Photo by Ben Fournier
Photo by Bob Leitch
For more than 40 years, Delaware has celebrated its own version of the Kentucky Derby on the first weekend in May. In 1978, Greta “Greets” Layton, a Winterthur trustee, wanted to make the community more aware of the museum and garden, and trustee Julian Boyd suggested a steeplechase race. The idea was a perfect fit, as steeplechase racing was a well-loved sport in the area. Mrs. Layton launched the effort, drawing on knowledgeable local equestrians like Russell B. Jones, Jr. and Lewis “Paddy” Neilson III.
Today, Point-to-Point at Winterthur is known for its grand tailgate picnics, high-stepping carriage horses and stylish Rolls-Royces. But the first race, held on May 6, 1979, was a casual affair. In the early years, there were no cash prizes. The five races simply featured silver trophies modeled after early American silver in the Winterthur collection.
Photo by Ben Fournier
In 2006, the Delaware Legislature passed a law allowing Winterthur to pay monies to winning owners, and Point-to-Point became an officially sanctioned race under the governing body of the National Steeplechase Association. Today, the course is a challenging 1.5-mile, figure-eight course, run twice over 17 timber fences.
One of Point-to-Point’s great traditions is the carriage parade. Begun in 1979 by George A. “Frolic” Weymouth and a number of his coaching friends, it is now the largest procession of antique horse-drawn carriages in the nation.
Point-to-Point has also grown as a family event, thanks to Canine Capers and the Stick-Pony Races. The tailgate competition is always a hotly contested and elaborate affair.
Preparations for Point-to-Point take place year-round and involve all museum departments. It’s truly a celebration of Winterthur history.
Needle’s Eye Folly. Photo by Rob Cardillo Photography. Courtesy, Winterthur
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, on beautiful Kennett Pike—part of the Brandywine Scenic Byway—is a unique international mansion that houses a world-class collection of American decorative arts, stunning gardens and landscapes, a research library and graduate study programs. The museum was founded by collector and horticulturalist Henry Francis du Pont on his 1,000-acre estate outside Wilmington, Del.
Winterthur was home to three generations of the du Pont family. The elegant 175-room home displays furniture, window treatments, carpets, works of art, tableware and home accessories made or used in America from 1640 to 1860. and During Yuletide Tours, the collection is displayed much as it was when the du Pont family lived there. From Thanksgiving through Twelfth Night, visitors can experience the holidays the way the du Ponts celebrated them.
In addition to year-round, specialty and seasonal tours of the mansion, selected pieces from the collection of 90,000 objects are exhibited in permanent and changing exhibition galleries.
With harmonious color all year and successively blooming plantings, the 70-acre Winterthur Garden is one of the oldest continually operating naturalistic gardens in North America. As a preserved historic landscape, it is a resource for scholars, landscape architects and horticulturists, and offers two graduate programs sponsored in conjunction with the University of Delaware on American Material Culture and Art Conservation.
Azalea Woods. Photo by Jeannette Lindvig. Courtesy, Winterthur
Winterthur Library provides staff, students and the general public with research materials about American decorative arts. The library is open to the public without appointment or charge.
Winterthur features year-round events like popular and scholarly lectures, films, academic conferences, intensive study programs on decorative arts, weekly family programs in the museum and garden, musical performances, 100 garden programs, and training workshops for teachers. Admission to the retail store is free. It offers decorative home-and-garden items and beautiful coffee table books.
The institution’s largest annual fundraiser, Point-to-Point benefits the maintenance and preservation of Winterthur’s garden and estate. In 1978, Greta “Greets” Layton, a longtime supporter and Winterthur trustee, wanted to help increase visitation and make the community more aware of the Winterthur museum and garden. Another trustee, Julian Boyd, head of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson project at Princeton University, suggested a steeplechase race. Layton, who grew up around horses and steeplechasing, saw the appeal.
The idea seemed a perfect fit with local history, since many du Pont family members were known well for their horses and racing successes. Drawing on the knowledge of such local horsemen as Russell B. Jones Jr. and Lewis “Paddy” Neilson III, Mrs. Layton launched the organizational effort. The first weekend in May seemed to be an ideal time for the race because it didn’t conflict with Radnor Hunt and other area steeplechase events that already featured prominently in sporting and social calendars. Point-to-Point also rounded out a series of race meets hosted by the Delaware Valley Point to Point Association. It soon became a fixture on the calendar.
Held on May 6, 1979, the first race was casual. Spectators—mainly enthusiasts of the sport—dressed in country clothes and sat on blankets, or stood on the hillsides to watch the action. More than 1,000 people attended, but it was a far cry from the 20,000 of today. In the early years, five races featured silver trophies modeled after notable pieces of early American silver in the Winterthur collection, instead of a cash purse. The races evoked names and organizations familiar to Winterthur’s supporters and local residents: the Isabella du Pont Sharp Memorial; the Vicmead Plate; the Middletown Cup; the Winterthur Bowl; the Crowninshield Plate; and the Greta Brown Layton, a trophy created in honor of Greets Layton, which was awarded to the owner, trainer or rider who accumulated the most points.
A historic change in the event occurred in 2006, when the Delaware Legislature passed a gaming law that allowed Winterthur to pay purse monies to winning owners. The legislation was spearheaded by Duncan Patterson, the race chair at the time, and allowed Point-to-Point to become sanctioned by the National Steeplechase Association, which governs jump racing in North America. Point-to-Point is the second professional sporting event in Delaware.
Among the great traditions at Point-to-Point is the carriage parade. One day in 1979, George A. “Frolic” Weymouth and several of his coaching friends gathered for the weekend at his Big Bend farm in Chadds Ford, Pa., deciding to drive over to watch the races. The number of carriages participating rapidly grew to more than 50 and became the signature attraction. Today the George A. “Frolic” Weymouth Carriage Parade—named in honor of the late artist and founder of the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art—is the nation’s largest procession of antique
Point-to-Point is now a highly anticipated event that, for many, signals the beginning of spring and summer outdoor activities. It has also grown as a family event. Canine Capers, the Stick-Pony Races, pony rides and a variety of activities draw a younger audience. Over the years, the number of parking spaces for tailgate picnics has steadily grown, and small tents have become available along the racecourse rail. From the first picnic contest in 1987, both originality and a sense of competition have been strong. Themes are sometimes whimsical, but are most often an elegant evocation of past sporting days.
Several generations of families—including the Pattersons, the Meisters and the Neilsons—have helped organize Point-to-Point, and they also compete in the races. From 1983 to 1986, Winterthur trustee Anne Jones served as race coordinator. In recent years she has chaired the Point-to-Point Executive Committee, a position also held by noted horseman and former Winterthur trustee George Strawbridge Jr.
Preparations for Point-to-Point take place year-round and involve all departments at Winterthur. The course is cared for with fertilizer, mowing, jump maintenance and the trimming of hedges and bordering plantings. Race day sees hundreds of volunteers and staff welcoming participants and spectators, ensuring course safety, offering hospitality to the horse owners and jockeys, and making it a memorable day for everyone— from the general-admission ticket holders to the VIPs who crowd large tents for parties on Corporate Knoll.
Point-to-Point is a celebration of Winterthur’s long history as a farm and country place. Through successive generations, much of the racecourse served as pastureland—at first for sheep, then for dairy cows. Today, motorists enjoy sweeping views of the fields and the racecourse throughout the year. In the first week of May, however, it is transformed into a festive space as one of the Delaware Valley’s premier sporting events, drawing families from around the region.
5101 Kennett Pike, Wilmington, winterthur.org.