We are sorry for the break in our posts recently. With spring arriving we’ve been out and about almost every day and haven’t have much time to write. Thanks for staying with us. We are now over 4,000 views and growing!
When we put Delaware on our Spring route we also made a note to visit Winterthur (pronounced winter-tour) near Wilmington. It was almost a two hour drive from our campground but well worth the effort. (Chari) I wanted to visit here for a long time. When I redecorated our bedroom in Charlotte I ordered prints from the museum store at Winterthur. This was the ancestral home of the duPont family from 1837 when it was a 12 room house until 1951 when the 175 room mansion on 1,000 acres became a museum open to the public. The original house was built by E. I. duPont’s daughter Evelina and her husband Jacques Antoine Bidderman. It was named Winterthur after Bidderman’s ancestral home in Switzerland. Winterthur is listed as the third largest historical home in the United States.
Who were the duPonts? We’ve all known of the DuPont Chemical Company and the products they discovered have touched all of our lives. Products such as neoprene (the first synthetic rubber), nylon, Corian, Mylar, Kevlar, Teflon, Tyvek, Freon and and Lycra are household names. (Steve) I’d always heard that the duPonts had made their fortune making gunpowder here during the Revolution. This I found out is a common misconception. The duPonts did make gunpowder used during the American Revolution but this was done in France. The family left France in 1800 to escape the French Revolution and settled in the Brandywine Valley of Delaware. It was here in 1802 that E. I duPont built an explosives factory. Their fortune rose during the War of 1812 when they became a major gunpowder supplier to the United States Army. Upon the death of the Jacques Bidderman, Evelina’s brother bought the home for his son, Henry A. duPont. H. A. du Pont was a graduate of West Point and a career Army officer who served during the Civil War. He served with General Philip Sheridan and won the Congressional Medal of Honor for actions in the Battle of Cedar Creek. He became president and general manager of the Wilmington and Northern Railroad. He was the duPont who began the experimental dairy farm at Winterthur. As if this weren’t enough, he also served two terms as senator from Delaware during the administrations of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft and Woodrow Wilson.
Henry A. duPont added a new facade and library wing to Winterthur in 1902. His son, H. F. duPont graduated from Harvard with a degree in agricultural development and horticulture. When his father went to Washington, DC he began to manage the dairy farm and gardens at Winterthur. A new wing was added to the home substantially expanding its size. During this time, H. F. duPont became one of America’s biggest collectors of furniture and decor items. The majority of the items he collected are from 1640-1860. He strongly disliked the era known as the Empire period but collected some pieces. He refused to live in rooms decorated with them and kept these rooms for display only. He also was an avid horticulturist who developed the 60 acre naturalized setting that attracts visitors today. When the home was converted to a museum in 1951 he and his family downsized to a 35 room home called the Cottage on the property. This is where the museum shop is located today. Because of his vast knowledge of American decorative arts, Jacqueline Kennedy asked H. F. duPont to be head of the Fine Arts Committee which oversaw the renovation of the White House in the early 1960s.
Other notable members of the du Pont family not associated with Winterthur are Pierre duPont and Alfred duPont. Pierre was the co-inventor of the first smokeless gunpowder with his cousin T. Coleman duPont. Alfred du Pont, T. Coleman du Pont and E. I. duPont bought the DuPont Chemical company in 1902 to keep it in the family. In 1915 Alfred bought T. Coleman’s shares. This caused a rift between he and E. I. duPont and they ceased speaking to each other. Alfred oversaw modernization and growth of the DuPont company and served as chairman of General Motors. He donated millions of dollars some of which went to modernize the black public schools in Delaware. He built the Nemours mansion for his second wife. Nemours is open for tours May-December. It shares the grounds with the duPont Hospital for children, another of his charities. His estate at Longwood Gardens was also opened to the public.
Today Winterthur has a Visitors Center and offers guided home tours, a museum of permanent and touring exhibits, a Conservation Center and a restaurant. The grounds can be walked free of charge. The Winterthur website lists what is currently blooming in the garden. When we were there the March Bank was in peak bloom with thousands of crocus, scillia, anemones and daffodils winding beneath yet to leaf trees. This was the first section of the garden to be planted by H. F. duPont.
We took a docent led tour of two floors of the home and the conservatory that lasted almost an hour. Tours cover different floors of the six floor home on a rotating basis. There is a tour of the Conservation Center on the first Saturday of every month. The restaurant serves a brunch on Sundays. We’d hoped to return when over 1,000 azaleas grace the hillside but the cool Spring delayed their bloom until after we left the area. So when we come back…
Unlike so many of the historical homes we’ve visited photography is allowed inside. Some of the items we noted were the china belonging to Martha Washington and the portrait of George Washington by John Trumbull. Another painting of the Treaty of Paris by Benjamin West is part of the extensive collection. The artist left the painting unfinished to express the idea that the fight for freedom is never done. With over 85,000 decor items the home is a place that can be visited more than once. You board a tram to ride up from the Visitors Center to the house. On the way you are given a brief history of the house and gardens. Our driver mentioned that when Hurricane Sandy was imminent last Fall everything in the house had to be moved out of harms way at least 3 feet away from any window.
One of our favorite parts of the visit was the wing housing the Campbell Soup Company collection of soup tureens. Most are 18th century but cover modern times as well. The collection consists of items made for European royalty by porcelain manufacturers, silversmiths and court supported artists for display or for expensive gifts. There was one tureen that originally had been thought to be made in 1738. The Conservation Center was able to determine that chromium had been used in the glaze. That meant the tureen was made no earlier than 1800 as chromium wasn’t used prior to that date.
If you ever tour the Brandywine Valley area do take a day to visit Winterthur. You won’t be disappointed.
While the home and gardens are almost overwhelming in their scope don’t miss the museum adjacent to the Visitors entrance at the house. You can tour here even if you opt not to buy an house tour ticket. These are permanent collections on loan to Winterthur.