Friday, February 26, 2010

“See that wall over there? Your [ ] helped with it ………”

Your esteemed blog hosts recently discussed together the number of people they’ve run into over the years, who remember hearing the above statement told to them by a loved one regarding the wall surrounding A.I. duPont Children’s Hospital.

When Jim first heard those words spoken, he and his family were either on the way to visit relatives in Montchanin or off to a dentist checkup with Dr. Selvaggi at the Lombardy Center on Foulk Road. Whatever prompted his parents to tell him the story of the wall, Jim’s never forgotten it. Perhaps it was because of knowing that one of his family members had actually helped “build” it that it stayed with him. Or maybe it was simply etched into his psyche, because he could not understand why a wall would be topped with so many shards of broken glass.

Jim’s earliest memory of being told about the wall actually comes from his mother. During one of the trips mentioned above, he remembers the wall being pointed out to him, and being told that his Great-Great Uncle, Teodoro ‘Doro’ Piuma, had been a part of setting the shards of glass on top of it. He also recently learned that his great-grandfather, John "Mutèn" Salvo also helped in the building of the wall. Jim can’t remember now if he was told during that initial time that the glass-topped wall was constructed to keep people ‘out’ of the DuPont property, or if it was to actually help keep some individuals ‘in’ on the grounds. Since that time, he has actually heard stories that reflect both possibilities.

When Jim and Frank first began corresponding a few months ago, they exchanged many of the area stories they’d both heard over the years. As one could expect, the story regarding the wall came up. Frank remembers hearing the various rumors concerning the reasons for the foreboding, jagged shards of multi-colored glass atop the thick, stone walls surrounding the Nemours estate. He also recalled the stories that old Alfred I. duPont had the glass put there to keep his unwanted relatives out; and that yet others said it was to keep certain relatives “in.” Other theories that were knocking around verged on the outrageous – i.e., the DuPonts were part of a secret Masonic order and the wall was constructed to keep their various rites and rituals “top secret.”

It turns out, however, that the truth about the glass-topped walls was far less fantastic; they were constructed in the fashion of the walls surrounding other famous estates in the DuPont family's ancestral province in France. So much for family feuds and magical rituals.

In the Summer of 2009, Jim was reconnected with his cousin Rich Ghione. Time, careers, and moves to different areas over the years caused their families to lose touch. Jim was so happy when he was able to get back in contact with Rich. Since there was a lot of catching up to do, the cousins naturally talked a lot on phone and via email, and also shared a large variety of family photos with one another. At one point while Squirrel Run was being discussed, out of nowhere Rich says, “…well you know that wall around AI? The Ferraro family helped build it.” Jim just laughed to himself, since there had been so many different times in his life when he’d heard others mention a similar story. It would include the wall, but about another friend of the family or loved one whom they knew. Jim’s reply of course to Rich was “well I didn’t know about the Ferraros building it, but I know your Uncle Ernie’s uncle helped put the glass on the top!” It was another great moment in the reunion of members in the family, as Rich had never recalled being told that before. Jim believes that for as many stones as there are in that wall, there are an equal number of us out there who have heard about someone being a part of building it. And for him it makes that wall all the more special.

It is an honor for both Jim and Frank to know, whenever driving through the Montchanin/Hagley/St. Joe’s area, that so many members of their families were involved with the variety of different projects that took place in that area so long ago. It is a real privilege to drive through there almost 100 years after the fact, and to still see so many things that their ancestors helped erect and/or maintain. If money was no object, there is a large part of both of them who would really like to live and/or work in that area today, just to continue the “living presence” of their family heritage there.

As we mark the recent centennial anniversary of Nemours, it is an appropriate time to reflect upon those who participated in the construction of this great estate, and the curious wall that surrounds it. It is known for certain that the Piuma, Salvo, Ferraro, and Olivieri families helped build the wall- but several other Squirrel Run men were undoubtedly there too.

If you have any stories about family members who participated in the construction of this great old wall, please email Frank or Jim, we’d love to hear about it!


  1. Hey guys, great post. You can add Matteo Carozzo, stone mason, to that giant list of wall builders. We were raised on the same stories as you both touch on, as it seems, half of Wilmingon must have been. Maybe the only thing comparable were the throng of Italian families that claim work on St. Anthony's church.


  2. Hi; My name is Michael Jordan and my father and Uncle worked on the estate. My brother and I also worked there during the summer. We also lived in the gate house on the golf course side. When I was a kid we would walk on top of the wall and kick off pieces of the glass. My father worked there for 40 years. I have alot of pictures of the estate and the things that are in it.I have many wonderful memories of the place. I used to fish inside the estate in many of the ponds. I would see Mrs. Jessie Ball DuPont and speak with her when she would go around the grounds. The stories of the wall and the glass on top of it are many and who knows which one's are true. I am of the opinion that it was there to keep his relatives out. That is what I use to hear. If you would like to talk about the Estate or see some pic's let me know. 1-302-945-7755, call anytime. Thanks, Michael J.

  3. My mother was the private duty nurse fro Mrs. Ball's brother. Mom had a room at Nemours. She was told that because the rest of the duPonts were outraged at A.I.'s divorce and did not accept his new bride, for whom Nemours was built, he had the wall with glass built as a spite fence. Obviously, it really would not keep people out, but it was indeed an insult!