Historic Main Conservatory

The Ballroom will be closed and there will be no organ demos now through Wednesday, June 29.

A stone walkway leads between two garden beds of red and green plants with a green hanging backset and curved window in the distance, all under a glass conservatory
Style
Colorful, Iconic, Seasonal
Best Seasons to Visit
Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn

There is something otherworldly about the Historic Main Conservatory, a place of perpetual bloom and elegant beauty. In this ever-changing space, familiar specimens flourish in uncommon ways alongside mature trees and massive hanging baskets of intricately grown flowers. Stroll past green lawns and a sunken marble pool, marveling at the lush, artful displays that celebrate abundance and grandeur. Here, we continue the legacy of our founder Pierre S. du Pont’s (1870-1954) passion for creating—and sharing—spectacular and unimagined beauty.

About This Garden

Since opening to the public in 1921, the Historic Main Conservatory has contributed to thousands of unforgettable visits for our guests. Neo-classical architecture, lavish attention to detail, and world-class plant collections come together to highlight what Longwood is known for: spectacle, in all its forms. While the Historic Main Conservatory's Orangery and Exhibition Hall indoor displays shine, the exterior of this majestic building stands out like a sparkling jewel in the landscape, lending views to the various vantage points throughout the grounds.

 

The Orangery

One of Longwood’s most iconic and stately spaces was inspired by Pierre’s desire to grow citrus fruit out of season. During a return trip from Hawai’i with his wife, Alice du Pont, in the winter of 1920, they stopped in Santa Barbara, California. There he purchased an impressive collection of mature specimens intended for his grand glasshouse at home, including tangerines, grapefruits, Valencia oranges, and navel oranges. All were planted in a grid-like pattern between the columns, which were adorned with creeping fig (Ficus pumila)—a plant that still grows there today.

Today, the Historic Main Conservatory features a kaleidoscope of flowers, bulbs, foliage, and clipped turf that exude color and fragrance—and change frequently through each of Longwood's seasons. There are several permanent residents of the Orangery, including bird-of-paradise (Strelitzia reginae), the pink Cherokee rose (Rosa 'Anemone') and several species of Podocarpus. Custom-made Palladian windows and bronze lanterns surround the space, showcasing Peirre's design aesthetic on large and small scale.

Exhibition Hall 

Together with the Orangery, the Exhibition Hall is the centerpiece of the Conservatory. It was designed for entertaining and exhibitions, featuring a sunken marble floor that is often flooded with a few inches of water for a dramatic, reflective effect. For certain seasonal displays and special events, the floor can be drained. Thanks to this space’s humid environment, the Australian tree fern (Cyathea cooperi) thrives here, along with the elegant bougainvillea (Bougainvillea glabra ‘Penang’) that is trained on the pillars and walls—the original planting from the 1920s. 

The symmetrical, linear design of the walkways and columns anchor this grand space, providing multiple vistas of the highly choreographed symphony of form, color, and texture. Hundreds of performing artists, from Meyer Davis’ dance band to the Metropolitan Opera sopranos, from John Philip Sousa to South African vocal groups, have graced the stage. The Exhibition Hall is also the site of specialty flower shows and fabulous Christmas displays that guests remember for years afterward.

The Ballroom & Organ Museum 

A large audience watches a band of people playing instruments on stage
A performance in the Ballroom, 2022.

Designed by local architect E. William Martin and constructed in 1929, the Ballroom was built for entertaining and, perhaps more notably, to house an impressive Aeolian organ purchased in the same year by Pierre S. du Pont. Hidden behind silk-damask-covered walls, the Longwood Organ, designed by Belgian organist Firmin Swinnen (1885-1972), is thought to be the largest Aeolian organ ever installed in a residential setting, featuring over 10,000 pipes. Mr. Swinnen served as the resident organist from 1923 until 1956, performing organ recitals at Longwood most Sunday afternoons. Sitting upon elaborate parquet floors fashioned from surplus World War 1 gunstock blocks and beneath the splendor of two colossal, custom-made crystal and brass chandeliers, guests were treated to the instrument’s extraordinary timbre and world-class bespoke design. 

Today, guests can go behind the walls to explore the Organ Museum and view the instrument’s grandeur.  In 2005, the Ballroom underwent an extensive restoration, including the intricate refurbishing of the two 600-pound chandeliers—requiring the dismantling (and reassembling) of hundreds of crystals. Contemporary uses of this space include concerts, organ performances, and symposia. On occasion, when formal dinners are held here, Pierre and Alice’s legendary mahogany table appears—designed specifically for the Ballroom, with a seating capacity of 60. 

Music Room 

This impressive room, designed by J. Walter Cope, was opened in 1923 for private entertaining with a cozier, more intimate feel. Featuring walnut and silk-damask-paneled walls, teak flooring, a grand fireplace, and an elaborate molded and painted-plaster ceiling, guests were able to enjoy not only the company of friends and family, but opulent vistas into the Main Conservatory.   In 1926, Alice contacted Mr. Savely Sorine, a well-known Parisian portrait artist who came to Longwood that very year to paint watercolor portraits of both her and Pierre. Mrs. du Pont had admired such ancestral portraits while visiting France in 1925, remarking on those in Château D’Harcourt: “portraits set in the walnut paneling most lovely” and “portraits of wives very charming.” The du Ponts hung their portraits in the Music Room, where their likenesses remain to this day. 

A large wooden piano sits in a room with a wooden floor and historic furniture from the early 1900s
The historic Longwood Steinway.

The Music Room is home to the Longwood Steinway, a nine-foot, leaf-figured concert grand, manufactured by Steinway and Sons in Queens, New York. The rare walnut patterned veneer was specially ordered to match the wood paneled walls in the room. Pierre enjoyed the piano so much that he ordered another one in 1929.

During its long history, the Longwood Steinway Grand Piano has been played by Pierre, his family, and his friends; it has been used for formal balls and dinner dances; and accompanied voice and choir recitals. Of note, most recent musicians have included gifted young pianists from the Curtis Institute of Music, world-renowned jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Gold Medalist Haochen Zhang, and Russian pianist Olga Kern.

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By Paul B. Redman, on February 18, 2021