From WHYY: The failed taxpayer-funded quest to restore Wilmington’s Gibraltar mansion


By Cris Barrish

This investigative report was supported by a statehouse coverage grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Two men wield video cameras as they trudge through thorn bushes and high weeds on the hilly, rocky terrain to Gibraltar.

They’re not on the slopes of the mammoth, majestic limestone slab at Europe’s southern tip, however.

These guys are exploring the last walled estate in Wilmington, Delaware, stepping through an open doorway and over crackling glass and splintering wood into an empty room with peeling lead paint and disintegrating plaster.


This Gibraltar, a towering, 12-bedroom,12,000-square-foot stone mansion built in 1844, is abandoned.

It’s been vacant, steadily deteriorating, for more than three decades.

The once-grand palace where some members of the du Pont family chemical dynasty entertained like royalty late into the 20th century is now home to vermin that scamper about decaying, long-neglected rooms.

Curiosity seekers, vandals, and an occasional squatter are the only other visitors to the mansion and 3,800-square-foot carriage house.

All document the decrepit state and long-lost grandeur of a historic 30-room mansion that has been a failed preservation project for more than a quarter-century — one that has already cost state and city taxpayers some $2.5 million, with more public funding on the horizon.

What started in 1997 with $800,000 in state funding with a well-intentioned goal of restoring the storied mansion to its former glory has instead stagnated as the home degraded into a high-profile eyesore in the Highlands, Wilmington’s wealthiest neighborhood.

To understand how this occurred and the possible path forward, WHYY News combed through hundreds of pages of documents in state, city, and court files and interviewed several key players involved in trying to salvage Gibraltar.

The record reveals an exasperating, divisive saga defined by lofty aspirations by fledgling preservationists who pursued projects with several developers that collapsed. The parties later sought unsuccessfully to lift the legal restrictions on Gibraltar, and then the mansion descended into ruin, largely because nobody spent the several hundred thousand dollars needed to replace the porous roof system.

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