Sunday, June 30, 2013

Winterthur Museum and Gardens

We had come to the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to visit cousins living in the area.  We never imagined what mental, visual and soulful treats they had in store for us.  After they took us on a tour of their inviting retirement community, they suggested we all go to Winterthur Museum.  It was just a few miles south across the Delaware state line.

We had never heard of it but we soon learned some very important background.  First, our cousins' daughter is employed at Winterthur as one of their archivists, so her parents are quite familiar with the beauties of the place.

Second, we learned that Winterthur had been the private estate of Henry Francis DuPont who was an expert horticulturist, an avid collector of antiques, and very knowledgeable student of European architecture.  All of these interests are beautifully displayed in this museum and 979 acre grounds.  H.F. DuPont began developing this estate in 1906 and it became a public museum in 1951.

We were primarily interested in touring the 60 acres of naturalistic gardens.  We had just begun our narrated tour when a sudden thunderstorm cut it short.  So, we had to go inside and decided to tour the house instead. 

The house has 175 rooms and this sitting room, with its hand-painted wallpaper imported from China, is certainly one of the most striking.
Hallways of elegant arched design and furnished with prized antique furniture connect the various rooms of the house.  There is at least one room for every purpose.
This small room, with its elegant antique roll-top desk, served as both office and a location for afternoon tea.
This set of china, used by Martha Washington in the White House, was one of 58 complete sets of china used by the duPonts in their frequent entertaining.
Of course, every mansion must have a spiral staircase, and Winterthur is no exception.  This stairway, however, was purchased by duPont from an elaborate home in the southern USA and as it was being dissembled, it broke!  Therefore, when it was re-assembled at Winterthur it had to become an elliptical staircase instead of spiral!
So, stop #20 on our Summer Tour of 2013 was an eye-opening look at how the rich and famous -- or at least the Henry Francis duPont family -- lived in the early 1900s.  It was interesting, educational, and impressive, but not at all a lifestyle I would like to copy.  After all, who would want to wash 58 sets of fine china after a big week-end of partying?
But we were in for more beautiful surprises the next day.  Stay tuned!