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Nemours Mansion’s Spectacular Christmas

by Barbara Rogers

Dec 6, 2019

Stillman Rogers

Destinations / North America

Any time of year the splendid mansion built by Alfred I. duPont on the northern edge of Wilmington, Delaware, glitters with gold and crystal. Kids are sure they’re in a royal palace, where a princess might appear at any moment. But, at Christmas, Nemours adds holiday decorations to the already sumptuous interior, turning the mansion into a Christmas wonderland.

 

The holiday extravaganza is quite in keeping with the duPonts’ own Christmas celebrations. Ever since they moved into Nemours in 1910, the house was decorated with giant Christmas trees —  there is plenty of space for them in the high-ceilinged rooms — as well as swags of evergreen on the mantles, wreaths, sumptuous arrangements of flowers and greens, and pots of poinsettias. Estate employees and their families were invited to a party with gifts for all, and the house rang with social activity.

 

Nemours Estate during Christmas, Wilmington, Delaware. Photo: Stillman Rogers

 

As you stroll at leisure through the rooms today, you can’t help noticing the personal element to their Christmas. Alongside the Venetian blown glass ornaments on the tree may be one handmade by a child from the adjacent Alfred I. duPont Institute, a hospital for children that occupies part of the estate’s vast grounds. This is quite in keeping with the duPonts’ own traditions, when they incorporated favorite family mementoes and trinkets into their decorations. You’ll see family treasures, such as the 19th-century German crèche set with hand-painted figures. Nemours’ curators make sure the decorations today reflect how the family observed the holidays.

Nemours Estate during Christmas, Wilmington, Delaware. Photo: Stillman Rogers

 

The duPonts entertained a lot and wanted their house to continue not as a museum but as a home where each visitor could feel like an invited guest. For all its grandeur – the mansion is modeled after Marie Antoinette’s Le Petit Trianon –  the entire house has a welcoming feeling, as though you could be comfortable snuggling into a chair by the carved stone fireplace in the paneled library or stepping into the kitchen to grab a gingerbread cookie. That intimate feeling amid all the grandeur is even more apparent during the holidays.

 

Highlights are the light-filled conservatory, the intimate Music Room (see how many musical instruments the children can spot in the décor) and the glittering Dining Room. Lighted by a magnificent crystal chandelier overhead, the long table is formally set for Christmas dinner. Upstairs Mrs. duPont’s bedroom opens onto a terrace overlooking the formal gardens, and even here rooms are decorated for Christmas.

 

Although it is not decorated for the season, don’t miss touring the basement, where there’s an entire bowling alley and a fascinating series of rooms housing the inner workings of the house — an ingenious early air conditioning system devised by Alfred I duPont, a refrigerator room (where Mrs. duPont stored her fur coats) and an entire freezer devoted to ice cream (an idea that’s bound to be favorite with the kids).

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