Winterthur (August 23)

On Tuesday morning, we set out for the Winterthur museum (pronounced “winter-tour”, due to their Swiss heritage, though I could never quite get used to it), in nearby Wilmington, Delaware. Joe had identified this museum as having one of the most extensive collections of early-American furniture available to the public, as well as housing the complete Dominy workshops which display an early cabinet-maker’s shop, and an impressive library full of historical texts chronicling American arts and industry from colonial times to the present. For Joe, it was a research-stop…The funny thing about woodworking is that many of the early methods of craftsmanship that have yielded buildings and furniture that actually last through 500 years of use is that they are not well-documented. The people who were following these methods learned them generationally, and many of the practices were considered to be common knowledge. So, it’s always a treat to get to see pieces from early times, to get to see manuscripts and research about early methods, and to be able to get up-close to study and photograph.

After our visit to the Biltmore, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at Winterthur, the estate of Henry F. Dupont, now turned museum…Boy, was I impressed! Everything about the estate was lovely and well-kept and friendly and enjoyable! We began in the summer sunshine, waiting for a tram-ride at the Visitor’s Center, under the late blooms of a well-established tunnel of wisteria vines…

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(photo courtesy of Spencer)

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The lovely open-air tram meanders through the naturalistic garden grounds, full of carefully tended forest, and narrated by a well-versed gentlemen who shared the stories of wonderful sequoias from Japan, and the origin of the azaleas that filled in the forest spaces left behind by the chestnut blight, and all manner of individual specimens of delightful trees carefully chosen and carefully placed, yet looking like they had always been there. 

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This glimpse of the home, grand though it appears, is the very teeniest corner of an immense, multi-story mansion!

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Our family followed a single guide through the general house tour, where room-by-room she explained the particulars of the region and style of the furnishings and decorations…Many rooms, including whole walls of paneling, sometimes murals, sometimes staircases, were carefully collected and often rescued from historic homes in colonial cities like Philadelphia or Boston or Salem or Portsmouth.

It was an incredible collection, as Mr. Dupont was interested in all areas of American craftsmanship, including furniture, rugs, glass and ceramics, silver, paintings, needlework, and textiles, even historic wall-papers and lighting fixtures and parlor stoves…Every room was just rich in interesting detail.

As I commented to our guide on the comparison to Biltmore, and how much more I enjoyed Winterthur, she pointed out that Mr. Dupont had known from a young age that he was creating a museum of American history on his estate. As a result, instead of a historic home outfitted as a museum later, he lived within his collection, furnishing rooms to house the pieces he collected, living with his family in his home, but always looking ahead to the opening of this house as a public museum. It definitely made a difference!

We ate lunch on the patio, looking out over the river, and enjoyed the warm sunshine…

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(photo courtesy of Spencer)

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After lunch, Asher and Joe were going on a more detailed furniture tour, for ages 8 and above, and I accompanied Spencer and Genevieve to the “Touch-It” room, where kids could actually touch and play with the same types of artifacts that they had seen in the house tour! It was more fun than I expected for them, and the hour went by quickly as they played with old fashioned toys and pretended to cook food in all of the wooden bowls and pitchers.

And then, Daddy was headed to the library…And the kids and I entertained ourselves in the multi-level nearby terrace!

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(photo courtesy of Spencer)

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All together again, it was time to enjoy the grounds…Beginning with the reflecting pool, which had originally been the family’s swimming pool, and was now full of beautiful flowers and serene views!

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But the real objective of our journey was a little further down the path…A wonderful, magical children’s area called the Enchanted Woods! This was a children’s play area as it should be, full of water…

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And swings…

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And tumbled ruins…

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And tiny sitting areas…

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And huge, fanciful nests…

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And a carefully-crafted fairy cottage…

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Well-made enough for a grown-up, but sized down for little folks 🙂

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It was a wonderful place to wind down the afternoon…

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In a beautiful mixture of nature and craftsmanship…

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After an entire day enjoying the legacy of Mr. Henry F. Dupont! What a great place! 

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