Lee and I both love old mansions. We love the history and the architecture. Our favorites are those with original furnishings, so when I was looking for something to do in Wilmington, Delaware I was immediately interested in Winterthur (one of the Dupont family homes, pronounced Winter Tour). Traveling during COVID has been hit and miss, but we were both excited when we learned the Winterthur Mansion and Gardens were open. We bought tour tickets for both the house and the gardens and set out on one of the most beautiful days we have had this year. The weather was absolutely perfect. Low humidity, sun shining, and a light breeze and incredibly unusual for the month of November. We weren’t sure what state the grounds would be in, but when we arrived we were thrilled to find many of the leaves still on the trees and an amazing amount of fall color.
Let me start by saying the grounds were amazing. As interesting as I find heavily manicured grounds they usually don’t speak to me, but these gardens were very natural. They were carefully designed to take full advantage of nature and minimize the amount of staff that would maintain them. The large area still requires ten full time gardeners, but this is compared to a possible fifty for a different type of garden. I absolutely loved it, and can’t think of another cultivated space that made me feel so comfortable. The garden is divided into different sections and is designed for maximum year round displays of color. That means you can visit it at many different times of year and get a different experience. Personally I want to go back and see it again in both the spring and summer.
As we wound through the estate we received several views of the house. The mansion is nine stories with 175 rooms, but is designed into a hillside so it intentionally does not dominate the landscape. Henry du Pont did not want the house to to be the star and I absolutely loved that. It may sound a bit silly but I felt comfortable and thought I could live there, if of course I had millions of dollars 🙂 That was the effect though.
As a large working estate there was more than the gardens and house of course. It had its own farms, train station and still has its own post office to this day.
The absolute best part of the gardens though was the children’s area. We had to walk up to it later, but it was truly spectacular. I really wish Oliver could have been there to see it, because it even brought out the childish joy in me.
After touring the gardens we went to the house and learned that unfortunately only a small part of the fifth floor was open to tour. The tour guides themselves were incredibly disappointed that they were only able to show one floor of this incredible house, but I personally loved what we saw. The Du Ponts were immigrants who were very passionate about their new country. Henry has a large collection of Americana including many George Washington items. This was particularly interesting to me because we were recently at Mount Vernon where almost everything was a reproduction. The Du Pont house actually had the originals of some of those works including a VERY famous painting of George Washington. I can’t wait to go back and see the entire house sometime in the future, but here is some of what we were able to see.
My absolute favorite part of what we saw was an unfinished painting. It is the American Commissioners of the Preliminary Peace Negotiations with Great Britain in 1783. The reason half of the painting is blank is the British never showed up. Super cool and I have never seen anything quite like it.
Lee was actually more fascinated by the wood steak knife holders that were on both sides. The work like an old fashioned drinking straw dispenser you would see in a diner. I didn’t see them initially, but they were super cool as well. We both saw many things we have never seen before in our brief tour and again can’t wait to explore the rest of the house at a later date.
We were both disappointed when we got to the last open room, but there was a woman playing the piano with period authentic music which was a nice touch. We stopped to take some video.
After exploring inside the house we toured the immediate grounds looking at the house from all angles. Don’t forget to do this if you go because there are lots of neat little areas to see.
After walking around the house, we walked down to the gallery and experienced our first disappointment of the day. It was an additional cost for the tickets (considering COVID I think it should have been included) and worse we would have to go back to the visitors center to get those tickets. We were able to see the Campbell soup tureen collection for free but the day ended on a bit of a sour note, which was unfortunate because everything else was fantastic.
Make sure when you are down in this area you don’t forget to see the “cottage”. Henry du Pont donated the house and grounds while he was still alive, but continued to manage the property until his death at 89. As many of us do in these situations he wanted to downsize so built a quite modest 50 room house for he and his wife to live in 🙂 Seriously it was an amazing thing to do, but as people who moved into 400 square feet, we had to laugh at his concept of downsizing 🙂
One last thing I wanted to mention. While we were walking the gardens the news came in that new AP had called the presidential election for Joe Biden. There was a definite buzz of conversation from folks throughout the rest of the day and we even saw this rock placed in part of the garden.
Turns out that Joe lives a few miles away from Winterthur and when I learned that I talked Lee into driving by. We knew we probably couldn’t get close to his house and we weren’t surprised at all that the his street was blocked to all but local traffic. The State police turned us around in short order, but it was kind of cool to be so close when everything happened.
The entire experience was absolutely fantastic and as I have stated I can’t wait to go back, which is somewhat unusual for me. It was not an inexpensive day, but I highly recommend at least the walking the gardens if you come near Winterthur in your travels and I am so grateful we got to experience it.
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