I regret this trip wasn’t longer. The chartered bus left the Philadelphia Convention Center at 10:30 a.m. Winterthur takes an hour to reach.
Winterhur, a compilation of a DuPont collector and his ancestors who added on and on and raised the roof of the 1830’s house, was the result of Henry Francis Du Pont’s vision. He transformed the manor where he was born into a museum of Americana and surrounded it with gardens and grounds to delight and inspire those who came after. Many familiar with the Brandywine Valley due to Andrew Wyeth’s picture of the lone girl, twisted and half- reclining on the grassy hill, will note how Winterthur’s lawns resemble that green slope immortalized in “Christina’s World.”
I took the garden tram and found myself inside Wordsworth’s daffodil poem, immersed in thousands of waving buttercups all one color. Turning my head, I spied another slope of flowers a different hue but all identical. H.F. DuPont, the collector, preferred monochromatic schemes. Within the home too! All flowers in a vase were the same type and color. I joked to the docent: Is that peculiarity a genetic trait or idiosyncratic to the Y chromosome; I know men who refuse to eat casseroles. He said the uniformity of the arrangements reflected the style of the times. Within the bedrooms the bedspreads, drapes, and other textiles complemented whatever bloomed outdoors that season. Each season, bed linens, and curtains were switched to match the shade of the fields out the window.
The azaleas reign bountiful, overwhelming and majestic, but what thrilled the eye most were the masses of bluebells on the hills. As one botanic sort withers, another type springs up. The garden’s a performing art, constantly in motion, like a ballet. Nothing’s static!
Several different tours take visitors to various parts of the labyrinthine mansion. In addition, galleries house more collections. Apparently, his passion began when he visited a New England friend who displayed rose -colored china in an American pine cupboard. H. F. DuPont found the color combination so enchanting he began his accumulation of Americana, and ergo he bought items from dismantled plantations in NC, from homes in New England, and from local Pennsylvania places with exemplary German craftsmanship. Roaming the home was like being inserted into the middle of an American History book, and instead of leafing through pages, one’s skipping through rooms.
The dairy farm with Holstein cattle was sold off long ago when H.F. turned his home into a museum, moving himself into a house nearby, now serving as a shop. Yet, the bucolic affect of his estate remains. This area of Delaware reminds me of North Carolina’s Piedmont where rolling hills are still dotted with belted cows and silos.
Like the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, or Cinqua Penn Plantation near Reidsville, NC, this mansion’s filled with treasures; what differentiates Winterthur from other compilations is DuPont’s penchant for Americana. Paul Revere’s original silver mugs have places of prominence in the dining room. China from Mount Vernon is exhibited. Amazingly, Winterthur owns more than Mount Vernon.
The galleries contain furniture and antique clocks from Southeastern Massachusetts; American needlework bringing out the budding genealogists in all of us; and a colorful assemblage of unique soup tureens donated by Campbell Soup. Events are ever- changing at Winterthur. A steeple chase occurs each May and each Saturday antique autos from 1925 until 1953 strut their stuff.
Rushed, I scurried through the galleries, skipped the kids’ exhibit, took the garden shuttle but couldn’t tarry to see the Enchanted Woods. No time for a cuppa joe at the Cappuccino Café or a bite at the Garden Cafeteria. I raced through the Museum store but paused for an informative film about H.F. DuPont, the great grandson of the DuPont who started the company, by wanting to manufacture good gunpowder for hunting!
Winterthur whetted my appetite to see more DuPont gardens. Soon I’ll visit Longwood Garden which is in Pennsylvania, not Delaware. To learn more about the DuPont story I must visit the Hagley Museum.
Eighty-five thousand masterpieces of American antiques, the naturalistic landscape with thousands of flowers, and a library of rare books, photographs, and manuscripts are impossible to grasp it in one visit but certainly worth trying to do it. For Winterthur, I advise arriving when the doors open Tuesday thru Sunday at 10:00 a.m. Stay exploring till they shut at 5:00 p.m.
All you clutter bugs with messy rooms, mocked for hording stuff and engorging teetering piles, point your critics to Winterthur and exclaim “Ha! I am taking a page out of old Henry Francis Du Pont’s book! I collect for the delight of those who come after!”