Three of the most visited places in Pennsylvania and Delaware — Longwood Gardens, Winterthur, Brandywine River Museum — are separated by only a few miles. Although it’s physically possible to visit all three in one day, we strongly suggest you resist the temptation.
We suggest you plan leisurely visits, to savor each fully. To visit even more museums, you may want to take advantage of a brand new, multi-site museum pass, Brandywine Treasures, see sidebar here for details.
In addition to the famous sites, we also have suggestions for stops at lesser known but interesting places in the neighborhood.
* * *
First of the “Big Three” on the list is the Brandywine River Museum, Rt. 1, Chadds Ford, PA 610-388-2700. The Museum’s primary emphasis is on the art history of the Brandywine Valley, American landscape and still life painting, and illustration.
Although its collection contains more than 3,000 works by hundreds of artists, it’s best known for its collection of three Wyeth family painters: N.C., his son Andrew (who died this year) and Andrew’s son James. Tours of the N.C. Wyeth House and Studio, reached by shuttle from the Museum, offer visitors the opportunity to experience not only the environment where Wyeth created many of his memorable works of art, but also the home where he raised his extraordinarily creative children. Paintings by N.C.’s daughter Carolyn Wyeth (1909-94) were also exhibited earlier this year. And Granddaughter Victoria Wyeth offers guided tours of the collection, for even more family connections.
Stop by a fabulous summer show, June 6 to September 7, when the Museum presents “Fruits of Summer: 19th Century American Still Life,” an exhibition which includes over 50 lush and luscious examples of period still life paintings, which use peaches, strawberries, watermelons and other seasonal fruits to explore the genre.
The Museum is situated on the scenic banks of the Brandywine River, in what was an old mill. A stroll on the grounds and the wildflower gardens will add to the pleasure of your visit.
Museum is open daily, 9:30-4:30. Closed Christmas. Adm: $10-$6, free for under 6 and Brandywine Conservancy members. Audio Tours, $3.
Less than a mile north of the Museum and just across Route 1, still in Chadds Ford, is the Brandywine Battlefield State Park, Rt. 1, Chadds Ford, 610-459-3342; ushistory.org/ brandywine, a beautiful 52-acre greensward where Washington and his troops suffered a decisive defeat at the hands of the British on September 11, 1777.
Lush rolling hills and shady woods make this an inviting stop for a picnic (facilities throughout the grounds). Take a tour of the Visitor Center and the restored headquarters of both Washington and Lafayette. Special activities take place throughout the year.
Visitor Center and grounds are open Tues-Sat, 9 to 4:30; Sun, noon to 4:30; closed Mondays and some holidays. Guides are available to answer questions and tours can be arranged. Admission for tours of Washington’s and Lafayette’s Headquarters. Adm: $6-$3; under 3, free.
Across the road is the fieldstone barn that is headquarters for the Chadds Ford Historical Society, chaddsfordhistory.org, which owns, operates, and maintains two 18th-century restorations, the John Chads House and the Barns-Brinton House. The houses are open for the summer season on weekends from 1 to 5 p.m., until the end of August. The John Chads House is located opposite the Barns Visitors Center on Route 100. The Barns-Brinton House is on Route 1, two miles west of Route 100, next to the Chaddsford Winery. Adm: $5 for both of the houses. Guides in colonial garb narrate tours and demonstrate period crafts.
Currently on exhibit through December 5 in the Barn is “From Moo to You: Dairying in the Chadds Ford Area,” featuring photos, artifacts and the history of local dairy farms and farmers. The Center is open year-round, Mon-Fri, 9 to 2, and 1 to 5 on weekends until September 1. 610-388-7376. Adm: free.
* * *
Continuing on Route 1, about two miles farther south, is the legendary Longwood Gardens, Rts. 1 & 52, Kennett Square. 610-388-1000; longwood-gardens.org. Named a “National Wonder” by National Geographic Traveler, this internationally famous 1000+ acre horticultural mecca, with extraordinary gardens, fountains, and conservatory displays, was once the home of Pierre S. du Pont.
Performing arts events are here all season. Enjoy ballet, theater and musical performances from symphonies to soloists (full schedule on the website). Summer fun continues with kid-friendly “Family Fun Concerts” in the historic Open Air Theatre on July 10, August 7 and August 21. Enjoy delicious ice cream for purchase during the concert, then watch a colorful dancing fountain show on most nights, in the Main Fountain Garden, beginning at 9:15 p.m.
On four special summer evenings, “Fireworks and Fountains,” a beautifully choreographed program combines the fountains, music and fireworks at the spectacular Main Fountain Garden, on July 4, August 8, and September 6 and 19. The popular fireworks evenings require advance tickets because of limited parking. Fireworks tickets: $34-18. Phone 610-388-1000, ext. 100.
For more family fun, visit Longwood’s exhibits “The Buds and the Bees: Pollination and the Secret Lives of Plants” and “Bees, Bats and Bugs Nights,” August 21 and August 29 at 4:30 pm, where young visitors learn about the important role each plays in pollination. And let your inner child come out to play in three fantastic treehouses created by the country’s best designers, in an exhibit called “Nature’s Castles.” Daily programs, including gardening demonstra- tions, plant walks and children’s activities, add to summertime fun at Longwood Gardens.
Admission varies by age. Phone 610-388-1000 for information. The newly renovated Terrace Restaurant and a casual Café, now managed by Restaurant Associates, offer unexpectedly fine food options. Green Alert: recently the restaurant adopted a sustainability program using local foods, compostable and recyclable materials. Gardens are open daily 9 to 6 and until an hour after dusk Thurs, Fri and Sat.
For a glimpse of a unique aspect of horse country, take a side trip to catch a Sunday polo match. Called the sport of kings and the king of sports, polo is fascinating to watch, with its combination of fast-paced action and elegant spectatorship. Pack a picnic and visit Brandywine Polo Club, now in its 60th season, on a Sunday afternoon through mid-September.
Veteran polo fans as well as neophytes can enjoy watching “the game within the game” — the skill and horsemanship of the players, the nimble movements of the polo ponies, the strategies, the lucky shots, the long-practiced strokes, and ultimately the little white ball whizzing down the field and between the goal posts.
Spectators play a part in the action, when after the 3rd and 6th “chukkers,” they’re invited out on the playing field to tread in the turf and replace divots, an activity fondly known as “divot stomping”!
Located on Polo Rd., off Newark Rd., south of the Rt. 1 Toughkenamon exit. Gates open at 1:30, matches start at 3 and last 2 hours. Adm: $10-$7. Matches are cancelled for wet fields or extreme heat, so it’s best to call 610-268-8692 to confirm. brandywinepoloclub.com.
If you head south on Route 52, you’ll come to the Delaware Museum of Natural History, Rt. 52, south of Centreville, 302-658-9111; delmnh.org, which is, among other things, home to Delaware’s only permanent dinosaur display, as well as the world’s largest bird egg and a 500-pound clam. It’s also an engaging place to participate in the adventure of discovery of the natural world through dioramas, exhibits and special programs, including such things as a walk over the Great Barrier Reef, a visit to an African waterhole and a view of vanishing and extinct birds.
The current show, “Deep Sea Treasures,” running to October 4, focuses on the history and technology of deep ocean exploration and the treasures and unique biology there.
Open Mon-Sat, 9:30 to 4:30; Sun, noon to 4:30. Closed major holidays. Adm: $6-$4.
* * *
Winterthur — An American Country Estate, Rt. 52, N of Wilmington, 5105 Kennett Pk., Winterthur, DE, 302-888-4600, 800-448-3883; winterthur.org, houses what is quite simply the world’s largest and finest collection of American decorative arts, in a rambling, 200-room stone manse set in an exquisitely landscaped 1000-acre park, all of it once the home of Henry F. du Pont. (If you’re beginning to get the feeling that the du Ponts lived their lives on a scale undreamed of by ordinary mortals, you’re right. Fortunately, at Longwood and Winterthur, we get to share a bit of the experience.)
A blockbuster show this summer is “Faces of a New Nation: American Portraits of the 18th and Early 19th Centuries from The Metropolitan Museum of Art,” featuring early American paintings on exclusive loan from the Met, including works by John Smibert, John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart and Samuel F. B. Morse. View masterpieces portraying the men, women and children of early America, from paintings by the first immigrant limners to the work of highly professionalized artists. These stunning paintings depict not only people from a particular time and place, but they also reveal the values of the Nation across a span of nearly 150 years. Guided gallery walks through the exhibition, Saturday and Sunday at 11:30, 1 and 2.
An introductory tour of Winterthur includes special exhibits, plus a 40-60 minute tour through selected period rooms. There are also one- and two-hour, in-depth guided decorative arts tours of period rooms, tram tours of the renowned garden (except in January and February), guided garden walks during certain seasons, and iPod tours.
Museum and Gardens are open 10 to 5, Tues-Sun. Closed Mon (except holidays and during Yuletide), Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Admission varies depending on tour selection. A restaurant, cafeteria and gift shops are on the grounds.
* * *
Small Wonders: Since we’ve brought you into Delaware and practically to the edge of Wilmington, we’ll head down Route 52 directly into the city.
Wilmington, Delaware’s major city, was called New Sweden after it was settled by Swedes in 1638. When the English gained control of the area, it became known as Willingtown, named for Thomas Willing, who laid out the streets of the then-village in 1731. Eventually, King George II directed that the town name be changed to honor his friend Spencer Compton, the Earl of Wilmington.
Turn left on Bancroft Parkway and continue until it ends at Kentmere Parkway. Turn left onto Kentmere and on your right will be the Delaware Art Museum, 2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington, 302-571-9590; delart.org. Located at the center of one of the city’s most gracious neighborhoods, the Museum is situated on 12 acres that include a 9.5-acre Sculpture Park.
Long known for its fine collection of works by Howard Pyle and other artists representing the Golden Age of American illustration, as well as its internationally recognized pre-Raphaelite collection, the Museum has several notable galleries focused on 20th- and 21st-century art, including the work of Robert Motherwell, George Segal and Jim Dine, along with the fine contemporary craft of such artists as Dale Chihuly. A must-see is the exhibit “Out of the Commonplace: The Folk Art of Delaware,” featuring objects made for utilitarian purposes for work and home; works that celebrate history and life’s passages; and pieces that reflect deeply held beliefs, from the spiritual to political.
You can opt to relax and eat at the Del-ART Café inside or outside on the North Terrace, with sweeping views overlooking the Sculpture Park. The Museum is closed Mon-Tues; open Wed-Sat, 10 to 4; Sun, noon to 4. Adm: $12-$6; under 6, free. Free on Sundays. Special family rates.
Heading down into the center of the city, you can see and enjoy some of the early history of Wilmington at the Delaware History Center Complex, located at 5th and Market Streets. On one side of Market Street is Willingtown Square, a lovely vest-pocket park surrounded by restored 18th-century brick houses moved from an urban renewal area by the Delaware Historical Society, which has its office and library there.
Across the street is the Old Town Hall, 512 N. Market St., a handsome Georgian-style building constructed c. 1800, which opens occasionally for school groups to tour the jail in the basement.
Spend a fascinating couple of hours at The Delaware History Museum, 504 Market St., 302-656-0637; hsd.org, exploring attractive displays in a permanent interactive exhibit called “Distinctively Delaware” and changing exhibits highlighting Delaware's history and artistic achievements. There’s also an exciting exhibit “Whales, Weirs, and Waterfowl: Delawareans Working on the Water,” which explores the history and culture of the waterman’s life from the 18th century to present. Open Wed-Fri, 11 to 4; Sat, 10 to 4; closed Sun-Tues. Adm: $4-$2. Gift shop.
A major redevelopment on the banks of the Christina River resulted in a renaissance of what was once an area of derelict warehouses. Today visitors to Riverfront Wilmington, riverfrontwilm.com, will find an interesting destination with recreational, cultural, retail and culinary attractions, including about a dozen tasty choices from coffee to sushi at the Riverfront Market.
You can park your car and stretch your legs along the Riverwalk. This 1.3-mile beautifully landscaped riverfront path provides pedestrian access to such attractions as the Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park, the site of a great summer blues festival, August 7-9. You’ll find restaurants on the river, and there’s even a ballpark. Daniel S. Frawley Stadium, 801 S. Madison St., Wilmington, 302-888-2015, is home to the Wilmington Blue Rocks, bluerocks.com/stadium.shtml, a top minor league baseball club, and offers spirited and affordable family entertainment during the baseball season.
The Kalmar Nyckel, Delaware’s three-masted tall ship, is usually cruising the coastline this time of year, but it’s sometimes berthed at the Riverfront. The current schedule calls for it to offer daily excursions departing from Wilmington until July 11 (back October 10), but it’s best to verify the ship’s location. For schedule and current location, check 302-429-7447; kalmarnyckel.org.
Riverfront Wilmington is accessible from I-95, from Exit 6 follow the Riverfront signs.
Located on 230 historic, attractively landscaped acres to the northwest of Wilmington, are the Hagley Museum, site of the first du Pont black powder mills on the Brandywine River, and Eleutherian Mills, the manor house of E. I. du Pont, built in 1803, and home to five generations of du Ponts.
Indoor and outdoor exhibits and working models depict the evolution of American industry. Mill buildings and a workers’ community recall life and labor in mid-19th-century America’s largest black powder works. There’s a restored French-style garden and an Italianate garden built on industrial ruins. The first du Pont home contains antiques and family memorabilia in room settings.
Running through December 31, 2010, “19th-Century Patent Models: Innovation in Miniature,” features more than 100 patent models including some created by women inventors, transportation-related models, inventions that help with laundry and other household chores, and more.
The Hagley’s “Creek Kids” series on Sunday afternoons gives visitors a glimpse of 19th-century life with games and activities for all ages. There’s also a Wednesday Bike and Hike series, welcoming visitors to bring a bike and ride along the Brandywine River at Hagley, or hike around the Museum's scenic history. Visitors are welcome to bring a picnic, or visit Belin House, the restaurant on site.
Three miles NW of Wilmington via Rts. 52 & 141, Greenville, 302-658-2400; hagley. lib.de.us. Daily 9:30 to 4:30. Adm: $11-$4; under 6, free. Summer Dollar Days on Thurs in July and Aug, adm. $1 all day.
Next you can head south of Wilmington, about 23 miles, to Odessa, just east of Route 13. Here you’ll find the Historic Houses of Odessa on Main Street. The five distinctive properties are unique examples of the architectural heritage of colonial Delaware. Once a bustling grain shipping port, this charming town now houses a treasure chest of over 4,000 objects that capture the best of the regional decorative arts (1760 to 1850) in historically accurate settings. For a view of some of the finest examples of mid-Atlantic craftsmanship and the story of the role Odessa played in the Underground Railroad, this is clearly worth a visit.
Open Mar-Dec, Thurs-Sat, 10 to 4:30; Sun, 1 to 4:30. Adm: $10-$8; under 5, free. 302-378-4119; historicodessa.org.
Farther south on I-95, exit onto Route 141 east, and visit the remarkable little town of New Castle, DE, established in 1651, newcastlecity.net. An absolute gem, the beautifully preserved colonial town center is situated directly on the Delaware River. You’ll find tree-lined streets, a large village green, and period homes that run the gamut from stunningly beautiful to quietly charming. There’s a park along the river, excellent historic restaurants and accommodating B&Bs, as well as many tasteful and interesting shops, Immanuel Church and its churchyard (dating back to 1703), and the George Read II House, a grand federal mansion surrounded by a handsome garden and open to the public.
* * *
Now for a change of pace. We’ll head to Cecil County, MD, seececil.org, our neighbor to the southwest, sharing a border with Chester, New Castle and Lancaster Counties. This county sits at the top of Chesapeake Bay. It offers diversity of landscapes, most no more than a very pleasant 30- to 45-minute drive from, say, West Chester.
There is, for example, the lush rolling countryside in and around Fair Hill, at the intersection of Routes 273 and 213. This is horse country, famous for thoroughbred horse breeding farms, and the Fair Hill Races in the spring and a multi-day International event, “Festival in the Country,” in October, fairhillinternational.com. The crossroad village of Fair Hill offers dining and shopping for antiques and fine art.
A drive south of Route 213 takes you first to Elkton, the Cecil County seat, and then to Chesapeake City, located on the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. The experience is a little like finding yourself in Brigadoon. This is an enchanting small town, whose 19th-century Victorian homes and shops suggest a sort of miniature Cape May-New Hope fusion — but without the T-shirts, saltwater taffy and huge crowds.
Chesapeake City’s historic area is on the National Register of Historic Places. There you can pass hours browsing among shops featuring antiques, collectibles, clothing, crafts and fine art. Virtually all of this is in South Chesapeake City. Across the bridge is the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Museum, which houses the wooden lift wheel and two-story steam engine that operated from the early 1850s.
And finally, while you’re exploring the area, keep a lookout for a quaint restaurant at which to enjoy the local sea food. If the timing is right, you just might get to savor a stunning sunset on the water, too.
Heading back north again on Route 213, then west on Route 40, we picked up Route 7 into North East. There’s some great dining to be had here along with the shopping, both in the center of the town and overlooking the water, a historic oak basket factory, wonderful marinas and an inviting riverfront park where you’ll find the small Upper Bay Museum, at the end of Walnut St., 410-287-2675; fieldtrip.com/md/0a287590.htm, open May through Oct., Sat and Sun, noon to 4 and holidays 10 to 4, with displays of hunting, boating, fishing and decoys. They sponsor an outstanding decoy show the end of October and hold flea markets in June through August.
Farther west via Route 40 are Perryville, home to an outlet shopping mall, perryvilleoutletcenter.com, and Port Deposit, portdeposit.org, a very old river town in the process of being rediscovered (and listed on the National Register). A detailed walking tour map on the web page can be printed and used for a self-guided tour.
* * *
To get the full Chesapeake experience, we suggest a trip to the Eastern Shore, across the Bay. With Chestertown and Rock Hall marking 300-year anniversaries a few years ago, visiting Kent County’s Eastern Shore towns is like stepping back in time to an area that’s unspoiled, with country settings of waterfront towns, stretches of rolling farmlands, scenic beauty, rich heritage and accommodating inn keepers. Before heading out, contact the Kent County Tourism Office, 410-778-0416; kentcounty.com, and read “A Closer Look at Kent County” in the October 2008 issue of County Lines Magazine (also available under Back Issues).
Whether you prefer an inn on the main street of a historic downtown, a B&B on the water or a conventional hotel, Kent County has dozens of lodging choices, plus restaurants that range from fine dining to blackboard menus. Shopping is equally delightful, with more than three dozen shops to explore in Chestertown alone and more in Rock Hall, a fishing village nestled between the Chesapeake Bay and Chester River.
Once a thriving colonial port, Chestertown maintains its character as a well-kept historic treasure on the scenic Chester River. Strolling the red-brick, tree-lined sidewalks is like stepping back in time in a town that boasts the second largest collection of 18th-century structures in Maryland. Chestertown was named by the National Trust as one of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations, an annual list of unique and preserved communities.
Try to visit the Geddes-Piper House Museum (c. 1784), 101 Church Alley, the Charles Sumner G.A.R. Hall on Queen Street (one of four Civil War Trail sites), Schooner Sultana, and Washington College’s historic campus. For events, mark your calendar for: Music in Fountain Park, July 25 and every-other Saturday through August; Crazy Days Downtown Sidewalk Sale, July 23; and Art in the Park, Sept. 12. For more, visit chestertown.com.
Once a tobacco port, then a fishing and crabbing center, Rock Hall now thrives as a sailing, boating and tourist destination. You’ll find Eastern Shore flavor and character throughout the town in the shops featuring local artwork, crafts and antiques and restaurants serving freshest seafood. With its own music venue, the Mainstay, Rock Hall attracts visitors through music, entertainment and festivals, such at the July 5th Waterman’s Day celebration highlighted in “Events of Special Note” on our homepage.
For wildlife, waterfowl, birding and fantastic observation decks and trails, visit Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, 1730 Eastern Neck Rd., 6 miles S of Rock Hall, fws.gov/northeast/easternneck. Be sure to check out the walking trails, many of which lead to the water, and the Butterfly Observation Deck, where you’ll discover a panoramic view of Chesapeake Bay. -CL-