National Geographic : 2013 Apr
76 national geographic • april 2013 stony piles crowned with turrets and cupolas, swaddled in topiary and wrought iron. Those that have not become museums remain, to a large extent, in the hands of du Pont descendants (who now number in the thousands). A visitor to the Brandywine often gets the sense that it is one of the few places in America to which the word “feudal” can be applied. Yet the du Ponts were, in a sense, late arrivals. It wasn’t a French aristocrat who launched the industrial revolution along the Brandywine, but rather a Delaware shoemaker’s son named Oli- ver Evans, one of America’s greatest unheralded inventors and the godfather of automated manu- facturing. In the 1780s he created a new system of flour milling that, with an ingenious arrange- ment of water-driven wheels, gears, and shafts, almost removed human labor from the process of turning wheat into flour. Visiting millers were incredulous to see Evans’s mill grinding busily away as if by magic, completely unattended, while the owner himself worked placidly in a nearby field. Soon Evans-style gristmills—for which the inventor received the third U.S. pat- ent ever granted—were lining both banks of the Brandywine, and their basic principles were be- ing adapted to manufacture paper, textiles, and other products. The Brandywine Valley was to automation what Silicon Valley would later be to microprocessing. Now, after 200 years, the core of the proposed national monument is emerging from the legacy of those fortunes. At its center is a 1,100-acre tract of upland meadows and woods known as Woodlawn, preserved from development a cen- tury ago by a Quaker textile manufacturer and philanthropist. It is one of the last large unde- veloped sites in an area increasingly hemmed in by the encroaching outskirts of Wilmington and Philadelphia. On summer afternoons the song of cicadas blends with the whoosh of traffic from a nearby road lined with fast-food restaurants and strip malls. Still, within the valley’s narrow enclave, time’s passage often seems suspended. Colonial stone houses, neat and dignified, stand amid rolling Inside the John Dickinson Plantation in Dover, Delaware, portraits of the patriot’s parents oversee side-by-side rooms. Dickinson championed colonists’ rights in the run-up to the Revolutionary War and later signed the Constitution.