The Brandywine by W. Barksdale Maynard

Book Review presents reviews of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects by noted scholars, historians and journalists.

The Brandywine: An Intimate Portrait
by W. Barksdale Maynard
University of Pennsylvania Press, 256 pp, cloth $34.95The Brandywine

My life story is riverine. I was born near the Hudson, summered along the Neversink, went to college in view of the Potomac, attended graduate school at the confluence of the Schuylkill and the Delaware, and live uphill from the Susquehanna. I have a long-standing love affair with the Brandywine. Even before I began to read the book for this review, one of my former graduate students, who had toured Brandywine sites with me, emailed to recommend The Brandywine: An Intimate Portrait, assuring me that I would enjoy it. Students do indeed teach their teachers. Mike Strong, retired engineer and now Gettysburg guide, was right. Author Maynard, as both a resident and a scholar, knows his subject intimately and writes with grace, charm and clarity. The book unfolds as a marvelous combination of the chronologic and the episodic. Chapter 1 begins with the mammoths and Chapter 9 ends with the Wyeth family and their circles. The opening paragraph of the preface, “American Arcadia,” is a marvelous illustration of the lyrical writing to follow.

“It comes down from the Welsh Mountains and twists its way through some of the prettiest countryside in the middle states before gushing along a rocky gorge at Wilmington and meeting tidewater. The quintessential Piedmont stream, running lively over the rocks, the Brandywine finally loses itself into the flat and featureless Christina River, which joins the Delaware Bay.”

An amazing drift of American history, culture and art follow the Brandywine’s course and its region, which has been celebrated for centuries. The site of the Revolution’s Battle of Brandywine became the area’s first tourist draw, long before it became celebrated as “Chateau Country” or an artistic nexus. Knowingly, Maynard relates the region’s Revolutionary history to the art of Howard Pyle and N.C. and Andrew Wyeth.

The author observes that there are really two Brandywines – one is a once-working river of mills and factories and the other the river of preserved countryside – some of both contained within the First State National Monument, established in 2013. Fittingly, it is the profits of industry, especially those of the du Pont family, that have led directly to the scenic preservation of much of the river and the valley.

The book’s illustrations are a carefully chosen lot, especially emphasizing artists’ images and historic photographs. For anyone who wants to see more contemporary photographs of the region’s unique qualities, I recommend Anthony Edgeworth’s wonderful color photography illustrating Brandywine: A Legacy of Tradition in DuPont-Wyeth Country (1995). Maynard satisfies the intellect and the imagination. Edgeworth’s photographs present the well-edited vision of a wonderland for adults. For the best of all worlds, read Maynard’s book and then visit the region with your now well-thumbed volume in hand, and make your own pictures, perhaps, inspired by Edgeworth’s aesthetics.


Irwin Richman is professor emeritus of American studies and history at Penn State Harrisburg and a research associate at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum.