Winterthur, the country estate and museum of Henry du Pont in Delaware

On one of our last days in Philadelphia, we found the time to visit the former home and, now, the museum of Henry Francis du Pont, the only son of Henry Algernon and Paulina du Pont, which is located in the middle of a magnificent estate in the Brandywine Valley and is considered one of the best, if not the best, country estate in America (more information at http://www.winterthur.org). The du Ponts are one of the richest families in the US, and first arrived there in 1802. You can see how they developed since then, here: http://www2.dupont.com/Heritage/en_US/index.html

 

The estate on which the house and museum are located was purchased by Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, the founder of the DuPont empire and the second son of Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours. Pierre Samuel was the first du Pont to arrive in America, in 1800, together with his two sons, while fleeing from a France torn apart by the Revolution. Eleuthère, the youngest son of Pierre Samuel, purchased the first plot of what, today, forms the estate, in 1839, after successfully establishing the gunpowder factory and the estate, like the company, was passed down from generation to generation. The name, Winterthur, comes from Switzerland’s sixth largest city, which was the birthplace of Jacques Antoine Bidermann, the husband of Evelyne, Eleuthère’s son, who were the owners of the estate for a generation. When Evelyne died, her son, James Irenée sold the estate in 1867 to his uncle, Coronel Henri du Pont, who was, variously, a cadet at West Point, a war hero, a US Senator, and an important businessman.

Henri du Pont, a coronel in the US Army, was the father of Henry Francis, who transformed Winterthur into its present-day dimensions. He purchased more than 20 neighboring farms and made the estate into a veritable paradise, with its own train station where he could arrive directly with friends. He was a very intelligent man, hard-working and with a very strong character; just the opposite, in fact, of his son, Henry, who was not academically inclined and whose only passions were agriculture, gardening, and cattle-raising. When he told his father than he planned to raise Friesian cows of the Holstein race to produce milk, his father replied, “What a splendid idea! It will cost much less than a yacht and, furthermore, will provide a service for humanity.”

Soon after the Coronel’s death, Henry Francis began work to fix up both the house and the estate, transforming it into a 150-room mansion, and building a hospital for the area, a post office, and a fire station, while also starting a collection of historic American decorative arts and furniture, with a truly unique sensitivity and a discerning eye.

Today, the collection housed by the house and museum contains more than 90,000 objects and the gardens occupy more than 74 acres of the 988 which make up the estate, including an “enchanted forest” for children and a density and variety of trees which are truly impressive. It really is a visit well worth doing.

 

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