John M. Johnson and Franklin Hanway, 1969 August 26 [audio]
- Hanway hired by Alice Belin du Pont at Longwood and his first job gathering pine needles for the woods path; Johnson hired as the conservatory was being built at Longwood and later transferring to the boiler room and finally to the grounds, retiring as Chief HorticulturistKeywords: boiler room; Boilers; Bunker C fuel oil; Chief Horticulturist; Combustion engineering; Conservatories; Correspondence schools and courses; Du Pont, Alice Belin, 1872-1944; Du Pont, Pierre S. (Pierre Samuel), 1870-1954; Electrical engineering; Gardens; Hayes School of Combustion Engineering (Chicago, Ill.); Horticulture; Longwood Gardens (Kennett Square, Pa.); Mulliss, William; oil burner furnaceTranscript: Hanway: I'm Franklin L. Hanway, 65 years old. I live at Hamorton, which is on the border of Longwood Estate, in fact it was part of the Longwood estate. These houses were sold to the employees. We are about two miles from the Longwood Conservatory.
Wilkinson: How many years did you work for Longwood?
Hanway: I retired from Longwood in 1969 after 47 continuous years of service. Before that when I was going to school I worked about 7 summers, and worked on Saturdays during the wintertime and school vacations as a boy. When I started there wasn't anything except the outdoor flower garden at Longwood.
Wilkinson: Mr. Johnson would you like to introduce yourself?
Johnson: I'm John M. Johnson, age 70 and I live in Hamorton. I was employed at Longwood for 47 years and 6 months and retired in 1965 from Longwood.
Wilkinson: To keep this orderly we will go from one to the other. Mr. Hanway, how did you make your first connection with Longwood? What was it, through your father, somebody else who worked here?
Hanway: No, I started as a boy. Mrs. du Pont hired me. She saw me around. My father was blind and she was the one that gave me employment in the summer time.
Wilkinson: What kind of jobs did you do in the summer time? Just general work?
Hanway: My first job at Longwood was to walk through the woods and gather up pine branches and take the pine needles off the branches and spread the pine needles upon, what we called at that time, the woods path to the lake through the woods. And in the summertime I used to dig plantains out of the lawn.
Wilkinson: Is this how they made their soft paths, by taking the, broken pine boughs and just stripping the needles?
Hanway: That original path that was the way they were made, pine needles spread on it.
Wilkinson: How old were you when you came here as a regular full-time employee?
Hanway: I came out of high school and spent one year at business college - finished my secretarial course in 1922. I was 18 years old and I had been working at Longwood in the summer time so I started steady in 1922. At that time I went in the greenhouse and started to work.
Wilkinson: Now, along with the work you say you studied. Was this in the field of plant culture or something related to the work you were doing day by day? Did I understand you correctly to say you studied?
Hanway: I finished high school and business college and never worked at it. I had been working and then I started steady the work.
Wilkinson: I'm sorry. I was thinking of an evening course in botany or something to supplement your work. Mr. Johnson, can you tell us how you got initially started with Longwood?
Johnson: Well, it was back in 1919, right after World War I. My brother had worked here the year before. We were farmers. I had a twin brother and we got tired of farming and decided to try something else, so we proceeded to come to Longwood to see if there was any work. You know, it was just the time when they started to build the conservatory. And they hired us. And my first job was planting rhododendron and azaleas and re-landscaping the whole outside woodland. We had a big shipment come in from Belgium--a shipment of plants that he had bought from a man in Belgium, and we moved those in in 1921. I worked in the greenhousess for about a year and then Mr. du Pont came to think I should learn something about the heating system and he transferred me to the boiler room and made me take a correspondence course in combustion engineering. It was the Hayes School of Combustion Engineering in Chicago. I got through that course and he helped me. I didn't know much about chemistry and the analysis of gases, testing of fuels. We used fuel oil for heating purposes and the boilers were put in for that purpose--the oil burner furnace. They were originally coal burners but he had fuel oil in mind and we built a tank that held 330,000 gallons of Bunker C fuel oil on the hill above the boiler room. Well, I was in the boiler room I suppose for ten years, and then he said he wanted me to go outside on the grounds and help the superintendent. He had too much to do and I was to assist him.
Dr: Wilkinson - Who was the superintendent?
Johnson: William Mulliss an English fellow, a bachelor, who lived in the service building. So I worked at that until I retired with the title of Chief Horticulturist at Longwood. I studied quite a bit on horticulture and I studied electrical engineering and I had quite a job at everything and I had only finished grade school. I didn't finish high school but through the correspondence courses that I took--I took one in English from the Scranton school and Cook's Electrical Engineering-~and through those I made out fairly well. I got to know Mr. du Pont very well. I was very close to him for quite a long while after Mrs. du Pont passed away.
Wilkinson: Was this his practice with younger men, to encourage them, to take these extension courses and correspondence courses?
Johnson: Very much so. He liked you to study anything you were interested in and he would give you plenty of help if you needed it. I know he helped me a lot with the testing of fuels and so on. Coal and heat units had to be tested--how to figure it out--formulas, and so on.
Wilkinson: Now, if a young man couldn't afford to pay for these courses would he help pay for the courses?
Johnson: He paid for the courses, as a matter of course.
- P.S. du Pont purchasing Longwood initially to save the trees in Peirce's Park; the dairy and farming operations at LongwoodKeywords: Beef cattle; Croquet; Dairy farming; Du Pont, Lammot, 1831-1884; Du Pont, Pierre S. (Pierre Samuel), 1870-1954; Guernsey cattle; Income tax deductions for losses; Laird, W. W. (William Winder), 1910-1989; Landis farm; Leonard farm; Lynch farm; Merrick farm; Miller farm; Orchards; Parks; Peirce's Park; Red Lion (Pa.); Sunday School picnics; Telephone lines; Webb farmTranscript: Wilkinson: We have heard, have read, how he first came to buy this property, Longwood. Have you heard accounts of how he came to buy it?
Hanway: Well, I was always told that Mr. du Pont was riding out through this community one day and they had just started to move a saw mill into the woods at Longwood, to cut down the big trees there and in order to preserve the valuable trees Mr. du Pont purchased it. I don't know whether that is the story you boys heard or not.
Wilkinson: Did he ever discuss with you personally why he located at Longwood?
Johnson: Well, you know it was known as Peirce's Park and it was always open to the public. They had croquet matches, Sunday School picnics and such things as that at Longwood. I recall about that time Peirce's Park and there was a Dr. Odell. I'm not exactly sure whether he was an Episcopal minister or a Presbyterian minister--he came out, and as Mr. Hanway says, the sawmill had moved in and to save those trees he took an option on the place and told them not to start any more cutting until they heard from him, and he took up the option. I think it was $16,000 he told me he paid for the place. Then he was afraid to tell his brothers and sisters what he had done, and his mother, because they would think he was just a plain nut. But after they found out what he had, they were well pleased. But he did agree to fix the old house up and then would come out on weekends, he and his mother, and there would be weekend parties. Then he was married in '14 or '15, he married Alice Belin, and built an addition to the old house--the new addition matching the old party exactly on the outside, with the conservatory between to hold plants.
And then in 1919 the boys were being mustered out. He had the idea of creating work to pick up some of the unemployed - he always wanted to build a conservatory. And he hired quite a lot of the unemployed around the country. He had men shipped in from other sections, of course. It was quite a large operation and they got underway to build the conservatory.
Wilkinson: I have been groping for the name of the family that lived on the property and owned the property before he bought it.
Johnson: The first family that I have record of, know of, was Stebbins, Dr. Stebbins, and then it went in the hands of Woodwards and then the Bevans. And that's when he bought it. And they were the ones that were going to cut the timber off to pay the mortgage off, or something like that. That's what they used to do years ago. A farmer would cut off some woodland to reduce his mortgage. Something like that.
Wilkinson: Then you would say that Mr. P.S. was primarily interested in saving the fine stand of early, first growth timber.
Johnson: The woodland back of the old mansion is virgin timber: huge tulip poplars, and oaks, some hickory, but that was never touched.
Wilkinson: Well, this is the thread, of course, that I'm trying to establish into the family's tradition that they always have this concern for things of nature, that you either preserve or propagate.
Johnson: Even Mr. du Pont's father. He told me that they had a huge chestnut tree at the old home on Pennsylvania Avenue, and it died, of course, with the blight. And he had a casting made of the trunk-- a cast iron casting made that matched the old trunk of the old chestnut tree and set it out on the lawn.
Wilkinson: Was it used as a mounting block, when you got on your horse?
Johnson: I'm not sure. It could have been. I'm not sure whether it was or not. But I know he had it cast--a cast iron block made of the old chestnut tree.
Wilkinson: We heard that story from Mr. Laird, Chick Laird, but I thought he said it was Gen. Henry du Pont who had the casting made. Now he was of an earlier generation. He was head of the Company in the 1880's.
Johnson: Well, Mr. du Pont spoke as though it was his father, at the old home place, on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Wilkinson: Did he ever talk about his father's interest in gardening and growing things, that would be Lammot du Pont?
Johnson: I don't remember talking about his father's interest in such matters, other than that one time. Apparently they all were great tree lovers. They loved trees. I know Mr. Pierre did.
Wilkinson: We have seen photographs of some of the developments going on in the gardens back about World War I and shortly thereafter, and there seems to have been quite a farming operation--big barns, cattle, and so on.
Johnson: When he bought Longwood, 250 acres [Note in transcript from George E. Thompson, Jr., Business Administrator, Longwood Gardens: 202.5 acres] I think, that was the extent of the property. And then he bought all the outlying farms that joined it, the Lynch farm, the Leonard farm, the Landis farm, the Miller farm, the Merrick and the Webb farm, that's all surrounding property to protect the old estate--for some protection for the old estate, and he finally got it all. Then there was that road ran right through, the Doe Run Rd. ran right through the center of the property. Through a court order he got that road closed. There was the AT& amp; T telephone lines went through overhead. He got that closed and built a new road just west of the conservatory. It was all open country. He was afraid that Mrs. du Pont was very deaf and she had to cross that road to go from her home to the greenhouse, and with visitors it was a little dangerous, children running and so on, and that's why he had it closed.
Wilkinson: Is this the road that leads up to Red Lion?
Johnson: Yes, right through the ground of the conservatory and original gardens.
Wilkinson: Well, why were the farms done away with? Financial, or what?
Johnson: No, he had a very fine Guernsey herd and he felt it was better for him to buy feed and help the farmers around than to try to raise the feed to feed his own cattle, so he kept the herd and quit the farming. Just mowed the fields, fine mowers. When I first came here he had a hay harvest, corn, wheat and all, but he quit that just for that purpose. He aided the outlying farmers in buying grain and so on to feed those cows. They also raised steers at Longwood when I first came here.
Wilkinson: How many years did the cattle operation continue? Were you involved in that, Mr. Hanway?
Hanway: I remember it hasn't been so many years back that...
Johnson: Just before he died he gave up the dairy. He turned the whole thing over to his nephew, Robert Downs--he married one of the Laird girls, Chick's sister. [Note in transcript from George E. Thompson, Jr., Business Administrator, Longwood Gardens: "Profit-$7800"] There was a loss of course. He never made a profit on the dairy. He supplied all the employees with milk, butter and also had a chicken farm and supplied eggs to the employees at a certain price. There was never a profit. But the government came in and said he would have to show a profit or he'd have to pay income tax on the loss. He couldn't count his loss for five years back so he just said, "I'll get rid of it." [Note in transcript from George E. Thompson, Jr., Business Administrator, Longwood Gardens: Reason for discontinuation was based on new tax provision passed in late '40's under which farm losses could only be deducted from income for five successive years. Mr. du Pont sold out after reaching the five-year loss deadline.]
Wilkinson: Well, geographically, let's see, where were the farming operations in conjunction with, in connection with the conservatory? How did you keep the farming screened away from the public area?
Johnson: Well, I don't know that it was screened away too much. The visitors to Longwood never bothered going to the farm. Sometimes some of them would want to see the dairy. They could do it. If they wanted to go see the orchards--we grew a lot of fruit--we had peach orchards, we had apple orchards and a large vegetable garden, if they wanted to see that it was open for them to see.
Hanway: I would say, Johnny, too, highways kind of separate in late years, like the dairy barn, Route 52 was between the gardens and Route 1 down there.
Johnson: There was a boundary on all sides of the garden by a road--Route 926 and Route 52 sort of blocked it in from the farms so, as I said, if they wanted to they could walk out and see the dairy.
- People hired to work in the farming and garden operations at Longwood; P.S. du Pont building a road for access to Longwood and gifting it to the state of Pennsylvania; how du Pont managed his time between business affairs and LongwoodKeywords: Anvil Inn; Du Pont, T. Coleman (Thomas Coleman), 1863-1930; Fisher, John S. (John Stuchell), 1867-1940; Hannum, Henry; Kennett Turnpike Company; Mulliss, William; Roads--Design and construction; The Hill School (Pottstown, Pa.); Work-life balanceTranscript: Wilkinson: To a newcomer to the areas - I've been here 15 years - it is a little hard to think of the elegance of the gardens today as once having right within them a farming operation.
Scafidi: Did he treat the farm and the gardens pretty much with the same care or were the gardens so much more important to him?
Johnson: Well, I think the gardens were closer to him than the farm although he looked after the farm pretty well. Mr. Malcolm Farquhar was the head farmer when I came here. He retired and Mr. Gilpin took it over, and he would hold meetings with them about different projects but I think that the garden - don't you?
Hanway: He always thought the gardens came first.
Johnson: They were closer to him. He was more interested in them than farming.
Wilkinson: These men that were appointed or hired to head certain areas of operation, were they mostly Scotsmen and Englishmen? The names that you mention suggest it.
Johnson: They were English at first. Mulliss and Littleton were both English, and, of course, at first in those days there wasn't too much help--a few men in the garden.
Wilkinson: Did he specifically hire men for key jobs who had experience, let's say on a gentleman's estate back in England, or something like that, or did he take a man who...?
Johnson: Mulliss for instance was in charge of Hill School grounds in Pottstown when he came to Longwood. There was an opening and he applied for it, had an interview and he was hired. Before that there was an old gentleman by the name of Henry--you remember him---Hannum, that was it, Henry Hannum.
Hanway: He left the year I started as a boy. Bill Mulliss came that year.
Wilkinson: There seems to be a tendency, I guess simply because they developed this kind of man, either a Scotsman or an Englishman, who had some position on a big estate or special gardens or botanical institution, that a man like Mr. Pierre might pick him out from such an establishment. Do you think when he first bought the property and made it a weekend residence initially that he had in mind that at some time it would become a public place, gardens of interest to the general public, or do you think he started out just with the thought of it being a nice country place for his own private use?
Johnson: Well, I remember this. He built a road from the Anvil to the Delaware line--a concrete highway--and after that was finished in 1921 he turned it over to the state of Pennsylvania. John Fisher was the governor and he accepted the road, and Mr. du Pont made a speech that day saying that the road that he had built was an Indian trail at one time. It led through this part of the country, then as horses and wagons came along it was improved, but still led out through Peirce's Park, and it was his hope that he could leave it, that it would always be a way for people to travel to Longwood Gardens.
Wilkinson: Well, actually, he bought the Kennett Turnpike Co., didn't he, as of 1919-1920?
Johnson: Well, he and T. Coleman bought that I guess.
Wilkinson: Oh, was he involved in this too?
Johnson: Yes, they were both involved in it--that was on the Delaware side. They were involved in the highways of Delaware. They were the ones who built....the first dual highway in the United States that I know of was built down to Dover. That was done by he and Coleman du Pont.
Wilkinson: The Route 13 development we knew only as T. Coleman's project? [Note in transcript from George E. Thompson, Jr., Business Administrator, Longwood Gardens: P.S. du Pont had nothing to do with T. Coleman's Route 13 highway.] Route 52 we thought was P.S.'s.
Johnson: But he did build this road. That was done with his own personal finances, from the Anvil to the Delaware line, 6 miles I guess, maybe 7 miles.
Scafidi: You say from the Anvil. What is the Anvil?
Johnson: That is a crossroad.
Hanway: Where Dr. Siebert lives. Do you know where Dr. Siebert lives?
Wilkinson: You mean where Route 52 comes into Route 1?
Wilkinson: If you slow down and stop and look in the corner of a wall you will see a metal anvil....
Johnson: No, somebody stole it.
Wilkinson: Wasn't there an inn at one time?
Johnson: Yes, l have a picture, a postcard--a fellow gave it to me just recently--of the old Anvil Inn that stood on the corner there. Mr. du Pont tore that down in 1916 and built two stone houses, one for maintenance superintendent and one for his head chauffeur. The maintenance superintendent was Mr. Brewer.
Wilkinson: That early. Have there been two Brewers involved, or just one with a long stretch of service?
Johnson: Russell Brewer. Charles Mason was with him for a number of years.
Wilkinson: Then the name the Anvil came to be applied to that particular spot.
Johnson: There was always the metal anvil setting there--it's been stolen twice. We got it back the other time. And this time we haven't heard a thing of it.
Wilkinson: It would take quite a bit of effort to remove it.
Johnson: Whoever did it I don't know.
Wilkinson: What interests us also--we know of Mr. du Pont's business career, his DuPont Company and General Motors activities, and we have a general picture of a man heading up these huge corporations. How do you reconcile the demands of these jobs on his time--how could he give time, or find time in a very personally involved way, to the Longwood Gardens development--was it weekends, was it occasional, or was it a close, almost day-by-day business?
Johnson: Whenever he could he got to Longwood, every minute that he had that he could get out to Longwood he was there, on weekends, and if he had time in between he would get out to Longwood, maybe overnight. I remember when he was president of the General Motors Corporation that he told me for one week he never slept in bed, he slept on the train between New York and Detroit, but then if he would get back to Wilmington, if he had an opportunity, even overnight, he would get things in order and get out to Longwood.
Wilkinson: Did Mrs. du Pont make this her semi-permanent home along with the Wilmington residence? I guess she spent a lot of time here when he couldn't.
Johnson: That's right.
Scafidi: Well, what would he do when he got here? Would you just notice that he was about?
Johnson: He would walk all over the place. He was walking all around.
Scafidi: Inspection tour or just enjoying it?
Johnson: Just enjoying it. Of course if he would see something that he wanted attended to he would let someone know about it.
- P.S. and Alice Belin du Pont's philosophy towards the gardens; Mrs. Scott and Alice du Pont naming the "Peeping Tom" lilac; P.S. du Pont working in the gardens; process of implementing new features in the gardens and the beginning of the open-air theatreKeywords: Belin, Lammot; Carpenter, Margaretta du Pont, 1884-1973; Chateau de Versailles (Versailles, France); Du Pont, Alice Belin, 1872-1944; Du Pont, Pierre S. (Pierre Samuel), 1870-1954; garden parties; Gardening; Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company, Inc.; Longwood Gardens (Kennett Square, Pa.); Manual for the Instruction of Employees; Peeping Tom lilac; Savoy Company (Philadelphia, Pa.); Scott Paper Co.; Theater, Open-air; Villa Gamberaia (Florence, Italy); Water gardensTranscript: Wilkinson: We have in our Library many of his papers. Some have to do with Longwood developments and we have his Manual for the Instruction of Employees, a typewritten record, about 1916-1917 and in it there is a comment to the effect that he didn't want them to be too meticulous in the maintenance of the gardens; he thought that this was carried to an extreme on some estates. He wanted it neat and tidy but he didn't want it manicured the precise way that some people like their property to look. Can you comment on this attitude?
Johnson: Well, I can say that we might today have fellows at Longwood who thought there wasn't too much here when they came here to work--some of the botanists, taxonomists and so on, but I'll say this, Mr. and Mrs. du Pont grew what they liked. If they liked the carnation they grew it; if they liked the rose they grew it. If they didn't like a certain color of plant we didn't grow that, and by their picking the plantings what they wanted seemed to please the public to a great extent. They had a very fine choice of plants of what they wanted and it did blend well with public taste. There is no question about it. I think it worked out that way. For instance, we'll take Mrs. [R.R.M.] Carpenter. She liked blue. He had a whole border planted in blue, nothing else planted in that border but blue flowers, from the tool house part way down the walk each side, and he kept it that way to satisfy his sister.
Wilkinson: Did they do a lot of traveling and visit gardens abroad or other well known American gardens, to get ideas?
Johnson: Oh, yes, he did. She too. I can remember a story after Mrs. du Pont died and after Mr. du Pont died. Mrs. Scott, who was of the Scott Paper Co., owned a very fine home just outside of Chester and she wanted to give us some boxwood that was growing on a terrace blocking the entrance to it. I went down and we moved that boxwood. She took me around over the place in a Cushman electric cart; she was a very fine lady, and she was very, very friendly with Mrs. du Pont. Well, she and John Wister of Swarthmore College developed quite a few very fine lilacs and very fine blooms and she had me out in the garden showing me some, and one that was white, and she said, "This one here Alice and I were looking at it and she said, 'Mrs. Scott, what's the name of that?' and Mrs. Scott said, 'I haven't named it yet,' Mrs. du Pont said, 'That's just what I want, Pierre has been wanting a very fine fragrant lilac planted under his bedroom window and that's just the thing.' Mrs. Scott said, "We'll call it Peeping Tom." And so she gave it to me and I planted the lilac. I think it is still growing.
Wilkinson: Well, these are the kind of stories we think will add a great deal to our knowledge of Longwood.
Johnson: That's the way Peeping Tom was named.
Scafidi: We've heard stories about Mr. du Pont having guests, and people coming across him with his guests planting things. Did you ever notice this--setting his house guests to work planting or mowing or weeding?
Johnson: No. I do remember Mr. Belin--Lammot Belin--who was the father of Peter Belin who jumped out of the dirigible that blew up at Lakehurst.
Wilkinson: The old Graf Zeppelin?
Johnson: Well, he used to come to Longwood--he would be out and prune plants, like dead branches off boxwood, and work around and every once in a while you'd see him around with a pair of pruners, walking around cutting things out here and there, but whether there was any connection--I don't know whether Mr. Pierre knew it or not.
Wilkinson: I think it was the very first year they were here--1907--he made this comment, "I had my guests out and I put them to work planting seeds." Now this is in the first year of the garden evolution.
Johnson: Well, it could be. He carried water from the house--1910--I've talked to people who worked at Longwood, older people and he would carry water in the afternoon to water plants before they had any water lines or irrigation systems put in for that purpose. And if he had any guests they would help him carry water to water plants for the garden.
Wilkinson: The presence of water at Longwood--the fountains, the falls, etc.--this suggests this was a feature that he liked. Any explanation for the presence of so much water at Longwood as a part of the garden?
Johnson: Well, I think visiting Versailles, and I think visiting near Florence, Italy, Gamberaia, he got the idea that it would be a good thing to bring to Longwood. There is no question about that. I know the Italian water gardens was his idea. When I first came to Longwood that was just a swamp and it was all cleared out and drained and the garden put in.
Wilkinson: That was the older end of the property where most of the arboretum had been developed.
Johnson: At the end of the old arboretum near Route 52, yes.
Wilkinson: Can you tell us this--when he got an idea for a new feature to go into the garden, some new area of planting or a particular landscape design, what was his method of getting this worked on and put into operation? How did he go about it?
Johnson: Well, he would hire a good architect and have plans drawn up, and he'd have mock-ups made and set up to look at and see what he would think of it. I know the one at the greenhouse--at the main entrance and the orangerie it was called at the time--the display center of the conservatories--was all built in a miniature size for him to look at, and a man by the name of White was the architect on this job.
Wilkinson: So this was very careful pre-planning and visualization from a miniature model before you actually got it underway?
Johnson: To make sure that it would look right by putting up a mock-up somewhere for him and Mrs. du Pont to see, I remember we rebuilt the open-air theatre in l926--larger stage--and rebuilt the wings which at that time were hemlock and had grown to an old age and were getting very thin. We put arborvitae in and he and I laid out the planting; he stood up on the wall and told me where to put stakes in, and then we would go back and see what this was going to look like with the wings on each side. All the dressing rooms at that time were put underneath.
Wilkinson: What led to the creation of the theatre as a part of Longwood's overall design?
Johnson: Well, when he bought the place there was a barn where the theatre now is. Where the barnyard was, and it was built back in the bank. And he decided it would be a good idea to tear the barn down and make an open air theatre--it was a good setting with the background that they had.
Wilkinson: Was he interested in theatricals and dramatics as a person, or would someone talk to him and ask him to undertake such a project?
Johnson: No, he was interested. It seems to run in the family. They like the Gilbert & amp; Sullivan operettas--they were very fond of them. Chick Laird is very fond of it and he liked it, and the first garden party they had was the Savoy Company they had to entertain the guests. They would have it in the open air theatre or they put a large tent up so that they could hold it inside in case of rain.
Wilkinson: What year was the first garden party?
Johnson: 1916 I think it was.
Wilkinson: They brought the Savoy Company out from Philadelphia?
Johnson: Yes, they would come to Mendenhall on the train, and then he would bring them up to Longwood and he would feed them--give them a dinner--and then send them back to the train for a late supper on the train to Philadelphia.
Hanway: I remember seeing Gilbert & amp; Sullivan as a youngster before they rebuilt the new stage at the theatre. I think it was '26 and '27 they made that.
Wilkinson: Well, other than the war years in the 40's they have been coming out regularly every year.
Johnson: That's right. They missed one year, I think.
- P.S. du Pont's willingness to listen to and implement employees' ideas; du Pont's hands-on management style of Longwood; Johnson witnessing a heated discussion during a meeting of du Pont and other General Motors executives in New YorkKeywords: Automobiles--Motors--Mufflers; Buick automobile; Business meetings; Chauffeurs; copper beech; cucumber magnolia; Davey Tree Expert Company (Kent, Ohio); Du Pont, Pierre S. (Pierre Samuel), 1870-1954; Employees--Dismissal of; Executives; General Motors Corporation--Executives; Industrial management; Kettering, Charles Franklin, 1876-1958; Raskob, John J. (John Jakob), 1879-1950; Sloan, Alfred P. (Alfred Pritchard), 1875-1966; Sugar mapleTranscript: Wilkinson: When he talked with you and his landscape architect that he brought in, and other men in planning the specific area, from what little I know of Mr. du Pont, secondhand through other people, he listened, took it all in, rather than starting out by telling them what he thought; and he arrived at a mutual decision after they had expressed their views--what was the personal give and take in a round table discussion on what should be done. Is this a correct characterization?
Johnson: Oh, I don't know.
Wilkinson: Was it the boss telling what ought to be done? What was the approach?
Johnson: It would work both ways to a certain extent. He would have an idea to do something and tell you what he wanted and see if it could be worked out. Or, if you suggested something, he would think it over, and if he thought it was possible, why he would go ahead and go on with it. I remember just one incident. We moved a very large copper beech from the arboretum near the main drive into the house; the old sugar maples were getting very bad, and they had had so much tree surgery that they weren't worth bracing or working on any more. So it was his idea and plan that he might put copper beech on each side of the main drive going in to the house. We moved in a row on the south side of the drive and then on the north side there were better trees and some time he thought they would get thin and maybe have to be replaced with copper beech, so I suggested that just north of that we plant a row of copper beech and if the time ever come that we could-- that the old trees should get thin and not worth doing anything to, broken by ice, etc., that we shift the new ones in. And he agreed with it. He said, "Why didn't you tell me that years ago and we'd have it grown now."
Wilkinson: So he was open to very specific suggestions?
Johnson: Oh, yes. We planted the young trees. Today they are good big trees and the old sugar maples are still there.
Wilkinson: There are one or more big copper beech still standing?
Johnson: Oh, yes.
Wilkinson: I haven't visited that end of the garden for five or six years.
Johnson: There is a large one just east of the theatre--a very large one, a very fine one. Then there is one just north of the drive and toward the house, too. One on each side. Very fine trees.
Wilkinson: Were copper beeches trees that he thought very attractive?
Johnson: He liked them in the early spring when they were copper colored. He thought they were very nice. He liked all trees--it didn't make any difference. He was very fond of a cucumber magnolia that stood off the corner of the house, the southwest corner. If any work was to be done he always had the Davey tree men do that. Had them come if there was any cavity work or pruning that our own men couldn't do. He wanted experts on it, tree experts. And they would come out and fill the cavity or what might be and it is one of the largest ones, they say, east of the Mississippi River--a very large tree.
Wilkinson: In that same Manual of Instructions that I mentioned I recall another thing that he said, that any tree seriously damaged had to be called to the owner's attention and he will see that proper action would be taken. In other words there were degrees of importance--certain things had to go directly to him rather than somebody on the staff.
Johnson: Oh my goodness, yes. He wanted to know what was going on--if it was a tree--the best thing to do was talk to him. Get his idea, because if you took a tree down that he knew nothing about - I remember we were putting in a new garden drive and he was busy with the General Motors Company at the time, and William Francis was the construction superintendent--as we called it--the construction division at that time-- road building, etc. They would heat tar in a pot and carry it in and pour it on at that time. They didn't have the spreaders we have today so he warned them not to carry the tar pot down the drive. But he wasn't home one day and they took it down and there were two very fine maples. There was some water in one of the drums of tar as it boiled over it caught fire and burnt the maple tree; there was some fun over that. I think somebody almost lost his job over that.
Wilkinson: From what we have learned he was a very mild, soft-spoken man. Did he show anger or temper?
Johnson: It didn't make any difference if he saw something wrong, he wasn't a bit backwards about telling you about it. He would tell you. But it was over then--it was forgotten, but if...he told me one time that he never fired a man in his life.
Wilkinson: How did he take care of a man who wasn't performing well?
Johnson: I don't know. He might figure he laid him off but I mean--he never came out and said, "You get out--you're fired." [Note in transcript from George E. Thompson, Jr., Business Administrator, Longwood Gardens: We know he had at one time fired a whole group of five employees (sometime from 1919 to 1924) that he found "loafing'. He also "fired" his No. 1 Financial Secretary, Frank McHugh, in the late '30's.]
Wilkinson: Would he move him to another area of work?
Johnson: If there was an experiment going on a lot of people would say, "It's no good!" But he wanted to be sure that every angle was tried before the experiment was condemned, positively sure. You just couldn't say, "This won't work." He wanted to be sure. I can remember an incident in New York. I was over in New York with him when he was president of General Motors--I'll never forget it as long as I live. The first time that I ever saw men argue over a table in a meeting, and really argue. I didn't know whether they were going to go to blows or not but I was just a young boy. But I had been in New York, and I was to come home with him on the train and his chauffeur was taking me around over the city while he attended the meeting. He had a Cadillac over there and he had a chauffeur at that time and he told me I was to be at the office at the General Motors Building at 2:00. Then he would take us to the train and we'd come home.
So I was there, and when I went in he said, "Have a seat over there, John, I have a meeting before we can go. It won't take long." Well, there was Raskob and Sloan and Kettering and two or three other men that I didn't know, but I did know those. Apparently the Buick car had made a mistake somewhere in the development of a muffler and the department where they make mufflers had made a mistake. They had the muffler sitting on the table and they were for laying this man off that was in charge of that department. But he was for keeping him to find out if it was his fault or not. Well, I never heard such an argument in my life. I didn't know just what was going to take place. Raskob and Sloan got so mad they just left the table and walked over and looked out the window and wouldn't even talk. He won out. And I said to him coming home on the train, "Did you know the fellow that made the mistake on that Buick muffler?" "Oh no, I didn't know him." He just wanted to be sure before he would make any decision on anything. He wouldn't just jump at it and say, "All right, let's get rid of him."
- Alice Belin du Pont's active involvement in Longwood gardens; young du Pont family members visiting Longwood; P.S. du Pont occasionally mingling anonymously among garden visitorsKeywords: "Aunt Alice's pearl necklace"; childhood mischief; Children; Du Pont, Alice Belin, 1872-1944; Hellzapoppin'; Laird, W. W. (William Winder), 1910-1989; Railroads, Miniature; Sharp, Bayard, 1913-2002Transcript: Wilkinson: Did Mrs. du Pont, day by day, show the same immediate involvement and interest in the gardens?
Johnson: Oh yes, very much interested--in the colors being blended together and something that wouldn't clash with something else. She was a very gracious lady and had a very sharp eye. She could see things quick, and she didn't want any mistakes made in the garden borders and so on.
Wilkinson: The work people--would she wait until Mr. du Pont came to discuss it with him, or, if he was going to be gone for two or three weeks, would she come and tell you, "I think this ought to be done."
Johnson: Oh, she would come too and tell you that something should be done, or, "I'd like to have this done," or "I think it is time to do..." something like that.
Wilkinson: I suppose you've heard the story of what is spoken of as "Aunt Alice's pearl necklace." We got this from Chick Laird. At one time she was going to have an anniversary of some kind, birthday or wedding, and Mr. du Pont mentioned that he would like to buy her a long string of pearls. She thought it over. It was about the time when the Kennett Pike was being widened, or had been widened, and a lot of the trees in front of the individual properties had been cut down. So she came up with the suggestion--find out if these people would like new trees put back where the others had been cut down. He went ahead and did it, and lined the Pike with trees where people wanted them, and thereafter this line of trees along the Pike was called "Aunt Alice's pearl necklace."
Johnson: Well, I heard something of that but I had forgotten all about it. I remember them talking about it.
Hanway: Johnny, remember when I used to grow the carnations and he didn't like red at all. So he came in. He never told us not to grow red carnations but as far as he was concerned--he didn't know why anybody grew red carnations.
Scafidi: Were there any other colors that he didn't particularly care for?
Hanway: I don't recall, do you?
Johnson: No, I don't. Red seemed to be a family dislike.
Wilkinson: Too bright, too flashy. Were there any other members of the family, like his brothers and sisters, like H. Rodney Sharp, a brother-in-law, did they ever act as advisers, people to confer about with the gardens?
Johnson: Not to a great extent. Mr. Sharp used to come up every once in a while and take a walk around, but that was all. He just walked through the gardens, and back home again.
Wilkinson: In their business associations, we have been told that H. Rodney shared a desk with Mr. du Pont. They had a double desk and he sat on the opposite side from where Mr. P.S. sat. I was wondering if this business association carried over into garden interests.
Johnson: Other than just as I said--he might take a trip around while they were away to see that everything was going along all right. Never said anything.
Wilkinson: Do you think the younger members of the family, that is, his nephews and nieces in their young 20's, did they enjoy coming to Longwood as a place to have a good time, or was it too formal a place for them to feel relaxed?
Johnson: Oh, they would come out. Some of the younger ones would play around the greenhouse. We had quite a time with them. When we first built the greenhouses we had little cars on tracks to haul the soil, plants, etc., and they would come and get the cars and open all the doors and ride them down through the greenhouse. Then, what would happen, someone would call me. At that time I was working in the steam plant, and I was told to pull the braker switch on the elevator because the children were coming. So I would pull it, and they'd come down and say, "What is wrong with the elevator, we can't get the cars out, it's broke." One day I heard this awful racket. We always kept the cars down on the mezzanine floor. They took that car down the steps, around up the road, and back up and pushed it into the greenhouse. They were like a railroad car--had wheels on them.
Wilkinson: Some of the tracks are still visible in the conservatory?
Johnson: They filled it in but the track is still set in the brick.
Wilkinson: Have any of those "young children" become garden enthusiasts on their own?
Hanway: Wasn't one of those children Pierre, III, at Rockland?
Johnson: The Laird children, the Belin children, and the Sharp children would come out. Bayard Sharp was very much interested in developing his home--plants, and he's building a greenhouse--he has found a good source of water and I think he will really develop the place now.
Wilkinson: Where is his property?
Johnson: Just below Centerville. You turn up the left, Center Meeting Road.
Wilkinson: Did you regard them as hell raisers?
Johnson: Oh no, just full of fun. They put a bomb off one night to scare Uncle Pierre. I think the Laird girls were into that. Cherry bomb. I think he found out afterwards who it was.
Wilkinson: Out around the Peirce home on the lawn, I used to visit with Frank Battan when he had his office there. There were metal black snakes. What is the story behind those?
Johnson: Well, there was a blacksmith shop right on the drive, as you came out the main drive there is a beech tree planted there now. A blacksmith, I understand, made those snakes.
Wilkinson: Just as an ornament?
Johnson: Yes, and they were always there on the grass.
Wilkinson: Did you ever know of Mr. du Pont mixing, let's say anonymously, with visitors to the gardens and the conservatory to try and hear what they might have to say?
Johnson: Oh yes. He had a lot of experiences with visitors. I've been with him when he had them. People would come up to him and say, "Don't you fellows leave here until you see that orchid display," or something like that.
Wilkinson: Not knowing who he was?
Johnson: I remember-do you remember when "Hellzapoppin'" was playing in New York? These two ladies came in on a Saturday afternoon and I think they were from the New England states. They came down with their nieces, and they came in the door and he happened to be there. He was a very active man. If someone wanted something he was going to see that they were taken care of. One of the ladies said she had come down with her nieces and they wanted to see "Hellzapoppin'" but thought they would come and see Longwood. "But," she said, "my sister here has a very weak heart; is there a wheelchair around?" He went and got the wheelchair and got her in it, and just as soon as he did the other lady took off and left him with the lady in the wheelchair. "I'd like to meet the man who developed this," she said. He was afraid she would find out who he was [and the shock might finish her.] [tape cuts out]
- Planning the waterfall at Longwood without an outside architect; obtaining Mrs. William K. du Pont's orchid collection and orchid grower after her death; Louise Crowninshield's relationship with P.S. du Pont; H.F. du Pont visiting LongwoodKeywords: Chimes tower; Crowninshield, Louise du Pont, 1877-1958; Du Pont, Ethel Hallock, 1876-1951; Du Pont, Henry Francis, 1880-1969; Eleutherian Mills (Greenville, Del. : Dwelling); Heat stroke; Orchids; Quarries and quarrying; Rajah of Singapore; Scott, Bruce; Tramp shipping; Waterfalls; Winterthur (Winterthur, Del. : Estate)Transcript: Wilkinson: I think I've run out of provocative thoughts and ideas. Maybe there are things that occur to you that we just haven't touched on that's pertinent to what we're interested in knowing. Any other incidents or anecdotes?
Hanway: I was always under the impression--maybe Johnny can help me--when they started to build the arboretum and the waterfalls, and so forth, didn't Mr. du Pont just have that in mind when they started that-- didn't he more or less tell them to take the steam shovel out on the hill and start to dig that hole there and didn't tell them what he had in mind?
Johnson: ...by the waterfall--and put a reservoir up on top of the hill for the water to flow down and over. There were two or three things that had never been worked out. Also, from that reservoir there was to be a stream running down just opposite the main greenhouse that you could stand and watch the creek from. But that never was put in and he just told them to quarry back in there and they quarried the stone out to build the chimes tower out of that hole and put the pear-shaped basin in, and the waterfall.
Wilkinson: So this was regarded as something that was not carefully planned in advance and more or less came about as an afterthought?
Johnson: Well, it may have been talked about in the office. Plans were drawn up in our own construction office because I know they had a construction building there close to the job and they had plans on the table because I've been in the place, but it was all done without an outside architect. No question about it. But I suppose they drew up what he told them to and he looked at it and said, "Sure that's all right, go ahead, put that in."
Wilkinson: Now some of the collections came to you as gifts. For example we know that Mrs. William K. du Pont was an orchid grower. Her collection of orchids--do you know anything about how these were acquired? Did he ask for them, or let it be known that this kind of thing would be welcome at Longwood? Or any of the other collections of this type that he was given or purchased?
Johnson: Well, I know, of course, when she died her collection came to Longwood.
Wilkinson: You don't know of any preliminary talks earlier, if she should not know what to do with her collection, Longwood would welcome it?
Johnson: I don't know whether there was ever any discussion or not. He got the collection which doubled what we had, and the orchid grower came with it.
Wilkinson: Her orchid grower--the man she had--Bruce Scott.
Johnson: It seemed as though her idea was to make provisions for him when he retired as her daughters kept at her to do it because he was a very fine orchid grower and she said, "Well, when I get back from this trip I'll take care of it," but she never came back. And he was left out. Well, when the orchid collection came the girls sent Scotty to Longwood.
Wilkinson: You know where Mrs. William K. died, and the circumstances...
Wilkinson: I don't know that Mr. Hanway and John know it.
Wilkinson: Was it sunstroke?
Johnson: Well, as far as I know. Mrs. Crowninshield was with her, and I understood it was sunstroke.
Wilkinson: In the orchid gardens of the Rajah of Singapore. They were his guests walking about his gardens, and she took ill there and died suddenly.
Johnson: I remember--yes, I understood it was sunstroke, but she was on a trip collecting orchids. She came into the office just before she went on that trip and wanted to know if I would get hold of Pennocks on the telephone. She wanted to talk to him. I got the call through and she asked him to send a certain type of box to box some orchids that her man could give her friends while she was away, and I heard her say that she was going on a tramp steamer, and I said something to her about it afterwards, "Aren't you afraid to get blown out of the water?" It was dangerous to travel at that time and she said, "Nobody would ever bother a tramp steamer, that's why we're going on one."
Wilkinson: About 1950-51?
Johnson: Somewhere around then, but I know she was on a trip collecting orchids at the time.
Wilkinson: Did Mrs. Crowninshield get involved or show much interest to your knowledge, at what was happening at Longwood?
Johnson: Well, she was very close to Mr. Pierre. She liked to invite him to dinner and he used to complain about her having so much to eat. He just couldn't eat it, and she didn't like it if you didn't.
Wilkinson: Down at Eleutherian Mills?
Johnson: Yes. He used to growl at her for eating so much. She was a terribly large woman you know. She had a very good appetite and I know he used to be cross at her. Had so much on the table--things you just couldn't eat. She wouldn't like it if you didn't.
Wilkinson: You've seen the gardens that she developed at the house where the old powder mills used to be, she and her husband in the early 20's and into the early 30's. Do you know if Mr. P.S. was ever consulted or asked opinions, advice on how to handle this or that?
Johnson: I would think not. I would think that her brother, Mr. Henry Francis would be more likely to be consulted than P.S. Now that's my opinion--I'm not so sure of that, but that would be my opinion.
Wilkinson: A totally different type garden at Winterthur.
Johnson: H.F. used to come out to Longwood and walk around with Mr. du Pont and make a lot of suggestions.
Wilkinson: Did you know Mr. Crowninshield at all?
Johnson: No, I didn't.
- Other du Pont family members' involvement in running Longwood Gardens; P.S. du Pont's relationship with his nieces and nephewsKeywords: Copeland, Lammot du Pont, 1905-1983; Du Pont, Henry Belin, 1898-1970; Du Pont, Iré né e, 1920-; Du Pont, S. Hallock (Samuel Hallock), 1901-1974; Laird, W. W. (William Winder), 1910-1989; Mount Cuba (Delaware : Estate); Sharp, H. Rodney; Vicmead Country ClubTranscript: Wilkinson: In the family today, in the continuation of Longwood Gardens, whom do you regard, or what several people do you regard as initiating most of what is happening?
Johnson: Well, I would say H.B., wouldn't you think?
Hanway: I don't know, Johnny. I think since young Irenee got on the board he is much interested with the others.
Johnson: Well, it might be.
Wilkinson: Is Mr. Copeland active?
Johnson: Lammot Copeland. Yes, he is very much interested in what is going on at Longwood. But I think that in the general Operations it is H. Belin du Pont, but as Pete says, the new man, as we might call him, young Irenee, is very active and a very, very good addition to the Board.
Wilkinson: I can see two kinds of functions here. I can see the man who is interested in taking care of the endowment and seeing that it is productive, and that Longwood Gardens is properly cared for by the necessary funds. I can see also a second para11e1--just like Mr. Pierre did--who walks around the property--who looks at this and that--who comes to Dr. Seibert and says, "What are you doing here?" or "Don't you think this might be considered?" Do you see these two roles with different people?
Johnson: Yes, I see what you mean, but I don't know...Mr. and Mrs. Copeland used to visit quite a bit at Longwood--on Sundays. Of course he is a busy man. Sundays would be the only time he would have, but Pierre III used to be quite active. Of course he's off the Board now, or is he still on? I don't think he is. But Mr. H.B. used to come around quite a bit.
Wilkinson: Mrs. Copeland has told me they are doing something with their property in an orderly piecemeal manner which I guess some day will develop into an arboretum.
Johnson: A botanical garden, I think. Mt. Cuba Botanical Gardens, I think, is the name. What has happened--the Trustees are very busy men. They appointed an Advisory Committee. They are the ones that come once a month, to the gardens and the greenhouse, and they are consulted quite a lot. If it is a drapery in the ballroom, or if it's the color for something they are going to paint. They may, of course, consult the Trustees and get their opinion, too, but the Advisory Committee seems to have the most say today on arrangements of flowers that are arranged in the display house.
Wilkinson: Are these both men and women?
Johnson: Yes. Mr. H.F. du Pont was on that Board and he was very good. Rodney Sharp was on that Board, but they are gone. I don't know who replaced them. Mrs. Ross - Mrs. Donald Ross - she is on it.
Wilkinson: She's a good person, much interested in flowers.
Johnson: And Mrs. Bissell.
Wilkinson: So it is principally within the family group--not outside professional people.
Johnson: Some are very active.
Wilkinson: We have a general picture of Mr. Laird's many activities, but we've never really pinpointed whether he and his wife Winnifred have had much interest in gardening. Do you know?
Johnson: I don't know of any. Whether they are much interested in gardening or not.
Hanway: I don't know. He has his hand in so many things.
Johnson: I know at one time Mr. du Pont asked Chick to serve as one of the Trustees, but he turned it down.
Wilkinson: Mr. Pierre did? This is another interesting angle. His nephews were very close to him, I take it. In fact H.B. was practically raised by him because his own father had died when H.B. was young. What do you think was the association of Mr. Pierre with his nephews? It would surprise me if Chick would say, "No, I don't want to serve" when asked by his uncle.
Johnson: I don't know even what excuse he could give. Whether he thought he had too many irons in the fire at the time or not, or whether he felt that maybe what knowledge he had of gardening, he wouldn't fill the bill too well, now it might be that, I don't know.
Wilkinson: Well, it's more honest to take that position and say I don't know enough, and I'm not that interested--but it just seems a little hard to say no to his uncle. I was talking to another man in Wilmington last week--he's not of the family but he was a guest of some of them out at the Vicmead Country Club some years back and they were seated having dinner and conversation was going on as is customary. All of a sudden he said the place became quiet and everybody stood up and turned around and looked toward the doorway. He was a little startled, and one of the du Ponts near him just softly said, "Mr. Longwood Gardens just walked in the front door." Mr. Pierre came in--the nieces and nephews all stood up as a token of respect for him. Did you sense this in the younger people in the family?
Johnson: Yes, there would be that...I remember it was Alexis' daughter--did he have a daughter or son? No, it was one of the Laird girls who was married, and some of our men went down to help park cars, and Hallock's boys were small at the time and when P.S. came in with the chauffeur in a Pontiac, one of the boys made the statement, "All that dough and riding in a Pontiac!"
- P.S. and Alice du Pont's attitude toward their employees and benefits of working at LongwoodKeywords: 3 Thrift and Bonus plan; apprenticeships; Christiana Securities; Employee fringe benefits; Employees--Housing; Employees--Salaries, etc.; employment agencies; tenants; The Florists' Exchange; thrift fund; Work environmentTranscript: Wilkinson: ...Well, we have taken too much of your time. Are there any other areas of Longwood development, not strictly the development of the gardens, but Mr. P.S.'s role in the story, that you care to comment on?
Johnson: The only thing that I can think of is their attitude toward their employees, which was very high. They took good care of them. What I was thinking of is the Christmas party they used to have for the employees and their children. Each child got a toy or two--they would have a tree. They would have all the employees at this Christmas party. Mrs. du Pont was very active in it. She got an awful lot of enjoyment out of buying the toys and seeing that each child got one.
Wilkinson: How did the people on the staff, let's say the average worker at Longwood, feel about wages? Commensurate with what other jobs in the I neighborhood would pay?
Johnson: At that time there was never much complaint about wages that I can remember. Everybody seemed to be well satisfied because they were taken such good care of. There was never any discussion of any kind of wages because Mr. du Pont watched it very close. If it was time to give somebody a little increase it would be done but he kind of watched the DuPont Co., the Vulcanized Fiber, firms like that as a yardstick, and he kind of worked from that and watched it very close. There was never any dissatisfaction of any of the employees that I ever knew.
Wilkinson: If an employee felt he should be getting more would he speak to his immediate boss--say you were in charge of a certain operation--he would he come to you and would you relay that to Mr. P.S.?
Wilkinson: The ultimate decision rested with him--your recommendation or non-recommendation....
Johnson: He always kept a list and every employee had his rate of salary, and he would get that list out to see how he was being paid and what he was doing. If he wanted to know if he was worth a raise, do you think he should have a raise, he would discuss it with you.
Wilkinson: Would he take in account the size of a man's family for example, how many children, as far as his wage rates, and so on? Any fringe benefits like a home, house provided for employees, that meant of course I suppose that his wage rate would reflect this?
Johnson: Well, what the agreement was then--each tenant paid $5 a month--that was it--and you had a refrigerator in the home, maintained, papering and painting. If you wanted anything done you would go and ask for it. They would look at it and if they decided it was necessary they would tell him and he would OK it, and go ahead and do it.
Wilkinson: All maintenance was taken care of by Longwood, and all the tenant paid $5 a month.
Johnson: Now today it is different, of course, but at that time we paid $5 a month.
Wilkinson: 1920 or so? Were there other fringe benefits that early? If a man was seriously ill or some of his family had heavy doctor bills, this type of thing...?
Johnson: Oh yes. They would help out.
Hanway: Mr. du Pont started 3 Thrift and Bonus plan for employees - that was a wonderful fringe benefit.
Johnson: They had what they call a thrift fund. You could put in $300 a year and he would match it, and at the end of the year he would give you the securities he bought. He matched what you put in, didn't he?
Hanway: And that ran for three years.
Johnson: That's right--three years. At the end of three years he'd give you Christiana Securities [or General Motors stock, common or preferred].
Wilkinson: Oh, I see, savings and investments. He started in 1920 and did that regularly?
Johnson: ...a great thing that he established. He would help a family if they got in dire need.
Wilkinson: Down on the Brandywine the pattern of work people changed. In the early years of the mills it would be a big influx of Irish working in the mills. Later an Italian element, maybe a scattering of other nationalities, but in the 1880's and 1890's the Italians seemed to be the mill workers, and I assume many of those also came out into the countryside--these mushroom houses were part of that. Did Longwood experience this changing labor pattern, sources of labor, where they came from, right off the farms from abroad?
Johnson: Some from abroad. When the greenhouses were built there were quite a few English fellows and Scots fellows but that was done through an employment agency in New York. Maybe they might--oh, what was the name of the magazine they always got--
Hanway: The Florists' Exchange
Johnson: The Florists' Exchange--they might hear of someone wanting employment in Florists Exchange, or they might get in touch with an employment agency in New York, and ask if they had any good English fellows who were good growers. When the greenhouses were first built we had quite a few English--a good many of them.
Hanway: Then it got down to young fellows on the estate.
Wilkinson: Sons of the older employees. By and large you would say he got most of his work people from the immediate surroundings--off the farm.
Johnson: A lot of the young boys--school boys--would work in the summer on the estate while they were off from school.
Wilkinson: We should interview Frank Battan sometime I think. Frank retired rather recently--I don't think of him as a man along in years but I guess he would have much to tell us about Longwood. He was a personal secretary rather than a garden man.
Hanway: I recall when we started out in the greenhouse, we had to be there two years as an apprentice at Longwood before we could take care of a section. We had to wash flower pots, do all the weeding. They wouldn't let us water a plant or anything until we had spent our two years' apprenticeship.
Wilkinson: Well, that is short. You know in the older years it used to be 7 or 5 depending on the kind of job you were doing. That could become irksome. You were doing routine simple things for what you thought was too long a time. You felt ready to take on more responsibility, and you couldn't do it. But you lived through it.
Johnson: I can remember I was using a mower--a lawn mower--and I didn't know Mr. du Pont at that time. I had seen him at a distance, someone said that was the boss. But this man stopped me--he had walked in over the golf course. We had a very nice 9-hole golf course at that time--and I was out there mowing with this mower and he wanted to know how I was getting along. I said, "All right," and he wanted to know if I liked my work and I said I did. "Well," he said, "If you do your job right and keep busy you will have a job here for a long while." That's the way it went. William Mulliss came out and said, "What did the boss have to say?" and I said, "was that Mr. du Pont?" "Oh yes, whenever he stops, talk to him." And I told him what he had said, and he said, "That's good advice." So I worked there for quite a while.
Wilkinson: Running the mower again brings to mind another instruction he gave to an employee. He said, "Don't set your blades too low. They will knock off the tops of the wild violets." Do you recall that?
Johnson: Oh yes. If there has a patch somewhere where they were blooming he didn't want that cut off. Just go over the top of them.
Wilkinson: That sounds almost like hand manicuring. Well, we do appreciate the time and interest you have given to the interview.
Digitized material in this online archive may document imagery or language that reflects racist, ableist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise offensive and harmful beliefs and actions in history. Hagley Library is engaged in ongoing efforts to address and responsibly present evidence of oppression and injustice in our collections. If you are concerned about the archival material presented here, or want to learn more about our ongoing work, please contact us at email@example.com.