Places to Go (Vacation) - Running Through the Gardens & Learning About the Past at Winterthur (Winterthur, DE)


For the most part this blog is a labor of love, but every once in awhile No Monsters In My Bed leads us to some fantastic opportunities - a basement makeover by Land of Nod; Lensbaby, Think Fun, and Pinhole Press reviews and giveaways (now expired); discount codes for fantastic art, etc. ). And now - free tickets to Winterthur, the historic du Pont estate in Delaware (yay! yay!!).

Winterthur's been on my weekend trip bucket list for awhile now, but I was a little nervous about its kid-friendly potential. Luckily, as we learned, this place is wonderful for children of all ages.



We decided to make the trek (a 2.25 hour drive) the weekend after our trip to Vermont (planned, in part, to assure that we weren't in town for the incredibly expensive Arlington County Fair carnival rides). Needless to say, the kids were less than thrilled by this decision. The car trip didn't go much better ("are we there yet?"; "where are we going again?"; "gardens are boring"; etc. etc.). Immediately upon arrival at the estate we headed to the visitor's center for our 12:30 family house tour. This made me nervous, as cranky kids plus a historic tour seems like a recipe for disaster. My feelings didn't change when we met our tour guide - an older, beautiful, incredibly well-dressed woman. And Trout kept talking/laughing/joking about poop. The combo seemed destined for embarrassment.

I'm still not sure how the guide worked her magic, but she, quite amazingly, turned the whole mood of the trip around. In other words, she was a miracle. My children laughed, they raised hands to answer questions, they even (gasp) listened. F loved the tour guide so much that she kept asking to go again, like a carnival ride. This is especially important as the house itself was rather, well, over the top.

Apparently the incredibly rich du Pont heir visited his friend (founder of the Shelburne Museum in Vermont - which we visited the previous weekend, weirdly) and became motivated to collect "decorative arts" (aka, "stuff"). So, being enormously rich, he enlisted people to buy things for him all over the world (mainly American furniture) and decided to expand his house into a 175-room museum. Eventually the house and collection became so big that the du Ponts moved out of the mansion and into another house so that they could open the museum to the public (and continue filling rooms with acquisitions). So. much. excess. Thus many of Winterthur's rooms were only moderately lived in (if at all), rather they were designed with the purpose of people like us merely looking at them, which seems somewhat absurd. Still the rooms were beautiful. And, as our guide assiduously pointed out, Winterthur houses more stuff that George Washington owned than Mt. Vernon itself (oh how the rich will buy).



After the incredibly successful house tour, we headed to the estate's "Touch It Room." Such spaces are often hit or miss with the girls now that they're "too old for little kid toys." But between the "market booth", kitchen, and fine dining room (all child sized) my kids had a blast exploring and playing.



Eventually (after much bribing), we made our way to Winterthur's Costumes of Downton Abbey exhibit. And even this proved surprisingly fun for children - with a life-sized butler bell to ring, huge TVs to watch, and strong tea to smell. Plus, a hands on history cart allowed the children to practice chores such as curling hair and arranging silverware. The cart included "collectors' cards" printed with photos of Winterthur's original staff members, plus descriptions of the tasks assigned to each one (I've always wondered what exactly a footman does).



After over 1.5 hours inside, we finally walked to Winterthur's gardens, which are worth a trip in themselves. First stop, Winterthur's amazing "Enchanted Woods" children's space. Child sized houses and chairs. Mushrooms that create fog. Statues and stones. A troll bridge. And "enchanted frog". This place is breathtaking. T was in heaven. Unfortunately the girls decided they were "too old" for such play (though they enjoyed exploring more than they'd admit, and F became somewhat obsessed with the magic mushrooms), so we meandered on.



At the visitor's center, you can check-out children's backpacks to enrich your tour of the grounds, which include: colored pencils, paper, binoculars, magnetic poetry, and more. Lately T can't stop drawing (we're still not sure what he's drawing, but oh well, at least he has fun), so we stopped several times to give T the time to create.

I could have stayed in the gardens all day, but (after about 3.5 hours since our arrival) the kids lost interest. So we headed to our hotel for the night - Newark's Embassy Suites (love the free happy hour and breakfast buffet).

A wonderful day. We can't wait to return.

If you want to plan a trip to the area, the Brandywine valley also houses Longwood Gardens (previously reviewed here) and several other child-friendly attractions (click here for a list). Dutch Wonderland and Sesame Place are also relatively close.

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