This Old, Old House

If you listen closely, historic homes tell stories. The Van Dyke House in Old New Castle has many.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mantel in the living room is carved from King of Prussia
marble, like the other five mantels in the home.
(photograph by John Lewis)

 

Its red bricks and plaster walls have borne witness to a society wedding in which the Marquis de Lafayette gave away the bride. The house has been home to a governor, a filmmaker and, likely, a speakeasy.

Calvin Marshall, who has owned and loved the iconic Van Dyke house in New Castle since the 1960s, says living in a home that is almost 200 years old isn’t the most pragmatic thing. But he happily tolerates the occasional draft in the soaring entry hall.

“You have to do it because you love it,” Marshall says. “That’s the one and only reason you should live in a house this old.”

The grand, Federal-style house was built about 1820 by Senator Nicholas Van Dyke, a prosperous, Princeton-educated lawyer whose father served in the Continental Congress.

The home’s 11-foot ceilings, six fireplaces of King of Prussia marble and massive doors of Santo Domingo mahogany, were an elegant setting for the marriage of Dorcas Van Dyke to Charles I. du Pont on October 6, 1824. Lafayette wore his Eagle medal from the Society of the Cincinnati, once owned by George Washington. The medal sold for $5.3 million at auction last year.

“I often think how nice it would have been if Lafayette had dropped it into a crevice somewhere when he was visiting the house,” Marshall says.

 


For the foyer, Marshall chose a Brunschwig and Fils
wallpaper inspired by a colonial home in Philadelphia.
(photograph by John Lewis

Thomas Stockton, who became governor in 1845 and died a year later, also lived there.

 

Another celebrity resident was the Australian director Peter Weir, who rented the house and its furnishings from Marshall during the filming of “Dead Poet’s Society” almost 20 years ago. (St. Andrews School in Middletown was the setting for the private boy’s school in the movie.)

“Cal left the silver, the crystal, everything in the house,” says Marshall’s wife Joan. “All he took was his mother’s egg poacher.”

Weir lived in the house with his wife and two children, but the home also served as a conference center for the filmmakers.

“Weir and Robin Williams and the crew would sit around the dining room table,” Marshall recalls.

A funeral scene on The Market Green across Delaware Street was shot from the house. The green was transformed into a winter setting with tons of artificial snow. Marshall played a bit part as a mourner. Sadly, the segment wound up on the cutting room floor.

The green was established when America was young and New Castle was a vibrant port, as well as a fashionable address. But as times changed, the town’s fortunes shifted, too.

“The capitol moved to Dover, then the port and the county seat moved to Wilmington, and the town went into decline,” Marshall says. “People didn’t have the money to modernize their homes.”

 


The master bedroom is typical of the home’s decor.
(photograph by John Lewis)

 

Fast forward to the mid-1960s. Marshall was planning a move from his ancestral home on the Eastern Shore of Virginia to Chadds Ford. Growing up as a DuPont Co. gypsy, he had lived in half a dozen places across the country. He was looking for a place with a sense of history.

“A friend in the appraisal business said, ‘You’ve got to see New Castle. It’s a gem,’” he recalls.

In those days, Old New Castle’s renaissance as a historic district had yet to reach critical mass. The neighborhood still had rough patches, but Marshall was captivated by the remarkable state of preservation of the Van Dyke House and the surrounding homes.

He bought the massive Empire-style dining room table with richly carved rope dragooning, paw feet and 12 chairs from the previous owners. The Hepplewhite sideboard was handed down from his parents. Two deep drawers are lined with lead in order to chill wine.

The timepiece on the mantel, whose glass face is painted with an idyllic scene of the garden at Mount Vernon, also came from his parents. It was made by Eli Terry, a renowned Connecticut clockmaker of the 19th century who is credited with bringing reliable clocks to the American masses. “It was Dad’s pride and joy,” Marshall says.

Marshall discovered the small drop leaf circa 1810 table in front of the sofa on a trip to Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay, where the locals used it to clean fish.

“You can see the hand planing,” he says, rubbing his fingers over the wood. “If you look underneath, you can see the pegs that hold it together.”

A passionate collector, Marshall appreciates such rarities as the dovetail joints in the feet of a Pennsylvania blanket chest. Crafted in the late 1700s, it still bears the original hardware. He looks at pieces with both a keen eye and a sense of history.

 


The Van Dyke House has stood at Third and Delaware since 1820.
(photograph by John Lewis)

“Cut nails came in the early 1800s,” Marshall says. “Vertical saw marks means it came from a saw mill. You get to know these things and recognize them, so you can tell when something was made.”

 

The tall clock with a case of burled walnut and a moon face didn’t have far to travel to reach New Castle. It was made in 1772 by Duncan Beard, a distinguished clockmaker and silversmith from Appoquinimink, now known as Odessa.

Portraits of Marshall’s 19th-century forbearers, Richard and Elizabeth Marshall, hang over the sofa. They were painted in about 1850 by a Baltimore portraitist, but Marshall didn’t discover that Elizabeth’s dress had been painted over until he had the painting restored.

“Beneath that black dress is a very bright, colorful dress,” he says. “The theory is the dress was painted black after she was widowed.”

An avid decorator, Marshall restored the paintings and much of the rest of the interior in the 1990s, when the house was heavily damaged by hundreds of thousands of gallons of water used to fight a fire at a restaurant across the street.

He consulted with the design team at Winterthur in making such choices as the exuberant wallpaper of birds and flowers in the foyer, a Brunschwig and Fils pattern inspired by a grand home in Philadelphia. He painted the parlor and dining rooms in a soft green reminiscent of lamb’s ear, a staple in colonial herb gardens.

The house itself was built to last, with brick walls two feet thick and heart-of-pine floors, which are prized for their imperviousness to insects, as well as for its lovely grain. On the second floor, the windows retain their original interior folding shutters.

“They weren’t for security. They were to keep in the heat,” Marshall says.

Even the grandest houses in the early 1800s weren’t equipped with the whirlpool tub, towel-warmer and brass chandelier that the master bath in the Van Dyke House boasts today. The plumbers who took on the job were momentarily stymied as to how they would run pipes through foot-thick floor joists. The solution was to lay a new floor several inches above the original floor and run the pipes underneath.

Marshall had long heard the legend that the house was a speakeasy during the 1930s, so he wasn’t totally surprised to find a cache of liquor bottles hidden in the basement floor joists.

“This one says American Medical Spirits Co.,” he says, holding aloft a brown glass bottle still containing a few shots of its original contents. “It’s from Kentucky, so it’s probably bourbon.”

 

 

GET THE LOOK
Use furnishings made when the house was built. Marshall bought pieces from the previous owners, then added furniture from his family.

Seek craftsmen experienced in restoring old homes. “Hire the best,” Marshall says. “They’ll do the job right the first time, and you’ll wind up saving money.”

Take a history lesson. Marshall researched period colors before he painted the parlor and dining room.

Renovate respectfully. Marshall borrowed space from a small porch for a powder room to preserve the original floor plan. He installed central air upstairs, but not on the ground floor, in order to keep the original plaster walls and moldings intact.

Be a detective. The homeowner uncovered clues bolstering a story that the house was a speakeasy when he discovered Prohibition era liquor bottles near a basement bar.

 

 

 

 

An Oldie but a Goodie
A Day in Old New Castle, an 83-year tradition, will take place 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 17. Sponsored by Immanuel Episcopal Church, the event includes tours of homes and gardens dating to the 18th century, as well as colonial games and costumed country dancers. Proceeds benefit historic buildings and local churches and organizations. Adult tickets are $20. Tickets for children 6-16 are $10. For details, call (877) 496-9498 or email camillefoster@comcast.net.

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February 2016

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Where:
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View map »

More information

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Cost: Free

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The Station Gallery
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More information

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Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

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Sponsor: Creative Paint Nites
Telephone: 267-312-8339
Contact Name: Charisse R McGill
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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

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Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

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Christiana Care at the New Castle Farmers Market Location: New Castle Farmers Market, 110 N. Dupont Hwy., New Castle, Market Stage Area Time: 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Routine screenings for...

Where:
, DE

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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

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Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Features activities and crafts that help visitors learn about local and national political roles in environmental conservation. Visitors can learn about the battle that politicians fought for a...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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The Philly Home Show will inspire your inner HGTV star at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from Feb. 12–14 and 19–21. The show will feature highly interactive...

Cost: $13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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What was behind the legendary story of King Midas and his golden touch? That is the question to be answered—not with chests full of gold, but with a spectacular array of ancient artifacts,...

Cost: Adults $20; seniors $18; students (with ID) $15; children (ages 6–17) $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Guests can explore three floors of exhibitions in the Visitor Center, stroll along the river through dozens of historic structures from the Industrial Revolution, and explore the gardens and...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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Penn Museum opens the world premiere exhibition The Golden Age of King Midas—featuring ancient treasures on loan from the Republic of Turkey—with a spectacular daylong public...

Cost: $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society and CAMP Rehoboth will co-present "Tab Hunter Confidential" and "Portrait of a Serial Monogamist" as part of its annual Another Take...

Cost: $8

Where:
Metropolitan Community Church
19369 Plantation Rd.
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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"La Sylphide" shares the beautiful and romantic story of our hero, James—a young Scottish farmer who, on the eve of hid wedding, abandons his betrothed, Effie, after being...

Cost: $25

Where:
Salesanium School
1801 North Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Academy of International Ballet
Telephone: 1-866-908-5666
Contact Name: Denis Gronostayskiy
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Venture back with us for an evening where we re-imagine the Victorian Industrial Age as seen through our steam-powered, futuristic goggles.  Our biggest fundraiser of the year and all proceeds...

Cost: $100-$110

Where:
Smyrna Opera House
7 West South Street
Smyrna, DE  19977
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A spoiled orphan girl is sent to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moors and discovers renewed life, for herself and her sickly cousin, in bringing her dead aunt’s secret garden back to...

Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Secret Garden
47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
Telephone: 302-540-8561
Contact Name: Chris Everett
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Location: St. Mark’s High School, 2501 Pike Creek Road, Wilmington Time: Registration: 11:30 a.m. Race: 12:30 p.m. Fee: $25 (until Thursday, Feb. 11), $35 after and day of event...

Where:
, DE

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Location: Beebe Healthcare’s Medical Center, 424 Savannah Road, Lewes Date: Saturday, Feb. 13 (and the second Saturday of each month) Time: 9 a.m. Fee: Free For more...

Where:
, DE

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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

More information

A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

More information

Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

More information

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