1840's era mansion in disrepair, but gardens are open to the public
A series of gardens, designed by one of America’s most renowned early architects, sits right outside the Wilmington city limits.
Sometime in the mid-1840s, Wilmington businessman John Rodney Brinckle constructed the mansion on a rocky outcrop that came to be known as Gibraltar, named after the famous limestone ridge at the tip of Spain.
Rumored to have been built in a (failed) attempt to lure a wealthy Philadelphia socialite into a marriage, Brinkle eventually used the roughly 80-acre estate for entertaining guests and to conduct horticultural experiments.
It eventually passed to his brother Samuel and – following his death – his wife, Julia, before it was finally purchased by Hugh Rodney Sharp and his wife, Isabella Mathieu du Pont Sharp, in 1909.
The stately hilltop home was renovated in 1915, while the accompanying gardens were designed by pioneering female landscape architect Marian Cruger Coffin between 1916 and 1923.
Coffin was one of the first American women known to work as a professional landscape architect, according to Wikipedia, overcoming the social stigma of women working in the field to eventually open a successful landscape practice in New York City.
Designed in the “Italianate Beaux-Arts” style, and reminiscent of traditional English gardens, the gardens are laid out in terraces descending from the main house and accessible by a marble staircase with wrought iron fencing.
The gardens feature a variety of styles and influences, with a number of urns, fountains, and reflecting ponds throughout the three main tiers.
When Sharp died in 1968, the estate moved to his son, Hugh Rodney Sharp, Jr., who did not share his father’s interest in horticulture, according to a 2012 Cultural Landscape Foundation article, and the gardens fell into disarray.
The estate was saved from demolition following a local campaign, and was finally donated to the Preservation Delaware organization. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998 and eventually became property of the Gibraltar Preservation Group, according to Preservation Delaware.
Located at 1405 Greenhill Ave, Wilmington, the Marion Coffin Gardens are open to the public from dawn to dusk.