Henry Francis du Pont (1880–1969), the only son of Henry Algernon and Pauline du Pont, was born at Winterthur and, in his words, "always loved everything connected with it." A member of Delaware's industrialist du Pont family, he studied at New England's Groton School and later attended Harvard from 1899 to 1903. In 1901 he began taking courses at Bussey Institution, Harvard's college of practical agriculture and horticulture, and took his first trip abroad.
Garden and Grounds
In 1906 du Pont's father was elected to the United States Senate. Soon, he ceded responsibility of supervising the Winterthur Garden to his son. H. F. du Pont developed and improved the formal garden areas near the house and created the March Bank, the first area of the garden with a naturalistic, or “wild,” design. During these years before World War I, du Pont traveled extensively to study the great gardens of Europe.
H. F. du Pont assumed responsibility for managing the Winterthur estate in 1914, developing Winterthur's farmland and raising a prizewinning herd of Holstein-Friesian cows. By 1925 Winterthur had its own turkey, chicken, sheep, pig, and dairy farms as well as vegetable and flower gardens, greenhouses, a sawmill, a railroad station, and a post office. At Winterthur’s height in the late 1920s, the property encompassed more than 2,500 acres. More than 250 workers attended to the garden and livestock.
House and Collection
Henry Francis du Pont married Ruth Wales in 1916. In the 1920s he became interested in American antiques and began collecting early American decorative arts and architectural elements. Between 1928 and 1931, du Pont greatly expanded the house, installing important interiors from early American houses and filling the rooms with his burgeoning collection of American antiques. Designed by Albert Ives, the building is a notable example of that era’s architecture.
With his friend, landscape architect Marian Coffin, H. F. du Pont perfected the gardens near the house. Throughout his life, he continued to design areas of the Winterthur Garden.
Throughout the next two decades, du Pont and his family lived in a museum-in-progress. His two daughters grew up with the sights and sounds of construction, surrounded by beautiful—but delicate—objects.
In 1951 Henry Francis du Pont opened his house to the public as the Winterthur Museum. The family moved into a smaller home on the grounds called the “Cottage,” which serves as the Museum Store today.
In 1961 First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy visited Winterthur and invited du Pont to head the Fine Arts Committee, which oversaw the restoration of the White House.
Until his death in 1969, du Pont divided his time among his homes at Winterthur; Southampton, Long Island; Boca Grande, Florida; and an apartment in New York City.