Donald Reed Mathewson’s Radio, Newspaper and Real Estate Legacy in Delaware
The war veteran, radio personality and civic leader wore dozens of other hats throughout his lifetime of service to our country and state.
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A move to WTUX resulted in greater recognition, Mathewson’s name and call letters adorning local billboards. But another love beckoned: newspapers. The prospect of engraving his reports onto the printed page rather than having them evaporate over the airwaves—not to mention happy memories of working on a Wausaukee weekly as “typesetter, compositor, janitor, reporter, and job press operator,” drove his career in a new direction. He was offered the editorship of the New Castle Weekly, and Mathewson pitched his voice into a new key, as a civil rights advocate with an eye toward fiscal responsibility, reflecting his self-described liberal Republican viewpoint.
The paper folded after a few short years, owing to climbing costs. With three young children—Don Jr., Denise and Wendy—to support, Mathewson combed his many contacts and joined the Greater Newark Chamber of Commerce as executive vice president. He then worked his way to a management role overseeing tourism and economic development for the state, where his communication and artistic skills informed winning appeals to explore all that Delaware had to offer.
“What could be more enjoyable than selling a dream?” Mathewson told a News Journal reporter in an interview.
In 1976 Mathewson commenced a project that would become his obsession: Four Chimneys: a 4,000-square-foot, 18th-century Georgian manor house in Magnolia. It was reportedly a gift from Thomas Collins to his daughter, Mary, upon her wedding to Joseph Barker. Collins was a Revolutionary soldier and until his death governor of Delaware. When Mathewson got his hands on the property, however, it had traveled far from its original condition and was little more than a burned-out shell. But it sat on two acres and was surrounded by the quiet of potato fields (punctuated occasionally by low-flying aircraft descending upon Dover Air Force Base)—and was a steal at $5,000.
Mathewson spent the next 30 years restoring the Barker mansion. But giving new life to the superstructure was only half his task. Someone also had to tell its surprising story: The house may have been the secret rendezvous retreat of Thomas Collins and his Revolutionary War commander—Gen. George Washington. While Washington may not have slept at Four Chimneys, Mathewson was convinced he plotted military maneuvers there. He only had to prove it.
Every spare moment found him at his computer, searching archives and communicating with state historical societies. And no one within earshot could avoid the latest report on Four Chimneys’ hidden history. Throughout his days working for the state, during a stint teaching at Delaware Tech, and deep into his retirement, Mathewson continued to stitch together both the great house and its story, with wife Bea fashioning the echoing chambers into a home that displayed an elegant American style.