At Winterthur, unveiling beckons visitors

Homeowners discouraged by the toll winter took on their properties can console themselves by visiting Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library.

At the rear of the mansion, visitors can see the new windows, shutters, and freshly cleaned exterior of the building.

At the rear of the mansion, visitors can see the new windows, shutters, and freshly cleaned exterior of the building.

At the lavish estate, visitors can appreciate the fact that, unlike Henry Francis du Pont, they don’t have to contend with maintaining 410 windows, 800 shutters, 15 doors, and 13 chimneys – not to mention the paint that it takes to cover a mansion with 175 rooms.

They will also see the results of a $5 million facelift that began a year ago. After years of weather abuse that resulted in blistering paint, rotted wood, damaged gutters, and deteriorating brickwork, the staff at Winterthur had quite a challenge.

Last month, all of the green scrim and most of the scaffolding that had shrouded the building for months came down, capping more than 24,500 man-hours of renovations. Now, the public can enjoy the results – secure in the knowledge that their own maintenance woes likely pale in comparison.

During a recent presentation at the Visitors’ Center, Jeff Groff director of public programs, detailed the architecture and history of the house, and John Castle, the director of Winterthur’s facilities, discussed the renovations.

Groff said that the mansion, which began in 1839 as a 12-room residence, went through several expansions, most dramatically after du Pont’s father died in 1926. His son added 115 rooms, cognizant that the building would one day serve as a museum, ultimately housing 90,000 examples of American decorative arts from 1640 to1860.

In the process of enlarging the residence to accommodate such amenities as an indoor badminton court, du Pont pioneered the concept of architectural salvage. He bought homes in Rhode Island and North Carolina so that he could incorporate some of their elements into his grand residence, Groff said.

Not all of du Pont’s changes were well-received, Castle pointed out. Du Pont’s wife loved marble, and one of the alterations involved replacing a marble staircase with the Montmorenci Stair, a dramatic, wooden, free-hanging spiral that came from an early 19th-century North Carolina plantation.

Not one to waste anything, du Pont had the marble crushed and incorporated it into the home’s water filtration system, Castle said. “You could say that Mrs. du Pont got to drink her favorite staircase,” he added.

Castle said that although the renovations took about a year, they followed about five years of planning and myriad discussions about items ranging from the best material for the shutters to the optimal type of glass for the windows.

The latter choice represents one of the more noticeable renovations since it involved replacing gray-tinted glass with a bronze-colored Plexiglas that brings a warm glow to the interior spaces while filtering out UV and visible light that could damage the collections. The exterior was also affected since the historic window frames, or mullions, are now visible from the outside, giving the windows more definition.

The completion of the facelift comes at a time when Winterthur typically attracts throngs of visitors to both its spectacular spring horticultural displays over 60 acres and the Winterthur Point-to-Point, a much-anticipated spring sporting event.

On Sunday, May 3, the 37th Annual Point-to-Point will fill the 1,000-acre estate with horse races, carriage parades, kids' events, festive tailgating, and much more. Tickets and parking passes are available in advance only, online at http://www.winterthur.org/, or by phone at 800-448-3883 or 302-888-4600.

No tickets will be mailed after April 24, and the races will run rain or shine. Proceeds benefit the continued maintenance and preservation of the Winterthur Garden and Estate, a job that is never-ending.

 

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