What do you do when you are from one of the wealthiest families in America and you love antiques? Winterthur!
Originally used as farming and grazing land by gunpowder magnate E. I. du Pont (), the original house was built in 1839-42 by his daughter, Evelina. It was eventually sold to her brother, and passed down in his family to Henry Francis. It was Henry Francis who loved American antiques and renovated Winterthur’s main house, tripling its size and filling it with salvaged architectural elements and American antiques. He eventually moved out of the house (“downsizing” into an adjacent 50 room mansion), and turning Winterthur into a museum that now houses one of the largest collections of American antiques in the world. Today, the museum contains 175 period-rooms and approximately 90,000 objects.
Every room contains amazing objects, but my most favorite was this 1770’s hand-blocked Chinese wallpaper that du Pont’s antiques buyer found in unused rolls in a Paris warehouse. Henry didn’t want to waste any, so had an artist paint over the doors and windows, so the wallpaper didn’t need to be cut.
Henry and Jackie: A gallery has been added to the main building to display exhibitions pertaining to the museum’s collections. It was here that a 2022 exhibit explained the roll of Henry Francis in Jackie’s 1960’s White House renovations. Prior to Jackie Kennedy, the White House was basically decorated like a garage sale. Each president bought stuff and took stuff away, leaving very few original pieces and a whole lot of junk. It was Henry Francis that Jackie turned to to lead her project to restore the White House interiors, and it was he who convinced her that she could have a “really swell house” using American antiques, rather than the French-style she was partial to. A photo of Jackie touring Winterthur, along with a contemporary photo of the main staircase:
The museum also has a pavilion housing the Campbells (yup- the soup company) Collection of Soup Tureens. The collection was begun in 1966 by the company’s chairman, and after several temporary homes, found a permanent home at Winterthur. The collection contains over a hundred soup related items, most dating from 1720-1840.
Henry Francis also loved gardening, and was responsible for creating much of the landscape visible today. In addition to a pinetum, azalea garden, reflecting pool and old greenhouses, the garden contains my favorite children’s garden, Enchanted Woods ():
If you don’t feel like doing that much walking, a tram makes 1/2 hour garden tours. The museum also hosts a point-to-point steeple chase race on the extensive grounds each year.
Christmas is celebrated each year with a self-guided tour through the house, with antique Christmas displays, plus themed trees. 2022’s theme was trees of the White House to go along with the Jackie Kennedy exhibit.
My favorite tree was the dried flower tree created each year using preserved flowers from Winterthur’s year-round floral displays.
For more du Pont family history, check out Hagley: The Founding of an American Chemical Empire and Nemours: Upstairs/Downstairs in Delaware
Wow, that house looks huge! I’ve heard of Winterthur, but didn’t really know much about it. I agree that the wallpaper is fabulous, and I love the Christmas trees too, especially the one with the cute little owl peeking out.