Wilmington businessman John Rodney Brinckle built Gibraltar in the mid-1840’s, naming it after the rocky prominence on which it stands. Members of the Brinckle family lived there until 1909, when philanthropist, preservationist, and amateur horticulturist Hugh Rodney Sharp (1880 – 1968) and his wife, Isabella Mathieu du Pont Sharp (1882 – 1946) purchased the property. The Sharps began extensive additions to the buildings and grounds, creating the 6.1 acre estate that exists today. Foremost among these changes was the creation of a formal garden.
The Sharps hired landscape architect Marian Cruger Coffin (1876 – 1957) to design Gibraltar’s formal gardens. Coffin, one of the first and most accomplished female landscape architects in the United States, designed gardens and landscapes along the East Coast from 1910 – 1957. Created between 1916 and 1923, Gibraltar’s garden consists of a series of garden “rooms” each with a unique character and purpose.
In 1997, with the goal of opening the gardens to the public, Preservation Delaware led a capital campaign to fund this major restoration project to return the gardens to their original appearance. The restoration followed Marian Coffin’s own design, including layout, ornamentation and plantings, just as it was commissioned by the Sharps. The project restored the hardscape as well as the flower gardens. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is an official Save Americas Treasures project.
Gibraltar was overseen by Preservation Delaware for many years before finally being deeded to Gibraltar Preservation Group in the beginning of 2010. Despite a tough economy, these dedicated developers are putting together a plan to restore the mansion to her original beauty, helping to mark the end of the decline of this grand old lady.