Opulence and preservation
By JUDY HAZEL
Winterthur (pronounced winter-tour,) Brandywine River Museum and Longwood Gardens – these three names conjure up a history of opulence, art and preservation in the Brandywine Valley, amidst the hills of southern Chester County where the Battle of Brandywine was fought.
Here also, the Wyeths painted the landscapes and people of the area. The valley also encompasses northern New Castle County in Delaware, where the du Ponts made their fortunes.
Brandywine Valley, located about 3 1/2 hours southeast of Lycoming County and 30 minutes west of Philadelphia, is a mecca of places to visit. Let’s explore three of these places of the Brandywine Treasure Trail.
The sprawling country estate is set on a magnificent 1,000-acre preserve of rolling hills and meadows. Just minutes south of Longwood on Route 52, Wintherthur was the childhood home of Henry Francis du Pont.
Who was Henry Francis du Pont? He was on the DuPont Co.’s board of directors from 1915 to 1958 and was a director of both General Motors and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
As a horticulturist and collector, he opened his home almost 60 years ago as a museum to showcase all his decorative arts collections.
Wintherthur originally was designed as a country retreat for James and Evelina du Pont Bidermann for when James retired from du Pont. The name of the estate comes from the Bidermann family home in Winterthur, Switzerland.
Three floors and 12 rooms originally were built. Today, the first floor is the fifth floor at the back of the home addition that added 163 rooms. There now are 175 rooms.
The current museum houses a collection of about 90,000 objects that were made or used in America, some 150 to 370 years ago.
At the visitor’s center and entrance to the estate, a tram will take you on a tour of the grounds, including a 60-acre garden designed by du Pont. You’ll pass old, old trees such as a redwood and a gnarly Japanese maple. A tulip poplar in Chandler Woods is the oldest tree on the property, growing when William Penn was alive.
Soon the barn and fields of the working farm come into view. The tram stops for picture taking and exploration at Azalea Woods and Magnolia Bend.
Later, you can walk through canopies of evergreen trees with lush undergrowth. You’ll pass gazebos and sculptures and even can sit on a bench that looks like a toadstool. A walk back to the visitor’s center from the museum/house takes 10 to 15 minutes and is a must-do.
Don’t miss the Winterhazel Walk, the Sundial Garden or the Enchanted Woods, a children’s garden with a magical landscape with features such as the Tulip Tree House, Faerie Cottage and Frog Hollow.
August and September are great months for seeing blooming flowers. Even from March through November, hostas and ferns provide greenery; azaleas, lavender, Russian sage and blue plumbago provide color.
White blossoming hydrangeas reside by the reflecting pool. Sit and relax, listen to the birds and the flowing water, smell the fragrant flowers and observe the tranquil surroundings.
The tram lets you off at the Port Royal Road entrance of the imposing museum/house. At this angle, the house is five stories high.
An introductory museum/house tour takes you through the opulent entertaining rooms of the du Ponts. Observe the 18th-century, handpainted wallpaper in the Chinese Parlor and the array of China dinner services in the dining area. Beautiful floral creations are displayed throughout, as are the du Ponts’ objects of interior design.
The galleries are truly amazing, one-of-a-kind settings. The first-floor galleries might feature dyed ostrich feathers, birdcages or wooden decoys … all handcrafted.
The second-floor gallery now presents American tinware, sheet iron coated with tin. Tin is a good surface for decorative painting or hole punch-outs.
Be sure to view the tin coffee pot display. Other galleries feature Boston furniture, maps, ceramics and glass, textiles and the Campbell collection of soup tureens.
Other tours of the estate, such as the Estate Tour (the farm and area); Once Upon a Family (how the du Ponts lived with their two daughters); and Fashionable Furnishings also are available but require reserved tickets.
Brandywine River Museum
Located 5 miles north of Winterthur along Route 1 in Chadds Ford, the Brandywine River Museum displays the artwork of three generations of Wyeths: grandpa N.C.; son Andrew; and grandson Jamie.
N.C. was a noted illustrator, and Andrew painted the land and people around him in Chadds Ford, as does Jamie.
The museum is housed in a Civil War-era gristmill that has been meticulously converted into many galleries. Combining famous artwork within the architectural surroundings of an old gristmill, the museum, with its modern walls of glass, artistically, architecturally and historically pleases the eye.
The Brandywine River flows past the museum. Meander along the river’s edge and watch the locals’ pastime of canoeing and tubing down the waterway.
Ten miles west of the Brandywine River Museum in Kennett Square is the famous Longwood Gardens, established by another du Pont, Pierre.
Pierre du Pont was an industrialist, preservationist and visionary. Longwood was his vision of saving trees from being cut from an old arboretum onsite. This site was the Joshua Peirce farm, and the brick house became a country home for Pierre. The home is open to the public.
Thus was created Longwood Gardens and its mission of “inspiring people through excellence in garden design, horticulture, education and the arts.”
The gardens draw visitors from all over the world. Why? Because of the dazzling display of gardens, their seasonal diversity, educational opportunities, guided tours and stunning, indoor conservatory places.
Within the conservatory you will find at least 21 featured floral areas. There’s the Exhibition Hall with bougainvillea and creeping fig, the indoor children’s garden, and the orchid and bonsai rooms. In the music room, you can create your own perfume fragrance.
Outside, more than 24 themed gardens are available to stroll. Hundreds of fountains and Italian architecture in front of the conservatory make the site a grand showcase.
The waterlily display is another key feature. More than 100 varieties of lilies grace the outdoor West Conservancy Complex pools. Giant hybrid water platter lilies 6 feet in diameter are in bloom June through mid-October, a not-to- miss wonder.
Entertainment and theatre command front and center participation. The performing arts hold a place of distinction at Longwood.
If you head south to the Brandywine Valley to experience its richness in art and history, you will not be disappointed.
Admission is charged at each venue.