Interview with F.L. (Les) Mathewson, 1968 July 3 [audio](part 2)

Hagley ID:
  • His impression of William K. du Pont; Alfred I. du Pont purchasing the DuPont Company; impressions of du Pont family members as childhood friends; trapshooting contests at the DuPont Co. gun club near the Experimental Station
    Keywords: Doremus, Ted; Du Pont, Alfred I. (Alfred Iré né e), 1864-1935; Du Pont, Alfred V. (Alfred Victor), 1900-1970; Du Pont, Alicia, 1875-1920; Du Pont, Pierre S. (Pierre Samuel), 1870-1954; Du Pont, Samuel Hallock, 1901-1974; Du Pont, T. Coleman (Thomas Coleman), 1863-1930; Du Pont, Victor, 1882-1943; Du Pont, William K. (William Kemble), 1875-1907; DuPont gun club; Experimental Station; Grand American Handicap; Holly Oak (Wilmington, Del.); Laflin and Rand Powder Company; pacing horse; Second Office; Stillpond (Dwelling); trap boys; Trapshooting; Trolley cars
    Transcript: Wilkinson: What about Mr. William K.?

    Mathewson: Oh, he died in 1907. She was a widow. Mrs. Ross was only a couple of years old.

    Wilkinson: What had been his interests? He wasn't in the Company, was he?

    Mathewson: Oh, yes. I don't know what he did in the Company, but I do know he was an awful fine man. At that time I was only about 11 or 12 years old, and I used to talk to him. He was a very likable man and always used to drive a darn nice pacing horse. He'd pick up all the kids along the road he could get in and take them to school.

    Wilkinson: Was Stillpond the home during all this time?

    Mathewson: Oh, no. They lived up there at the old office. That's where they lived when he died. Up there where Paul du Pont lives.

    Wilkinson: They must have moved in there right when the Company moved its office to Wilmington. About 1905 - 1906?

    Mathewson: It must have been earlier. I believe Mrs. Dean was born in that house.

    Wilkinson: Well, in 1891 or 1892 they moved out of the little office here over to the second office and I guess they were in there about 10 or 11 years, so it might have been 1902 or 1903 when they moved out of there and went into town.

    Mathewson: I think it was because I know that big meeting of the Company was supposed to have been up here when they were thinking of selling out to Laflin and Rand in 1902. My father told me that A. I. came down, and he always called my father Gillie and he said, "Gillie, you look after things for a while. I'm going away for a couple of days. I'm going to buy this Company." He went away somewhere, and my father always thought he went up to J.P. Morgan in New York and borrowed the money. He came back, and they had another meeting and he said he would buy the Company.

    Wilkinson: This was when he, and T. Coleman and Pierre acquired it?

    Mathewson: That was when he acquired it. He sent out to Lorraine, Ohio for P.S., who was working for A.V. out there on the railroad, and sent to Louisville, Kentucky for T.C., who was a mining engineer there, and brought them here, and they formed the Company. P.S. became secretary-treasurer, T.C. took president and A.I. took vice-president and general manager. That's the way they operated until they busted up. They lived up there and down at Stillpond. The back part of that present-day house was built by P.S. for a fellow by the name of Charlie Gibson, who was his chauffeur, and Charlie died of tuberculosis while he was working for P.S. Then they built this addition onto this house, and Mrs. du Pont and her three children went there to live. Since then they've built a couple of other additions on, but the original of it was just a little six room stucco house.

    Wilkinson: S. Hallock and his sisters then were raised and mingled with the other young people of the community who were work people's children and so on. How did you feel about this relationship - you were a workman's son and they were the "other side of the tracks?"

    Mathewson: I don't know. Hallock always mingled with me. I don't know whether he did with other kids or not. A. V. mingled with me. Vic du Pont was more of a guy who mingled with everybody. Vic was the son of "Old Vic"; he was the father of the present Mrs. Henry Belin du Pont; he was boss of this Yard and a good powder maker. The only trouble with Vic was he'd go on a bust every once in a while and that was it and stay off the job for a while. But he was a darn nice fellow. He was a little older than I was, but we used to go gunning together. When I was going to school the DuPont Company made a club out here near where the gates of the guardhouse of the Experimental Station is now...somewhere in that vicinity. They built a clubhouse, and I think at one time they had about 1400 members, and there has never been a trap shooting club before or since that will equal that one. The best sportsmen I ever came into contact with used to frequent that club. This was prior to World War I; I think it started about 1910 because there was a man by the name of Ted Doremus who used to be sort of the head of it for the Company, and they hired a secretary by the name of Tom Chalfont from Pennsylvania who did all the club work. Then there was another fellow, who was Ted Doremus's assistant, by the name of Bill Joslyn. They were the three that ran the club. Somehow or other, I don't know how, but I got mixed up into it. I started over there as a trap boy, and then they made me have charge of the traps - we had five traps. They had a big shoot here called the Grand American Handicap and a man by the name of Charlie North came here from Ohio and they made the traps and also the pigeons. He taught me how to repair the traps and how to take care of them.

    Wilkinson: Were these the kind of traps - a long spring-like device and you pulled the trigger?

    Mathewson: No. This was a plate, something shaped like an easel, and made out of 1/2 inch iron and a plate that had an arm on it something like a rubber windshield wiper blade, only heavier. When you pushed up on the handle of the trap that released the return spring and brought the arm back. You placed the pigeon on this plate in a little carrier, and when you pulled the trap back you put tension on a spring, and this arm would sweep that pigeon right out and also spin it at the same time. Every Saturday they'd have some sort of a contest; it would be a poor Saturday that there wasn't three or four hundred people there. About 1914, it got so they used to come out on Thursday afternoons and I could see from where I sat in school the back of my house. So, they'd call up the house for me to get trap boys over there as soon as school was over and whenever they'd call my mother would hang a black coat out the back window and I'd know to go over right after school. So I'd get a couple of kids - tell them there was a shoot over there this afternoon. I don't know how many I'll need but you better all come over.

    It went on that way until, I think it was in 1914 this "crazy woman," Mr. Alfred I.'s second wife, got some kind of an injunction against it and said it was dangerous to run up and down that road out there (she was living out at Nemours then). The court rendered a decision and they had to give it up. Then they moved it from there to somewhere along the river up by Holly Oak, but it never took up there.

    Wilkinson: This was a more centralized, convenient place for everybody?

    Mathewson: I don't know what it was. I don't know that it was more convenient. I don't think it was as convenient because the trolley car went right past it up there at Holly Oak. But here they used to come out on the trolley car and get off at 19th and Rising Sun Lane and walk all the way down that hill and then up the other hill.
  • Memories of Victor "Vic" du Pont; women involved in the DuPont Gun Club; the Aurora Gun Club
    Keywords: Accordion; Aurora Gun Club; Bars (Drinking establishments); Dean, Paulina du Pont, 1903-1964; Du Pont, Victor, 1882-1943; DuPont gun club; Experimental Station; Hammond, Harriet; New Bridge; Oakley, Annie, 1860-1926; Pelleport (Wilmington, Del. : Dwelling); Richardson and Robbins Canning Company; Shooting contests; Topperwein, Adolf, 1869-1962; Trapshooting
    Transcript: Wilkinson: You started this in connection with Vic du Pont - he was involved in this Gun Club I assume?

    Mathewson: Yes, he used to come over there and shoot a good bit, and he would get tight up there and wind up down around the creek here at night, singing. A fellow by the name of Tucker Buchanan was quite an accordion player, and Tucker and some of those fellows would get old Vic for a drink or something like that, and Victor would furnish the booze, and they would furnish the music and singing. There were saloons down by the bridge mostly, and they had quite a bit there. There were two saloons at Rising Sun and then there was Pat Dougherty's down at the creek and Tommy Lawless' up at Montchanin Rd. Vic could always start a fight but he never could fight and he'd squirm out of it and watch.

    Wilkinson: You mean when he was drunk he was belligerent and then backed out.

    Mathewson: But he was a pretty good guy.

    Wilkinson: Now how much older was he than you? Five years? Ten years?

    Mathewson: I would say that Vic must have been around ten years older than me. But he never drove a car. He said he never would. He walked or had somebody drive him.

    Wilkinson: Where was his home?

    Mathewson: Up there where he lives now. I think he was born down on Delaware Avenue somewhere between Union and Bayard Avenue, in those houses that sit up on the bank and have those round corners on them - do you know where I mean?

    Wilkinson: No, I can't place it.

    Mathewson: It's right there by Highlands School, on the north side of Delaware Avenue. I think he was born there, I'm not sure. Then his father built a home where the Tower Hill School athletic field is now, between Mt. Vernon and Rising Sun Lane, between the Pike and 17th Street. She gave that - when old Mrs. du Pont died - she gave that to Tower Hill, and they tore the house down. Young Vic built his home up there at Guyencourt. That's where Emily's mother lives now. But he was a character.

    Wilkinson: Do you ever recall Annie Oakley showing up at these tournaments?

    Mathewson: She was over here once, but the big attraction over here was a man by the name of Ad Topperwine and his wife - they were good shots. He was with a rifle, she was with a shotgun.

    Wilkinson: We have interviewed Mr. Doremus a few years ago and we got quite an account of his life in the company and this gun club promotion was his responsibility for about ten or twelve years just before the war and apparently getting women involved in organizing gun clubs.

    Mathewson: Yes, he got hold of a woman who worked in the Company by the name of Harriet Hammond. She organized the women and got them shooting there quite a bit, and then the women carried it on for quite a while after that. I know Mrs. Dean and Mrs. W.J. had a trap out here along the road right there beside the Vicmead Hunt Club.

    Wilkinson: The Aurora Gun Club used to be...

    Mathewson: Oh, that was before this one over here. My uncle Frank belonged to it. That was a small one, not many in that: Gene E., Gene, Phil, Lex, Ed Banks...

    Wilkinson: Mr. Reed was a member of the Aurora, too. It still has the name. I don't know whether it shoots any more but I think it is still in existence.

    Mathewson: That used to be over at Gene's place, over at Pelleport. That is where the trap was. I used to pull trap over there; I started pulling trap over there. They had five traps over at DuPont and they shot 25 birds apiece from each trap, and I saw at one time there five men - I think I could name them - start at No. 1 trap and on to No. 5 trap and never missed a bird. Perfect score. Two or three of them were representatives of the DuPont Company; a man by the name of Billy Herr; a man by the name of Crosby; man by the name of Gilbert; and two amateurs, and one was Doll Richardson from Dover, from Richardson and Robbins Canning Company down there, and then there was Billy Ford, who just died not too many months ago down in Milford. He had a beer bottling place on 6th and Tatnall.
  • "Spoon shoots" and other trapshooting events at the DuPont Gun Club; betting on the UNC Cartridge Company representative in the World's Championships and winning
    Keywords: American Powder Company; Bull Durham tobacco company; Dead Shot gunpowder; DuPont gun club; Gehrmann, Les; Hercules Powder Company; Lyon, George; Shooting contests; Shotguns; sporting powder; Targets (Shooting); Trapshooting; UNC Cartridge Company
    Transcript: Wilkinson: Every once in a while somebody writes in and tells us they have a silver spoon and on it is inscribed DuPont Gun Club. These were prizes?

    Mathewson: They had what they called the spoon shoot every Saturday, and you were classified in Class A, Class B, Class C, Class D. You were classified the same as a golfer's handicap today. If you had a better than 85 percent average you were in Class A and so on. The winner of each one of those classes that Saturday received the silver spoon.

    Wilkinson: What were some of the other trophies given out?

    Mathewson: They would have the team shoots over there. Two men would shoot and combine their score against the other two men in the same class, and then they would receive little silver cups or trophies. On a big shoot they had what they called the Lewis Class system. He was the one who classified - his name was Lloyd Lewis, he worked for the DuPont Company. I saw in the paper not too long ago where his son died in Pennsylvania - he was the one who did the classifying and you got so much back - you would get the cost of your targets or you would get the cost of your ammunition back, depending on your score.

    Wilkinson: What kind of gun did you use?

    Mathewson: 12 gauge. You could use anything you wanted, but the best gun for target shooting is a 12 gauge, full choke and they used to use double barrels and single barrels and pump guns. Very few automatics were used. A real trap gun was just a single shot with a raised rib on it. Baker put one out. Later on Ithaca put one out.

    Scafidi: Did they bring customers or people they wanted to entertain out to shoot trap?

    Mathewson: Yes, they did that. In those days sporting powder was the thing of the Company. They were pushing it. They had quite a bit of competition from the American Powder Company which put out a powder called Dead Shot and Dead Shot was a good powder. Then there was, you might say, a friendly competition between DuPont and Hercules. Hercules put out a powder called Infallible and then they put out one called Hazard, and they had their representatives and DuPont had their representatives and then all these other cartridge companies like Western, they had a representative. UNC was a separate company then, Winchester was a separate company, and all those Company's had darn good shots representing them.

    As a matter of fact I sort of got in Dutch a little bit with a man by the name of George Lyon, who married one of the Duke girls down in Durham, North Carolina who had a lot of money and they had the Bull Durham tobacco company, they owned it, George Lyon did. He was, you might say, a playboy, but he was a darn good shot so he used to go around to all the shoots and went to work representing UNC Cartridge Company, so he came up here. Every time he came up here he tipped me $20-$25 and all the trap boys $10 - that was a lot of money in those days. We just idolized that guy, so he challenged the DuPont representative, Les Gehrmann, to a shoot for the World's Championships. So he called me on the phone and said, "Mattie, I'm going to shoot for the world's championship, and I want to do some practicing. Will you arrange it?" So I got the trap boys, and we went over there. So he said to me, "How is the money going?" "Oh," I said, "everybody is betting on Gehrmann." He said, "Do you think you can get some of it?" I said, "Sure." So he handed me $500 to bet on him to win. I thought I was the richest guy in the world then. I was only a kid going to high school.

    So I went into the hotel in Wilmington, across from the Opera House, between 8th and 9th on Market, and they had a bar and a couple of billiard tables. There was someone there who worked for DuPont, Harry Lukens. I asked him how he was going to bet on the shoot and he said he was going to bet on Gehrmann, I said, "I'll bet you $100 that Lyons will win. All right, put your money up." So he bet the $100 with Charlie Portlock, the bartender, and another man was there named Steel. He wanted to bet, so I took him too, and bet $250. So I gave George back the other $250 and sure enough I was rooting for George. And Lyons beat him. I collected the money and went to hand it back to him, and he gave me the $250, so I cleaned up on him, and Joslyn and Doremus, who were my bosses over there, didn't think much of me betting against them.

    Wilkinson: This took place around 1913 - 1914?

    Mathewson: Around then.