Brandywine Valley 2011

This page is about a trip Norma and I took to the Brandywine Valley area just northwest of Wilmington, Delaware.

Above is a photo of a horned lizard on October 29, 2011 at the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science.

 Friday, October 28, 2011

Snow and slushOpen accordion icon
I had many things planned for our trip...far more than we could accomplish in one weekend. But having a large number of options was a good thing since the weather took a turn for the worst, leaving us with only indoor options for Saturday.

We drove an hour and 40 minutes out to the Best Western Plus Brandywine Valley Inn...not exactly the easiest place to find. It was a little nicer than we're used to, but I picked this place because of its central location to everything, not the price. I think we were just glad to not be camping since that night and the next day brought record low temperatures with snow and slush.
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 Saturday, October 29, 2011

Delaware Museum of Nature and ScienceOpen accordion icon
We ate a very simple continental breakfast at the hotel. Then we drove to the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science (formerly the Delaware Natural History Museum). Here, we saw several taxidermied animals, including a capybara, the largest living rodent.
Stuffed capybara

There was also a stuffed wolverine and several dinosaurs, many of which I was unfamiliar with. We also learned about the now extinct elephant bird and how its egg volume is about 160 times greater than that of a chicken egg. Below, the elephant bird egg (left) dwarfs the ostrich egg in the middle along with the goose egg on the right.
Various eggs, including the elephant bird egg

In the children's area, we got to pet a horned lizard.
Horned lizard

The museum had a special limited exhibit called "Nature-Inspired Art" that showcased some local talent using a variety of methods to create art. Some included what appeared to be colored slides of scanning electron microscope images. More traditional art included a drawing of a great dane.
Drawing of a great dane
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du PontOpen accordion icon
We found a little restaurant in a nearby small town. I forget the name of the town and the restaurant but it was near the museum. Was it Chadds Ford Restaurant and Pub? We really like that part of Delaware and Pennsylvania just northwest of Wilmington. Maybe someday we'll retire there. There is so much to see and do. We have the du Pont family to thank for much of that.

The Du Pont family is an American family descended from Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (1739–1817). The son of a Paris watchmaker and a member of a Burgundian noble family, he and his sons, Victor Marie du Pont and Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, emigrated to the United States in 1800 and used the resources of their Huguenot heritage to found one of the most prominent of American families, and one of its most successful corporations, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, initially established by Eleuthère Irénée as a gunpowder manufacturer. Various members of the family managed the company well into the twentieth century and to this day, family trusts constitute a substantial portion of the company's ownership. This and other companies run by the du Pont family employ some five to ten percent of Delaware's population. The family also played a very large part in politics during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and were responsible for the idea of the Louisiana purchase.
- from Wikipedia - du Pont family
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Brandywine Museum of ArtOpen accordion icon
Next, we toured the Brandywine Museum of Art where we saw N.C. Wyeth's paintings for Treasure Island, along with works by his teacher, Howard Pyle.
This Civil-war era gristmill converted into an outstanding art museum is famous for its fine collections of American illustration, still life and landscape painting and its unparalleled art by the Wyeth family, all shown in distinctive galleries.
- from Brandywine River Museum pamphlet

The museum had a spectacular view of the Brandywine Creek. We didn't come there to paddle but in the back of my mind, I knew this weekend would be a chance to find possible kayaking sites. We both agreed the Brandywine was worth returning to with boats.
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Downtown WilingtonOpen accordion icon
That night we took a circuitous drive into downtown Wilmington. The two of us wanted to see the popular night-life spots and maybe find something similar to our own Baltimore Inner Harbor. We wound up in the Christina River Waterfront area. Norma and I explored the buildings along the Christina Riverwalk. Obviously, someone put a lot of money into that area but unfortunately, many of the new developments were vacant due to the downturn of the economy. I guess it isn't necessarily true that, "If you build it, they will come."

It was cold and windy but still it felt good to be outside and seeing something new.

For dinner, we ate at the Iron Hill Brewery. Here, Norma had some of the finest salmon we've ever tasted while we enjoyed classic music from the 1980s.
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 Sunday, October 30, 2011

WinterthurOpen accordion icon
On Sunday, we packed up, ate breakfast at the hotel, then made our way to the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library. After doing a considerable amount of research on-line, I figured this would be the highlight of the weekend. It is a big place with lots to see.
Winterthur is the premier museum of American decorative arts. Its 60-acre naturalistic garden is among the country's best and includes Enchanted Woods, an award-winning children's garden.
- from The Beautiful Brandywine Valley pamphlet

We received a tour of the du Pont house. While others at the time were trying to make their homes reflect those of the European aristocracy, the du Ponts were proud of their colonial heritage and did what they could to promote American arts, craft, furniture, etc.

The du Ponts really had a sense of style that they incorporated into their living space and especially their garden. Unlike many famous homes that often have a photogenic point from afar, the du Pont house and landscape was constructed to go hand-in-hand with nature.
Stone and waterfeature

Thus, clear majestic views of the estate are not so common since such vistas are often obstructed by the flora. But this doesn't make the property any less impressive. On the contrary, I think it makes it just can't appreciate it quite so well in a photograph.

Norma and I spent a good bit of time walking through the Winterthur garden. We saw Enchanted Woods, a storybook-like area made for kids.
1 / 2
Hollow tree stump house with hat roof
Stump house.
2 / 2
Stone house with thatch roof
Stone house.

We also walked through the Sundial Garden and Azalea Woods. Today was much better than yesterday for walking outside. It was cool, sunny, and not too windy.

At the gift shop, I bought my mother a birthday present.

Also on the museum grounds, we ate lunch at a little cafe.
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"To do" listOpen accordion icon
The two of us would have loved to have spent more time in the Brandywine area but by mid-afternoon, we figured it was time to start heading home. The weekend went by fast...way too fast but at least we knew this place was close enough and had enough interesting things to bring us back. Some of the things we'd like to see on a return trip include the following:
  • Hagley Museum and Library: This 235-acre site includes the original DuPont Company gunpowder works, a restored workers' community, and the first du Pont family home built in America.
  • Mount Cuba Center: The region's finest woodland wildflower garden and former du Pont family estate.
  • Delaware Art Museum: A diverse collection of American art and illustration, stunning British Pre-Raphaelites, and an outdoor sculpture garden.
  • Nemours Estate

  • Norma will likely take me and my family to Longwood Gardens, a place her family has visited but mine have not.

    Of course museums aren't the only thing to do. We'll need to spend some time out in nature.
  • Brandywine Creek State Park
  • Bellevue State Park

  • If we want to venture south of the Christina River, we'll be sure to check out
  • Read House and Garden: Located in the heart of Delaware's Colonial Capital on the Delaware River, the Read House and New Castle offer a walk through the past.
  • Rockwood Mansion: Rockwood is a 150-year old estate that is now a public park featuring a six acre historic garden and a mansion with a museum.
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    ConclusionOpen accordion icon
    Visiting the Brandywine Valley area was great. But knowing we will be back again and again to see and explore new things is almost better.

    If you're wondering why I didn't take more pictures, it is probably because I'm not used to spending so much time indoors with my camera. Maybe on our next visit to the area, we'll spend more time outside and I'll have a lot more to show, like this fine photo of the Brandywine River. Doesn't it just make you want to go kayaking?
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