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Henry F. du Pont and Winterthur

Henry F. du Pont and Winterthur: A Daughter's Portrait

Ruth Lord
Foreword by R. W. B. Lewis
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 322
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    Henry F. du Pont and Winterthur
    Book Description:

    World renowned for its vast woodland gardens, its 175-room house, and its unrivaled collection of American decorative arts, Winterthur in Delaware is today among the most beloved museums in the United States. In its earlier days Winterthur was the family home where Ruth du Pont Lord grew up and where her father, Henry F. du Pont (1880-1969), envisioned and then brought to fruition his great museum of Americana.In this memoir, Ruth Lord engagingly describes the development of Henry F. du Pont from a shy, lonely child, a seemingly hopeless student who had bad times at school, to a man who went on to achieve singular distinction in three disparate fields-as art connoisseur, horticulturist, and eminent cattle breeder. Based on her personal experience, and on extraordinary family archives, the author provides a behind-the-scenes view of the legendary lifestyle of the du Pont family, brings to life other family members, including her brilliant mother and irrepressible aunt, Louise Crowninshield, and tells of her father's many additional activities, which culminated in his leadership role in Jacqueline Kennedy's White House restoration.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18557-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    R. W. B. LEWIS

    Early in this enchanting and luminous memoir, Ruth Lord tells us that back in the 1950s she addressed a message to her father, Henry Francis du Pont, which she called a “love letter to a house.” The house was the Golf Cottage, a compact nineteenth-century building on the vast Winterthur estate near Wilmington, Delaware. Surrounded by woods and slopes, it had been remodeled into a comfortable one-family home, and Ruth hoped that she might make it her own; it was so much more intimate than the stately mansion her parents occupied, and Ruth felt she could retain her own identity...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. CHAPTER 1 The Golf Cottage
    (pp. 1-10)

    AT THE START OF the nineteenth century, Eleuthère Irénée du Pont gradually bought several hundred acres of land in northern Delaware. There he raised merino sheep and planted wheat, clover, barley, rye, and experimental millet. Successive generations of the family continued to nurture the farm, later called Winterthur, and added to it—more land, various types of cattle, carriage and riding horses, fruit trees and evergreens.

    Winterthur is alive with springs; streams flow across meadows, circle hills both steep and gentle, and border the woods. Many of the trees—tulip poplars, white ash, oaks, hickories, and giant beeches—are now...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Earlier Generations
    (pp. 11-18)

    HENRY FRANCIS DU PONT transformed into a museum the house on a hill at Winterthur, Delaware, where two generations of his family had lived before him. It was always a big house, although at first the trees were equal to it. Today, what with the additions made every twenty or so years, the building is undeniably enormous. Beginning in 1928 my father more than doubled the dimensions of his parents’ house, and the outline of the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum began to take shape. Here he assembled, in settings that looked lived-in, the largest collection of Americana in...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Grandparents and Their Contemporaries
    (pp. 19-36)

    LOUISA GERHARD DU PONT was called by her granddaughter, my aunt Louise, “the kindest person I ever met.”¹ She was a spirited gardener who hoped that future generations would carry on the family love of plants and flowers. She need not have worried. Her oldest child, Henry Algernon, Louise and Harry’s father, shared these inclinations, as did Pauline Foster, the young woman he was to marry. As it happened, Pauline’s background was every bit as agricultural and French as that of her in-laws. Her mother’s father, Antoine Lentilhon, was a Parisian who had permanently settled in New York, and her...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Colonel
    (pp. 37-49)

    THE library at Winterthur has always been my grandfather’s room. It was added to the house as part of the new east wing in 1902, a year of great significance for Colonel du Pont. Early that year, in the thick of battling for the nomination to the Senate, he turned down the offer of the presidency of the now booming Du Pont Company, a position that he would have jumped at (as will be seen) thirteen years before; and in September he lost his beloved wife.

    For my grandfather and my father, the completion of the east wing of the...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Early Childhood
    (pp. 50-56)

    GROWING up at Winterthur, Harry and Louise had the run of the place. Their mother told them, “Play anywhere. Play in the meadow,” and so they did—in snow and ice, in leaves, hay, and mud. Their corner of the fertile Brandywine Valley teemed with possibilities—the stable and barn below the big house, the barnyard with turkeys, chickens, and ducks. And there was fun away from home as well. Annual visits to the seashore meant sandcastles and crabbing, bowling and croquet, and the occasional juggler or ventriloquist at the hotel. These summer holidays also provided the children with playmates...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Groton
    (pp. 57-72)

    PRIVATE boarding schools for boys began to sprout in earnest in the United States after the Civil War, influenced by, among other factors, the expansion of private fortunes and the rapid growth of cities. Such schools answered the needs of families who, with the decline of rural academies, aspired to better college preparation for their sons than was available in local high schools. Groton was the eighth such school to open.

    Given Harry’s temperament and upbringing, it is unlikely that he would have thrived in any boarding school, but in keeping with family tradition, in 1893 off he went to...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Harvard
    (pp. 73-83)

    HAD today’s formidable admissions requirements existed at Harvard at the turn of the century, Henry F. du Pont would certainly not have been accepted. During the presidency of Charles W. Eliot (1861–1909) the survival of Harvard, owing to its meager endowment, depended to a great extent on attracting young men who could pay the tuition. Those who had attended a private boarding school were especially welcome, and in the late 1800s they constituted about 80 percent of the undergraduate body.¹ This may help to explain why the Reverend Endicott Peabody ultimately allowed Harry du Pont to apply for Harvard...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Finding Himself
    (pp. 84-93)

    POST-CIVIL WAR AMERICA was alive with anticipation and change. The country’s sense of a new nationalism as well as of its role in world affairs was surging, as was the population, on the move from farm to city and swelled by a vast and steady influx of foreigners. An expanding economy and greater affluence had led to the growth of the middle class and to new cultural patterns. Large-scale buildings sprang up—opera houses, museums, hospitals, hotels, and, in Chicago, the first skyscraper. Most immediately affecting everyday life at the turn of the century was the expansion of technology, which...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Ruth
    (pp. 94-109)

    RUTH WALES was born in Hyde Park, New York, in June 1889, the only child of Edward Howe Wales and Ruth Holmes Hawks Wales. Her father, a graduate of Columbia, was a stockbroker and an associate with his father in patent work. He retired at the age of thirty-nine, apparently rather impulsively, for he had not accumulated enough money to make such a decision practical. He joined the Naval Reserve during World War I, became an aide to Theodore Roosevelt, and achieved the rank of commodore. The Waleses’ marriage was not a happy one, and, partly because of Edward’s philandering...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Early Married Life
    (pp. 110-118)

    IN 1916, events in America were overshadowed by the war in Europe and by Americans’ ambivalence about their country’s increasing and seemingly inexorable involvement in it. For many members of the du Pont family, 1916 was also a year of momentous import on a personal level. A bitter court battle raged between the first cousins and former partners Alfred I. and Pierre S. du Pont, and the Colonel was again deep in politics, with Alfred as his adversary. On a happier note, Harry du Pont married Ruth Wales. On their wedding trip, Harry and Ruth received two letters from Louise...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Times of Crisis
    (pp. 119-128)

    SEVERAL events that jolted my family even more personally than those involving Alfred and Pierre took place during this decade. Louise’s husband, Frank Crowninshield, was an Anglophobe whose ancestry no doubt bolstered his penchant for Germany. He had joined the U.S. Army in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, but in 1915, to the horror of fellow Bostonians and his family and in-laws, he openly applauded the sinking of theLusitania. In 1917, after his rude refusal to contribute funds to American soldiers overseas, angry participants at a town meeting in Marblehead, Massachusetts, as reported in theBoston Herald, “advocated that...

  16. CHAPTER 12 A Child’s Perspective
    (pp. 129-143)

    HERE was a man, a country gentleman to be sure, who also delighted in city things: theater, opera, ballet, prizefights, museums, international horse shows, the Ice Capades. My father’s ordered life seemed not unlike that of many other well-to-do American men of his time, with lunch and dinner parties, golf and bridge, and Republican politics. He was a dear man, taciturn, wryly humorous, modest, sometimes imperious; my mother wrote that he had “more charm to the square inch than any other human in the world.” But when I think about those days, I realize that what I saw in him...

  17. CHAPTER 13 Louise
    (pp. 144-152)

    HARRY DU PONT had luck with the important women in his life, not least his remarkable sister. Mature for her age, and always sympathetic, Louise had stood up for her younger brother since childhood, comforting his tearful sensitivity, defending him against criticism, playing games with him, sharing her friends. During his boarding school misery, her letters were as loving as those of their parents: “I want to write to you just to let you know we think of you all the time.” “It must be so awful to be sick without Mamma being there.” In 1895 their letters crossed on...

  18. CHAPTER 14 Parties and Food
    (pp. 153-160)

    HIS LETTERS from Groton show that Harry’s interest in food began early. He complained about a surfeit of apples there, “apple this & apple that every day,” but praised the oysters served on the school’s birthday and a rich, delicious “black cake full of almonds” consumed on an outing with a friend. When he was older and on a trip, my father sometimes took along food from home: watercress sandwiches and cold chicken for the car, or small steaks for the train, which the valet cooked on a portable stove. He was leery of many restaurants, probably more for reasons of...

  19. CHAPTER 15 Harry & Ruth
    (pp. 161-172)

    IN January 1935 my mother wrote to Elihu Root:

    Dear Uncle Elihu,

    Harry is not a man of strong reactions. He seldom laughs heartily; almost never gets angry; is never worried & rarely sad. Things & people do not impress him as a rule, beyond a kindly & passing interest. I was therefore, in a way, not surprised but enchanted & delighted at his reaction after the visit with you the other day. You bowled him over completely, & he could talk of nothing else for hours. It was the first time he had had the pleasure of seeing you by yourself … for a...

  20. CHAPTER 16 Money
    (pp. 173-183)

    THE crucial week in which Henry E du Font’s aesthetic attention shifted from a European to an American emphasis is well known, but it is intriguing to wonder when and to what extent he began to anticipate the changes that he would make at Winterthur when he became its owner. He was able to experiment with some of these changes in the building of Chestertown House, his “American house” in Southampton.

    Ruth had always loved the Long Island village where her grandfather, Salem Howe Wales, had been mayor and where she had visited every summer when she was growing up....

  21. CHAPTER 17 A Passion to Collect
    (pp. 184-194)

    WHEN my father died, the Winterthur Museum and its gardens, his major gifts to this country, were at once recognized as unique treasures. But quite apart from the gardens, farm, and museum, another collection emerged, homely and private: vast numbers of steamer trunks stuffed with tens of thousands of letters, bills, catalogues, lists and records of every description, telegrams, playbills, golf and bridge scores. This array, which now occupies one entire floor of the library, is still daunting to the most dedicated of archivists many years later, but, as its lavish content unfolds, it illuminates various aspects of the collector’s...

  22. CHAPTER 18 The Masterpiece Within
    (pp. 195-204)

    WHEN did Henry Francis du Pont begin to think of turning his Winterthur collection into a museum? Like many subjects, this one was never discussed at home, and with only fragmentary documentation, any answer must be speculative. Perhaps the question could be phrased differently: how do ideas originate, coalesce, and ultimately assert themselves as clear-cut decisions?

    There is ample evidence that in the late 1920s, Harry du Pont envisioned making a museum of Chestertown House. In 1927 he had asked Henry Sleeper for information about Mrs. John Lowell Gardner’s will—specifically, its provisions for the disposition and maintenance of her...

  23. CHAPTER 19 The Museum Opens
    (pp. 205-208)

    ALTHOUGH several of its rooms had been available to the public by special permission for almost ten years, the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum did not open officially until the last day of October 1951. I can only guess at my father’s feelings on this occasion, but pride and happiness laced with nostalgia and perhaps sadness must have been an important part of them. I felt these myself—as well as dismay, when Charles Montgomery’s fifteen-year-old son, following orders, first barred me from the elevator and then escorted me to the Albany Room, my own bedroom, to which I...

  24. CHAPTER 20 Private and Public
    (pp. 209-220)

    WHEN Harry came home to stay in 1903, the big new house must have been lonely indeed without his mother’s warmth and vitality. Even then, Winterthur’s size, liveried staff, and general formality provoked amused comparisons to Buckingham Palace. Despite the Colonel’s deep interest in his ancestry, he seems to have been cut from a cloth different from other members of his family.

    Unlike the dedicated Delawareans whose professional lives were invested in the manufacture of explosives, Henry A. worked only half-time at the powder mills. Beyond the confines of Winterthur, he directed his energies to railroad administration, politics, and out-of-state...

  25. CHAPTER 21 The Ninth Decade
    (pp. 221-238)

    MY MOTHER, speaking of her eighty-year-old husband, said that she felt like a dachshund running after a greyhound, and indeed, Henry Francis du Pont entered his ninth decade with unabated energy. His letters so attest.

    May 14,1961

    I arose [in Providence] at 5:30 on Saturday, and accomplished my visit to the dentist in New York. Ruth and I lunched with the Charles Wrightsmans. She is a member of the Fine Arts Committee for the White House. We got back in time for the wedding, and I still had enough pep left to walk around the Azalea gardens for an hour...

  26. CHAPTER 22 Afterthoughts
    (pp. 239-244)

    WHEN I reflect on my father’s life, I am always amazed that despite its faltering beginnings it ended so improbably in triumph. I tend to think of those eighty-nine years in segments. Henry F. du Pont was born in what seemed to be charmed country, but Winterthur had more than its share of sorrow, for the deaths of five children cast a shadow over the caring and affluent family who lived there. Harry, at first constitutionally frail and uncoordinated, nevertheless found at Winterthur endless childhood delight. Those halcyon days were interrupted by an often disastrous decade of formal education in...

  27. Appendixes
    (pp. 245-249)
  28. Abbreviations
    (pp. 250-250)
  29. Notes
    (pp. 251-266)
  30. References
    (pp. 267-288)
  31. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 289-292)
  32. Index
    (pp. 293-300)