Delmarva Day Trip: Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library in Wilmington, Del.
American antiques, 60 acres of breathtaking gardens, a research library and more can be found at Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library in Wilmington, Del.
According to Liz Farrell, communications manager at Winterthur, Winterthur is the ancestral home of Henry Francis du Pont. It was home to three generations of the du Pont family, beginning in the early 1800’s.
In 1951, Henry Francis du Pont turned it over to the public as a non-profit corporation, which is how Winterthur is known today. Since its start as a non-profit, there have been a variety of expansions and improvements.
The Winterthur garden has a ‘succession of bloom,’ meaning Henry Francis du Pont planted his garden strategically so no matter where you go in the Winterthur garden throughout the year, you will see different flowers in bloom. Farrell says you can come to the garden in November, October, January or February and something will be blooming that is absolutely beautiful.
Winterthur has 10 miles of roads and walkways perfect for a walk or a jog. Farrell says if she could give one piece of advice, she’d say ‘wear comfortable shoes.’
At any given time, Winterthur offers something for people of all ages. In addition to a plethora of different sites in the garden, Winterthur offers activities for children and adults throughout the year. Friends of Winterthur can enjoy cultural lectures, changing exhibitions, tram rides throughout the garden and as of late, yoga classes.
“We bring people into the garden to sort of be one with nature which is what Henry Francis du Pont wanted. He wanted people to really experience this from the heart—the way that he and his family did.”
If you get hungry while on the grounds, Winterthur has two restaurants and a cafe with a great selection of beer and wine.
The Winterthur museum has 175 period rooms that date from 1640-1860. In addition to the rooms, there are changing exhibitions, daily lectures, workshops, and hands on, interactive things to do.
The Winterthur Museum building was originally constructed in 1838. Over the years there have been various improvements by the du Pont family—the largest expansion occurring from 1928-1931 by Henry Francis du Pont.
According to Farrell, the 130 room expansion by Henry Francis du Pont dramatically changed Winterthur and enabled him to build 175 rooms total that he could furnish with period antiques.
“He loved antiques, he collected antiques from all over but he really focused on the American Decorative Arts from about 1640-1860. Inside you see extremely rare antiques, for example, he has the only, known existing set of six silver tankards that were made by Paul Revere.”
The museum has several different passages, back stairways, secret doors and two working elevators that were put in in the 1930’s.
“When you go in [the elevators] it has the little cage and they are very small—that was how the guests would get around from the first floor, going up to the ninth floor. It’s nine floors of just amazing antiques.”
Farrell says Henry Francis du Pont loved to entertain and he loved to have people at the estate enjoying the outdoors and the indoors. On weekends in the 1930’s and 1940’s, during the ‘heydays,’ everybody wanted to be at the du Pont’s abode.
“The guests would arrive in their cars, the butlers would be waiting, they would take your coats, they would take your bags, you would go into the Port Royal entry, there would be more butlers and they would sheppard you off, you would be greeted by the du Pont’s, you would have some cocktails, and it would just be a weekend of fun and elegant entertaining, very much in the Great Gatsby style.”
The weekends would be a time for the du Pont’s and guests to play golf and tennis, swim, and play some squash. Farrell says Henry Francis du Pont loved music. At the reflecting pool, he had three enormous speakers constructed in the 1930’s and he would pipe music out into the swimming pool area while guests danced around the pool side.
Interview with Liz Farrell, communications manager at Winterthur
To learn more about Winterthur, visit www.winterthur.org.