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Winterthur – The Window On Our Past

I don’t have any idea how many museums I have toured over the years but Winterthur is off in a category all by itself. Nestled in the rolling hills outside of Wilmington, DE, Winterthur is the premier museum of American decorative arts and offers visitors the most unique collection of American home life you will ever see. The 175-room museum puts on display every imaginable combination of furniture, furnishings and other decorative elements that have been on display all over our country. I have never met anyone who has been there that wasn’t stunned by what they saw. If you haven’t been there, it deserves to be moved to the top of your “bucket list”.

One of the most impressive components of Winterthur is its research library. Put very simply, there’s nothing like it any where else in the country. It is the place to go for finding out information about what Americans and the various groups who make up our country did in their homes and why. The breadth of the material there is astonishing. I have made at least three trips to the library over the span of 15 years for the sole purpose of researching wood floors. And my time was well spent.

What were the products used to finish old floors? What maintenance products were manufacturers producing to protect and beautify the surfaces? What problems did homeowners have to deal with? When did wood go from being a utilitarian surface to a highly decorative one? How did a homeowner end up with a walnut and cherry inlay floor around a field of quartersawn white oak in stunning parquet pattern? You will find the answers buried in stacks of books, magazines, brochures, trade publications and just about everything that has been written on the subject.

One of the things I like best about Winterthur and their library is that it can provide a lot of answers to questions about how our old homes were built and maintained. This gets to be a pretty testy area with those focused on restoring old homes and buildings. Experience has taught me that many who write on a variety of these subjects sometimes take some creative license with their interpretations. You also find out that some manufacturers claims about their products often falls short of their historic claims. Whether you are knee deep in restoration or just looking for a unique and memorable experience, Winterthur is well worth the time and effort. For more information, visit their website,, and plan your trip.

Michael Purser | ©2016 Rosebud Co.

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