Nestled in the verdant rolling hills of the Brandywine Valley in Delaware, you’ll find Winterthur Estate and Gardens. Once the home of the late Henry Francis DuPont, it now stands as the premier museum of American decorative arts.
An avid horticulturist, duPont supported the ‘naturalistic garden’ approach to the 2,600-acre estate. Natural gardeners take the existing trees and plants that cover the landscape and add native plants and ground cover. The overall aesthetic is an abundant, less manicured garden. It was a different style from the formal French gardens that were all the rage at that time.
DuPont took great pains in his planning to ensure there was always something blooming every month. A quick look at the Winterthur website will list monthly blooms so you can visit year round and see the beauty of his simplistic approach. The result is a colorful array to delight walkers, joggers, and tourist who use the trails through the 60-acre garden.
A twenty-five-minute tram tour of the grounds highlights sections in the garden include Peony Garden, Sycamore Hill, the March Bank and the Sundial Garden. You will see 100-year-old cherry trees, which have outlived their standard fifty-year lifespan. The property also has a rare sure found in a valley in China that was thought extinct and brought to the property as a sapling in the 1940s. The tree has grown and thrived. The pre-historic tree grows two to three feet a year and current towers over all the older spruce trees on the property.
Adults and children alike can wander the Enchanted Woods. This delightful fairy garden delights young and old. Tucked under giant oak trees, the three-acre plot contains bird’s nest big enough for children to sit inside and view the wonders of the garden. Cross over the Troll Bridge and explore the delightful Faerie Cottage. You can also wander through the Fairy Ring. Step inside the ring of toadstools, but be warned, you may disappear among the mist. Legend has it stepping inside the ring will whisk you away to fairly land forever!
The mansion was built back in 1837 as a 12-room house in the Greek Revival style, situated on 450 acres of land. Through the generations, the house and grounds were expanded. When Henry DuPont assumed management of the estate in 1903, after his father’s death, the house expanded again to its current 175 rooms. While many privileged Americans were collecting European and Egyptian art, DuPont had a deep appreciation for American decorative antiques and started a life-long passion for collecting them.
Although the duPont family descended from France, Henry duPont was proud of his American heritage. You will find many portraits, bust and figurines of George Washington as you explore the museum. Martha Washington’s table china is proudly displayed in one room. Winterthur currently owns more pieces than Mt. Vernon.
An hour long guided tour of the house will take you through the atrium and living spaces, including family rooms, conservatory, dining room, and bedrooms. The current introduction tour shows visitors what it was like to be a weekend guest of the duPont family.
Exploration begins in main entrance with our guide describing what it must have been like to drive up the sprawling paved drive to Winterthur. Guest would be greeted in the main entrance and whisked off to their private bedrooms. Next, we see the parlor and family room where the guests would play cards, chat, or listen to Mrs. duPont play the piano. The real treat of the weekend would be the sumptuous dinners severed in the dining room. Attention to detail was key. Mr. duPont personally oversaw to the details of setting the mood with his use of color, selecting the perfect flowers and china setting to accompany the meal.
After you tour the house, check out the Galleries. Current exhibitions include Treasures on Trial: The Art and Science of Detecting Fakes, along with Collecting for the Future: Recent Additions to Winterthur Collection. The Dorrance Gallery contains the permanent collection of Campbell Soup Tureens. They range from simple to elegant and were an important part of lavish meals for the noble and wealthy.
If You Go:
Plan a two-day visit to experience the entire estate or if you live locally, become a member. Tours change seasonal basis, so you can always return to see and learn something new. The Yuletide tour every Thanksgiving through New Years is not to be missed and a sure-fire way to get you in the holiday spirit. If you love Downton Abbey, you’ll definitely want to put Winterthur on your travel to-do list.
Visit Winterthur at 5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, DE 19735
Admission is $20 Adult, $18 Seniors and $5 Children 2-11
All photos by Theresa Troutman
Theresa Troutman is an author and travel writer who lives in Pennsylvania. She loves adventures that take you off the beaten path, whether it's a behind the scenes look at being a zookeeper or hopping on a random train and letting the day unfold. She's a thrifty traveler who loves to share tips and insights into travel. You can read her blog at http://thesavvytraveler.us.