit]

William (also called Willie) was born at Loseley Park, a 16th-century manor in Surrey, England. He was the second child and only son of Annie Zinn (née Rogers) and William du Pont, Sr. 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.

Marriages, family, and career[edit]

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 a railroad baron at 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.[2]

William was elected to the board of directors of the Delaware Trust Company, where his father was president (and later chairman of the board), in 1921. His career with the bank would continue until his death. In 1928, William inherited the Bellevue Hall estate in Delaware upon the death of his father. The estate featured a Gothic Revival castle built in 1855, which du Pont had remodeled into another replica of his boyhood home of Montpelier. His father's death also created a vacancy in the presidency of the Delaware Trust Company, and William ascended to the position.[3][4]

Willie and Jean developed a notable horse farm on their property. In the 1920s and 1930s, 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.[2] Similar facilities were built at the Bellevue Hall estate, including a hunting barn, two indoor training tracks, and an outdoor track.

William and Jean had four children together, two girls and two boys. They divorced in February 1941, when the youngest, John, was 2 years old.[5] Jean Liseter du Pont retained the property her father gave her. Following the divorce, du Pont moved his permanent residence to Bellevue Hall.[6]

Du Pont remarried in 1947 to Margaret Osborne, a tennis champion. He built both an indoor and outdoor tennis court at Bellevue for the benefit of his wife. They had a son, William du Pont III, born July 22, 1952. That same year, William was made chairman of the board at the Delaware Trust Company, retaining his position as president as well. Osborne and du Pont divorced in 1964. Their son William du Pont III also was active with thoroughbreds and later owned Pillar Stud in Lexington, Kentucky.

Foxcatcher Farm[edit]

At Liseter 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.[2] 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 (4.0 km2) facility.[2]

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.[7] In 1936, duPont was part of the syndicate that bought and imported the stallion Blenheim II, Aga Khan's Epsom Derby winner.

Du Pont's racing operation was managed for several years by the trainer Preston Burch, selected for the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame.

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.[8] Other of his horses won six American championships and prominent races:

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 23 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.[9] 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 69 on December 31, 1965.[1]

Montpelier[edit]

In 1928, Marion duPont 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 continues to be run each fall on the grounds at Montpelier.

At her death in 1983, Scott 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.[10]

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[edit]

Following du Pont's death, none of his heirs were interested in retaining the Bellevue Hall estate due to its extensive collection of recreational facilities and the upkeep they required. In 1976, the property was purchased by the state of Delaware and opened to the public as Bellevue State Park.[11]

In 1979, du Pont was honored posthumously with induction in the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b 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 ... 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Last hurrah for historic Liseter Hall Farm", Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, September 2005
  3. ^ "A house born of nostalgia". Wilmington News Journal. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  4. ^ "William du Pont, Jr. papers". Hagley Museum and Library. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  5. ^ "Divorce to William du Pont, Jr.", New York Times, February 26, 1941
  6. ^ "William du Pont Jr. Online Exhibit". Hagley Museum and Library. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  7. ^ The Wilmington, Delaware Sunday Morning Star - November 3, 1935
  8. ^ "DAUBER WINS PREAKNESS; CRAVAT SECOND", Chicago Tribune, 15 May 1938
  9. ^ History of Delaware Park", Official Website
  10. ^ Marjorie Hunter (NY Times News Service), "James Madison's Montpelier to become museum:, Gainesville Sun, 18 November 1984
  11. ^ "The History of Bellevue Hall" (PDF). State of Delaware. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  12. ^ Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame

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