At the Blue Hen Bed & Breakfast, a Precious Past is Preserved

Don and Amy Eschenbrenner have made the 325-year-old residence their own, but they've also maintained much of its original history and charm.


Published:

The first bricks of the current Blue Hen Bed & Breakfast in Newark were laid in 1692.//Photo by Joe del Tufo

 

The big, old house on Nottingham Road in Newark is a patchwork quilt of sorts, one stitched together through the centuries.

The first red bricks were laid in 1692, 84 years before Caesar Rodney’s heroic ride from Dover to Philadelphia to cast the deciding vote for the Declaration of Independence. The newest section of the house, a stately facade with two entryways, was added in 1840, 21 years before the Civil War.

For most of its life, the house has been home to the people who farmed the land around it, starting with the Steel family, Irish immigrants who grazed cattle on what was then a 255-acre spread bordering White Clay Creek.

Today the property is the Blue Hen Bed & Breakfast, the temporary residence of travelers from around the globe and full-time home to the current owners, Don and Amy Eschenbrenner, who grow flowers, herbs and vegetables on the remaining two acres.

“Both sides of my family were farmers and I feel obligated to have a garden,” Amy says.

She is a direct descendant of John Bartram, the Quaker explorer, botanist and founder of Bartram’s Garden outside Philadelphia, the oldest surviving botanical garden in North America. Her maiden name is Greenplate, also indicative of her Quaker roots. Her mother was Pennsylvania Dutch. Not surprising, Amy has a lifelong love of history and pieces of the past.

“When we met, she was living in this development from the 1970s and had rooms and rooms of antiques she was saving,” Don says.

“Both sides of our family had lots and lots of antiques that none of the siblings and cousins wanted,” Amy says. “Whenever there was something no one else was interested in, I would take it.”

The parlor is a formal yet cozy space decorated with a blend of family pieces and vintage finds.//Photo by Joe del Tufo

This old house

In 2008, the couple discovered what might be the ultimate American antique—a house more than 300 years old—when the widow of longtime owner Harry Montgomery, a breeder of champion Irish setters, put it on the market.

At the time, the price tag for the 5,000-square-foot house, 2,000-square-foot barn and surrounding land was beyond their means. But the Eschenbrenners decided it was worth the risk.

“I took out my whole 401(k) to buy the house,” Amy says. “Then I lost my job, like a lot of people did in 2008.”

In searching for a solution, she referenced her personal history. Years earlier, she had earned a degree in theater from the University of Delaware, a pursuit that inspired travel. “I lived in London in 1981 and would travel through England and Scotland and stay in B&Bs,” she says. “I thought, wow, this is really cool.”

Later, she and her husband would gravitate toward inns when they took trips in the United States. “We loved to go to Cape May and stay in bed-and-breakfast inns,” she says.

She decided her next role would be innkeeper, a pursuit that would make the house pay for itself “or at least contribute to the mortgage.” It took two years to navigate the approval process with New Castle County and complete renovations on the house. After that, it didn’t take long for the couple to settle into a routine as hybrid homeowners and innkeepers.

Don kept working as a civil engineer, while taking on chef duties at the inn. A certified Bob Ross art instructor, he also gives classes for guests on weekends. Amy became a full-time innkeeper and businesswoman.

Her family pieces now have a long-term home. Witness salt-glazed crocks from her Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors. Her grandmother bought the expansive service of Austrian china in 1925. A rare art piece of woven hair comes from the Bartrams. The electrified pump organ in the parlor came from the previous home of Ebeneezer United Methodist Church in Newark.

“My parents had some of the pews in their house,” she says.

Each of the inn’s three guestrooms is named for a noted artist.//Photo by Joe del Tufo

Pieces of the past

The history of past owners is part of the fiber of the house. In the root cellar, there is a meticulous accounting of the meats that were stored there over the years.

For centuries, paperhangers have autographed their work, dating the job on the wall in pencil before hanging the paper. There are two such artifacts in the Eschenbrenner home. In the parlor, James Tyler left his signature in 1896. In the upstairs hallway, there’s an inscription: Papered by Wm. Lum, 11-10-1739. (There’s no connection to Lums Pond. He was an artist from Philadelphia.)

Adeline Steel commissioned the European-style fresco on the parlor ceiling. Since then, hand-painted images of fruits and vines have been restored twice: in 1960 and in 1995.

It’s a formal yet cozy space, a blend of family pieces and vintage finds. “Our guests love to sit in there with their coffee and their wine,” Amy says.

The monastery closet was purchased from an antiques dealer in Old New Castle. The Eschenbrenners bought several furnishings from the previous owner, including a buffet, china closet, needlepoint chair and the dining table where guests gather each morning for a sumptuous breakfast. The repast might include Don’s recipe for pork schnitzel with silken Hollandaise sauce, Amy’s fresh-baked coffeecake with applesauce and cinnamon chips, house-made granola and scones with homemade blackberry jam.

“Don takes my banana bread, soaks it in egg and milk overnight and makes French toast,” Amy says. “In a bed-and-breakfast inn, breakfast is very important.”

So are the beds. The Eschenbrenners team high mattresses and reproduction bedframes with antiques chests and nightstands in the inn’s three guestrooms. Each is named for a noted artist. The Cassatt, inspired by the art of Philadelphia impressionist Mary Cassatt, is feminine with ornate wallpaper reminiscent of a watercolor painting and a four-poster bed. The Wyeth is decorated with Victorian antiques and prints of paintings by N.C. Wyeth of Chadds Ford and his teacher, Wilmington illustrator Howard Pyle. The Kinkade is awash in the sunny colors embraced by Thomas Kinkade. The suite includes a kitchenette, bath and screened porch.

Amy Eschenbrenner enjoys the gazebo with a pair of pooches—the inn is a pet-friendly destination.//Photo by Joe del Tufo

A global perspective

Guests come from as far afield as Iceland. A visitor from Mumbai proposed to his American girlfriend at the inn. A guest from Paris, fascinated by football, made arrangements to take in two games, the Blue Hens of UD and the Philadelphia Eagles. “He had never heard of a tailgate party, so we made one for him,” she says.

Every once in a while, a former resident stops by. “One day, a guy from Connecticut popped in and said he lived here during World War II,” Amy says. “He sent me pictures taken on the farm.”

It’s a pet-friendly destination, with a designated dog lounge, where it’s OK for Fido to sit on the sofa. The lounge is outfitted with an assortment of dog beds to accommodate pooches of all sizes, “everything from Bernese mountain dogs to Jack Russell terriers,” Amy says.

Outdoors, the Eschenbrenners built a gazebo, where they can relax and enjoy glimpses of goldfinches, doves, butterflies and an occasional deer jumping the fence.

There is a vegetable garden, where the plantings include zinnias and cosmos for floral arrangements, cantaloupe and watermelon for breakfast, and cucumbers for pickling. Amy grows rosemary to use in soap.

“I feel at peace, very much at home, baking bread and making soap,” she says. “An old house is the place where I am supposed to be.”


GET THE LOOK

Remember: In a historic home, one of the best sources of furnishings is the previous owner. The Eschenbrenners bought a dining table, needlepoint chair and other pieces from the widow of longtime owner Harry Montgomery. Mine family treasures. Amy Eschenbrenner enjoys dishes and other items that have been handed down through the generations. “When someone wanted to give something away, my hand always went up.” Preserve the past. Rather than cover up the centuries-old signatures of past paperhangers, the innkeepers decided to integrate them into the design. Allocate your space to reflect the way you live. The couple love their dogs and accommodate canine guests, so they designated a small den as a pet lounge. Infuse your rooms with personality. The innkeepers named each of three bedrooms for artists, then decorated them to reflect their styles

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

February 2018

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

The area’s largest sale of gently used books has been scheduled by the Wilmington branch of the American Association of University Women. The 49th annual Dollars for Scholars Used Book Sale, to...

Cost: free

Where:
Concord Mall
4737 Concord Pike
North Wilmington, DE  19803
View map »


Sponsor: American Association of University Women
Telephone: 302-428-0939

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

A day of tomfoolery, debauchery and great beer. Come enjoy unlimited beer tastes from the best beers each Delaware brewery has to offer and YOU decide who wins the heavyweight belt for 2018. 

Cost: $29 online, $35 door

Where:
Crooked Hammock Brewery
36707 Crooked Hammock Way
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Crooked Hammock Brewery
Telephone: 302-644-7837
Contact Name: Jon Schorah
Website »

More information

The Singing Sergeants is the official chorus of the United States Air Force. Stationed at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C., the group is one of six musical ensembles that comprise...

Cost: Free

Where:
Loudis Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Notbybreadalone Ministries presents Feeding the Hungry Outreach. All are welcome to come and partake of food, fun and fellowship. Those who desire a better way of life through Jesus Christ are...

Cost: Free

Where:
2nd and 3rd Streets
Wilmington, DE  19801


Sponsor: Notbybreadalone Outreach Ministries
Telephone: 442-0440
Contact Name: Ministers Wayne and Stephanie Dumpson
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Nanticoke Memorial Hospital will host a four-session diabetes educational program, The Diabetes Connection, on February 6, 13, 20 and 27 from 9:30 am to 11:30 am. Pre-registration is required. As...

Cost: Call for cost.

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
View map »


Telephone: 302-629-6611 x2288
Contact Name: Nanticoke's Diabetes Education Department
Website »

More information

Soprano Alissa Rose is a native of Billings, Montana whose multi-faceted career has taken her around the United States and abroad.  She completed her Doctor of Musical Arts at the University of...

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

FREE COMMUNITY EVENT: MID-WEEK WORD REFRESHER Come join us at the Mid-Week Word Refresher every Wednesday at Faith Victory Christian Center from 11:00am - 12:00pm. Refreshments will be...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Faith Victory Christian Center
301 Commonwealth Avenue
Claymont, DE  19703
View map »


Sponsor: Faith Victory Christian Center
Telephone: 302.354.6726
Contact Name: Alvin Walker
Website »

More information

Clearing the mind and learning to think not thinking is Zen awareness. Taking the appropriate action in this moment is Zen. Once you know this in your body, walking, standing, sitting down,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark
420 Willa Road
Newark, DE  19711
View map »


Sponsor: UUFN
Telephone: 302.368.2984
Contact Name: Richard Field
Website »

More information

An ensemble of five dynamic and brilliant players in their own right, Christiana Winds explores the exciting and unique tradition of wind chamber music from the 18th century to the present. In...

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Francesca Russello Ammon will explore the decades following World War II when rapid growth and construction in the United States coincided with a time of large-scale destruction. This author talk...

Cost: Free

Where:
Hagley Museum Soda House
298 Buck Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Hagley Museum and Library
Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Carol Lockman
Website »

More information

Francesca Russello Ammon will explore the decades following World War II when rapid growth and construction in the United States coincided with a time of large-scale destruction. This author talk...

Cost: Free

Where:
Hagley Museum Soda House
298 Buck Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Carol Lockman
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Cokesbury Village White Elephant Sale March 2nd & 3rd, 2018 Furniture, clothing, jewelry, china, kitchenware, tools, appliances, pictures and picture frames, luggage, lamps, and books.

Cost: Free

Where:
Cokesbury Village
726 Loveville Rd
Hockessin, DE  19707
View map »


Sponsor: Cokesbury Village Residents Association
Telephone: 302-235-8578
Contact Name: John Prince

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

This noontime lunch series on the first Friday of every month pairs an engaging 30-minute discussion about a work of art with a delicious lunch in the Thronson Café. Café lunch voucher included...

Cost: $12 Members, $14 Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

Join us for the Art Loop Opening of Terence Roberts' photography exhibit - Inner Light. This show features light-paintings, photographs made at night of gardens, landscapes, and trees. The...

Cost: Free and open to the public

Where:
Delaware Center for Horticulture
1810 N. Dupont Street
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Sponsor: Art Loop Wilmington
Telephone: (302) 658-6262
Contact Name: Marcia Stephenson
Website »

More information

Based on the Dreamworks animated film, the adventures and antics of NYC zoo animals who escape and end up in Madagascar. Enjoy this rollicking youth musical.  Friday March 2nd at 7:00 p.m.,...

Cost: Free. Voluntary donations.

Where:
Aldersgate United Methodist Church
2301 Concord Pike
Wilmington, DE  19803
View map »


Sponsor: Aldersgate Youth Players
Telephone: 302-478-2575
Contact Name: Church office staff
Website »

More information

Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
View map »


Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
Website »

More information

The Ruby Stanley One-Act Festival is a Drama League tradition.  Join us for a fun evening of one-act plays, and vote for your favorite to represent us at the regional festival.  Performances are...

Cost: $10.00

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
View map »


Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-1172
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Cokesbury Village White Elephant Sale March 2nd & 3rd, 2018 Furniture, clothing, jewelry, china, kitchenware, tools, appliances, pictures and picture frames, luggage, lamps, and books.

Cost: Free

Where:
Cokesbury Village
726 Loveville Rd
Hockessin, DE  19707
View map »


Sponsor: Cokesbury Village Residents Association
Telephone: 302-235-8578
Contact Name: John Prince

More information

Build a model ship at home and enter it into our home-build contest! Build your ship at the Copelane Maritime Center using our STEM-based design plans! Free-play area for all ages, plus many...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kalmar Nyckel Foundation
1124 E. 7th Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Based on the Dreamworks animated film, the adventures and antics of NYC zoo animals who escape and end up in Madagascar. Enjoy this rollicking youth musical.  Friday March 2nd at 7:00 p.m.,...

Cost: Free. Voluntary donations.

Where:
Aldersgate United Methodist Church
2301 Concord Pike
Wilmington, DE  19803
View map »


Sponsor: Aldersgate Youth Players
Telephone: 302-478-2575
Contact Name: Church office staff
Website »

More information

The Ruby Stanley One-Act Festival is a Drama League tradition.  Join us for a fun evening of one-act plays, and vote for your favorite to represent us at the regional festival.  Performances are...

Cost: $10.00

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
View map »


Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-1172
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module