Picked as the #2 attraction in Wilmington by the editors of 10Best, the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library houses a massive collection of more than 85,000 pieces of American decorative art and furniture from 1640 to 1860, displayed on the magnificent country estate of collector and horticulturist Henry Francis du Pont. Sitting on a 1,000-acre preserve of meadows and woodlands, the mansion contains 175 antique-furnished rooms in which du Pont grandly entertained family, friends, and various aristocratic superheroes. As you take a spin around the first floor, don't miss the Touch-It Room, where visitors toy around with hands-on displays of a parlor, kitchen, and general store.
• "Victorian Lawn Party" on Sunday, July 17, at noon. • "Old Time Autos" on Sunday, August 14, at noon. • "Trains, Trains, Trains!" on Saturday, September 3 or Sunday, September 4, both days at noon. • "Goblins, Ghosts & Ghouls" on Saturday, October 22 or Sunday, October 23, both days at noon.
Howard Pyle's unexpected death in 1912 brought a group of artists, entrepreneurs, and businessmen together to grieve their friend. They couldn't let the artist's passion for teaching and illustration disappear as quickly as he had; so, they decided to form the Wilmington Society of Fine Arts with the sole purpose of preserving his legacy. They gathered funds from locals who felt just as strongly as they did—family members, friends, students, fans—and purchased approximately 100 pieces of his artwork.
Little did they know that, with these 100 pieces, they were starting something greater than a memorial for a good friend. The Wilmington Society of Fine Arts would, over time, add more and more artwork to its collection, growing into an 80,000-square-foot space and out of its original name. The Delaware Art Museum, as its called today, now counts more than 12,000 works of art as part of its collection. Permanent features showcase British pre-Raphaelites, the urban landscapes of John Sloan, modern American art, and, of course, Howard Pyle. The masterpieces don't stop when visitors venture outside—the Copeland Sculpture Garden adorns its lush natural scenery with nine works from the museum's permanent collection, along with a massive outdoor labyrinth.
The area’s only living history museum with a focus on the New Republic Era from 1790 to 1830, Greenbank Mills and Philips Farm pulls the wool away from visitors’ eyes to reveal the development of grain and textile milling in America. Two breeds of sheep, leicester longwools and delane merinos, call Greenbank home, and visitors can follow sheepish locks from shearing through dyeing, as textile transmogrifiers spin them into gossamer strands destined for warm winter shawls and giant webs designed to ensnare skateboarders. Or guests can delve into Greenbank's 300-year history as a working mill by grinding grain by hand into floury heaps of summer snow.
Nestled inside a former railroad-car factory, the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts took shape in 1979, led by a small group of artists and art patrons. The DCCA moved to a permanent location in 2000—one with 35,000 square feet of space, seven galleries, and individual studios for 26 artists—but still clings to its original mission of building public appreciation for contemporary art through exhibitions and educational programs.
Although the center is a noncollecting museum, it does feature roughly 30 exhibits each year from regional, national, and international artists. These shifting collections explore relevant societal themes such as the public obsession with celebrity, the flippant nature of consumerism, and the effects urban metropolises have on how humans relate to nature and each other. The exhibits can use any variety of media, and the studio artists embrace this same freedom by using everything from paints to video in their works.
To engage visitors outside the gallery spaces, the DCCA hosts educational programs for adults as well as exploratory classes for children, which help wee ones create their own relevant, meaningful pieces. Tours allow groups to learn more about the exhibits while an informed guide tries to recite every single anagram of Delaware.
Since its founding in 1893, the Chester County Historical Society has painstakingly cataloged nearly every facet of local life—from government records to fashionable dresses of the day. It's no wonder, then, that its 300-year-old collection of artifacts, photographs, and reference volumes takes up an entire 56,000-square-foot downtown History Center. Inside, visitors can find rotating exhibits on topics such as Civil War history and historic paper and textile crafts. Additionally, the permanent galleries are home to handcrafted grandfather clocks and furniture and fashion from the early 1700s to the 20th century. When museum staff aren't organizing the collections or leading educational workshops, they can help unearth a person's family history in the library and photo archives, which feature more than 80,000 historical and modern prints.