Possibly the country’s largest collection of Americana, Winterthur – pronounced “Winter-tour” – is home to over 90,000 decorative objects. The estate, founded by Henry Francis (H.F.) du Pont, is now a museum, library, and garden, functioning as an edifying tourist experience and a center for research into American life.
Located six miles north of Wilmington proper, Winterthur is made up of 979 acres of land along the Brandywine Creek. Its facilities include the main museum, with time period-themed rooms; the Cottage, where H.F. lived upon the opening of the museum; the Galleries, a display and exhibition area; as well as 60 acres of gardens.
Owned by prominent Delawarians, the du Pont family, the land where Winterthur is now was first purchased in the early 19th century by E.I. du Pont as farmland. By 1842, E.I. du Pont’s daughter, Evelina du Pont, and Evelina’s husband had built a Greek revival manor on the property, which was later sold to her brother Henry du Pont.
Later, Henry du Pont’s grandson, Henry Francis, inherited the property and began his collection of American antiques. By the time H.F. acquired Winterthur, it had over 90 buildings and stretched across 2,600 acres of land. In 1951, he established the property as a public museum dedicated to American decorative arts and moved to the Cottage.
Nowadays, the museum at Winterthur is home to 175 rooms that house objects from over two centuries of American history. Highlights of the massive collection include austere furniture made by the Shakers, a Christian sect, and opulent French-inspired works of the 18th century. It also includes newly-discovered works and objects thought to have been made by enslaved people. Through this extensive collection, Winterthur tells the stories of American people and American history.
The Winterthur library, in a similar vein, has a collection of rare books and manuscripts that document the cultural and intellectual history of the country from the 17th century onwards. Since its establishment in 1952, the library has acquired over 800,000 manuscripts and 87,000 rare books. The library’s holdings include the archived history of Winthur itself, 17th-century atlases, periodicals, and much more. The library is free for the public to access.
Outside of the buildings is a historic, naturalistic series of gardens. In 1909, Marian Cruger Coffin, one of the first female landscape architects, was hired to design 70 acres of gardens for the estate. In addition, the grounds were home to greenhouses, orchards, a dairy farm, and architectural features like follies. H.F. du Pont was a passionate gardener, and he had a hand in many of the estate’s natural features. Even after he made the estate into a museum in 1951, du Pont stayed in charge of the garden. Inspired by a philosophy of color harmonization and spontaneity, this beautiful garden can be explored on foot or by special tram.
The museum is often open for special events and tours, such as wine tastings and antique shows, as is the garden. Throughout the year, the museum is open daily from 10:00am to 5:00pm; however, it is not open on Mondays in the spring, summer and fall. Tickets are $22 for adults and $8 for children.
Visitors to Winterthur can spend a whole day admiring decorative Americana and wandering through the historic gardens.