- Last Updated on Thursday, 15 November 2012 11:53
- Published on Tuesday, 02 October 2012 14:12
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"Ditchley" is one of the Northern Neck's greatest homes. Built by Kendall Lee in 1752, it sits overlooking Dividing Creek and the Chesapeake Bay in the lower reaches of Northumberland County, about four miles from Kilmarnock. The name derives from "Ditchley Park" in Oxfordshire , England, the home of Henry Lee, the Ranger of Woodstock during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. In 1930 it became the Virginia home of Alfred I. duPont and his wife, Jessie Dew Ball duPont.
They restored the mansion to its former glory, and introduced modern conveniences, such as a bathroom for every bedroom. Their principal home remained "Nemours" in Wilmington, Delaware, from whence they traveled back and forth to their home in Palm Beach, Florida either on the Seaboard Coastline Railway, of which they were the principal stockholders on their yacht, the "Nenemosha."
They furnished "Ditchley" in elegant English furnishings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, along with portraits of Mrs. duPont and her sisters, all of whom were born nearby. Alfred I. duPont died in 1935, and Jessie continued to use the house until her death in l970. She left the bulk of her fortune to establish the Jessie Ball duPont Religious, Charitable and Educational Fund, now known as the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. For "Ditchley" she set up a separate trust, the provisions of which would allow many of her relatives to use the home until their deaths.
Thus the place has operated these past four decades, but by now many of those beneficiaries have died, and the house has been closed. The magnificent collection of antiques, one of the finest in the Northern Neck, is now at Freeman's Auction Gallery in Philadelphia, awaiting sale on October 9th.
It is a sad ending to the legacy of a kind and generous benefactor, who through her largess uplifted the lives of many people in the Northern Neck and throughout the world. The auction exhibition opens this Friday, and a catalog is available for $30. From the local perspective, it should be the sale of the century.