Living in Kennett Square, PA my wife and I were spoiled. The magnificent Longwood Gardens became a place that we could get a quick dinner and take a long walk all summer. Henry Francis du Pont’s Winterthur was where we took our Sunday morning walks. We were members of both places and visited them both as often as we could. No house guest could avoid a trip and no one ever complained. Both have Yuletide displays that we have visited at least 18 times in the past 21 years.
Both are former du Pont estates that have become non-profits to allow the public to come and see what these families had built and loved. And if you can avoid some taxes, that’s nice too.
There are two other du Pont properties of note in the area, The Hagley, E.I. du Pont’s orignal gunpowder mill and mansion that now also houses a research library and the Nemours Mansion and Gardens, a 300 acre estate with formal gardens and a classical French mansion. Also on the property is the renowned Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. A really good use of their money.
But we’re here to talk about Winterthur, Henry Francis du Pont’s obsession. As copied from their website we learn: Founded by Henry Francis du Pont, Winterthur (pronounced “winter-tour”) is the premier museum of American decorative arts, reflecting both early America and the du Pont family’s life here. Its 60-acre naturalistic garden is among the country’s best, and its research library serves scholars from around the world. We invite you to visit and explore this place of beauty, history, and learning.
The largest portion of the museum is the over 170 period room displays featuring over 85,000 objects. Mr. du Pont collected primarily Americana from 1640 to 1860. Period rooms are only available through one of their several standard tours or by arranging a private special interest tour.
A small view of one of the 175 period rooms.
In the 1990′s they built a more formal museum that features permanent and rotating displays. Much to my dismay, they are now featuring the Costumes of Downton Abbey. That ain’t Americana although it might be good business.
On the second floor of the museum is reconstructions of the Dominy clock and woodworking shops used by the Dominy family’s four generations of craftsmen working in East Hampton, New York, from the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s.
One view of the Dominy woodworking shop.
Chris Schwarz (Popular Woodworking, Lost Art Press, Goetta Illustrated) wrote a blog about the Dominy workbench back in 2007.
The first floor displays highlights of the collections including furniture, glass, ceramics and textiles. When I was there last they were displaying some of Philadelphia’s finest.
To view a small portion of the Winterthur collection, click HERE.
If you are in the area (north of Wilmington, DE and west of Philadelphia) you might also consider the Brandywine River Museum. It is: Renowned for its holdings of the Wyeth family of artists, the museum features galleries dedicated to the work of N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth. And others. (I stole this, too.)