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Pennsylvania: Slow Travel in the Brandywine Valley, a Personal View

Jeanne Wordley (Jeannew)

Winding through the fertile land of southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware is the Brandywine River. Technically a creek in much of its Pennsylvania territory, it is an important waterway nonetheless, providing water and power for the native Lenni Lenape tribe and pacifist Quaker farmers who settled the area. During the American Revolution it was the scene of the largest single day battle where the British routed George Washington's army and marched on to capture Philadelphia. In 1802 it powered the gunpowder manufacturing of E.I. du Pont, birthing an industrial empire. Then in the beginning of the 20th century, its glorious pastoral scenery inspired a dynasty of American artists.

Today, the work of many dedicated preservationists and the generosity of the industrial families have made the Brandywine Valley an oasis of serene natural beauty and culture within 25 miles of the Philadelphia International Airport and easy driving range from Washington DC. Nearby towns and cities provide plenty of amenities for lodging, entertainment and shopping.

Brandywine in November

Brandywine in November

Using the Slow Travel philosophy of exploring within concentric circles, I will make Chadds Ford the epicenter of my Brandywine Valley. It is the point where US route 1 crosses the Brandywine, the location of the Brandywine River Museum and a take-out/put-in location for those traveling the river by canoe, kayak or tube. The number next to a listing indicates whether the location is within 5 or 10 miles of Chadds Ford.

Slow Travel at My Two Favorite Attractions

Longwood Gardens (5)

www.longwoodgardens.org

Longwood Gardens in June

This star among Brandywine Valley's many attractions draws visitors from as far away as Europe and Asia and as close as nearby Amish communities. Open every day, the 1000 acres of formal and informal gardens, lakes and fountains provide for pleasant strolling. Large conservatories house tropical plants and floral displays including a room full of orchids.

From the welcoming slide show at the reception center to the gift shop near the exit, Longwood provides a quality experience for all ages. Wheelchairs and electric scooters are available for visitors with limited mobility. There is food service in the garden and a shady picnic grove provided outside the gardens for those who bring their own food.

Longwood is open evenings during the winter Holiday season with musical entertainment in the conservatories and light displays and fountain shows outdoors. Each season has its highlights, and when the summer gardens are in full swing, it would be difficult to see everything in one day. Please consult the website for admission fees, hours and special events.

Taking it Slow

Longwood opens its outdoor facilities, welcome center and gift shop at 9:00am. The indoor displays in the conservatories and the cafeteria open at 10:00am.

  • Arrive at 9:00am to spend the first hour walking the meadows and woods, weather permitting.
  • Take your time to admire the displays at the entrance. Once inside the welcome center, view the slide show, brochures and maps to decide where to focus your attention. Check the day's schedule for lectures, events and times of fountain displays.
  • If you want a nicely prepared and served lunch with local wines, use the house phone to make reservations at the on site Terrace restaurant. The cafeteria also provides good food with views of the garden. Highly recommended is the cream of local mushroom soup.
  • Wander the gardens, stopping to sit awhile and take in the sights, scents and sounds. If you are lucky perhaps you will be greeted by one of the cats employed by Longwood to protect the plants from mice. In the conservatories you may sit again to enjoy the ambience of your location. Visit the many outdoor idea gardens where you can select printed horticultural handouts to take home.
  • Stop in the gift shop on your way out to peruse a plethora of horticultural books, plants, clothing and decorative items. Since the shop is in the welcome center it is also handy if you need to pick up a disposable camera, hat or sweatshirt to take in to the gardens.

Brandywine River Museum (5)

www.brandywinemuseum.org

outdoor art at the Brandywine Museum

An old mill on the Brandywine has been restored by a group of dedicated local residents, philanthropists, art lovers, and preservationists to be the center of a harmonious complex housing the Brandywine River Museum. A wildflower garden and landscaped riverbank complete the external esthetics.

Artwork by the Wyeth family is the centerpiece of the collection. Changing exhibits of art and artifacts enhance the visitor's experience. Very popular at Christmas time is the room full of model trains chugging about a miniature countryside.

On the ground floor is the Museum Store with a large selection of books on American art. Behind that is a casual restaurant providing soup, sandwiches and a serene view of the river.

Wednesday through Sundays, April through mid-November, the Museum provides two tours for an extra charge. The NC Wyeth studio tour travels a short distance to the studio of this famous illustrator and the home where he raised his talented family. Visitors on the Kuerner Farm tour will be able to step into the location of many of Andrew Wyeth's well known paintings.

The tours are an exceptional opportunity to view the boyhood home of a well-known artist and inhabit the scenes of his paintings while learning more about his life and subjects. Living in the area for many years, I had always admired how Andrew Wyeth's stark paintings captured the essence of the countryside, but I did not understand how anyone could see them as emotional. Sitting in the Kuerner Farm house, I choked back tears while the docent told the stories behind the paintings. I will never look at them in the same way again.

Taking it Slow

  • If you are there between April and mid November, arrive at 10:00am and sign up for the two tours as you pay your admission (2005 prices: $5.00 per tour and $8.00 adult admission for museum). I recommend doing the NC Wyeth studio tour first to get an idea of family life before taking the Kuerner Farm tour. If you are not familiar with Andrew Wyeth's works it might be good to first look at some of his paintings in the museum or thumb through the books in the museum store before doing the tours.
  • When you need a break from art, have a light lunch in the museum restaurant at a table overlooking the river.
  • Take a walk along the river, crossing under Route 1. You can walk to the Chester County Historical Society (one mile round trip).

Other Outstanding Attractions

These only begin to scratch the surface of interesting places within 25 miles of my designated epicenter of Chadds Ford. Please consult the recommended guidebook and tourist association websites for more ideas (see Resources below).

Hagley Museum (10)

www.hagley.org

Location of the original gunpowder mills that started the du Pont industrial empire. There are lovely trails to walk along the Brandywine and exhibits and demonstrations of many levels of industrial life in the 19th and 20th century from the worker's cottages to machine shop to the mansion of E.I. du Pont.

Winterthur (5)

www.winterthur.org

Once the home of Henry Francis du Pont, the 1000 acre estate includes 60 acres of carefully designed gardens, a mansion filled with priceless antiques and galleries filled with early American artifacts. It is a big draw for those interested in gardening and decorative arts. Special tours, exhibits and seasonal activities provide plenty to do and see. Children and adults alike are captivated by the Enchanted Woods.

Outdoor Activities

Navigating the Brandywine by canoe is a pleasant way to relax and see the countryside from April through October. Depending on which stretch you choose, you may pass by du Pont estates, through cow meadows, past old mills or the backyards of humble summer cabins and new mansions, and under a covered bridge. In some places, large sycamores line the banks and other times you may round a rocky outcrop.

The large blue belted kingfisher is the most likely wildlife to be seen, followed by the great blue heron, turkey vulture, white tailed deer and osprey.

There are no rapids, but the occasional rock or downed tree may need to be avoided. Your outfitter will inform you of any brief portages that would be on your route and let you know where you can stop for a picnic.

Hubby in canoe race on the Brandywine

Hubby in canoe race on the Brandywine

Two things that you need to know if canoeing in the peak of summer.

  • The water can be low in spots so you need to be prepared to get out and walk the canoe over a gravel bar or two.
  • There will be more folks enjoying the river on the weekends and you may have to share the water in some spots. Going out on weekdays will give you a more serene experience, although meeting others who are enjoying the river is also fun.

Canoe Rentals

Northbrook Canoe Company (10): www.northbrookcanoe.com, tel: 610-793-2279
Located outside of Westchester PA on the banks of the Brandywine and next to a farm that raises Texas Longhorn cattle.

Wilderness Canoe Trips (10): www.wildernesscanoetrips.com, tel: 302-654-2227
Located in Delaware and focuses on the lower part of the Brandywine. However both outfitters should be able to cover most of the navigable sections.

For more outdoor activities

Brandywine Creek State Park (5)

www.destateparks.com/bcsp/bcsp.asp

Entrance off Thompson's Bridge Rd. Del Route 92. Riverside hiking trails, entrance fee.

Woodlawn Trust (5)

PO Box 2900, Wilmington DE 19805, tel: 302-655-6215,
email: woodlawntrusteesinc@verizon.net

Write or phone for a trail map and list of rules. No fee. This is a lovely oasis of green juxtaposed against major shopping centers and developments. Woodlawn Trust holds a block of land stretching from Brandywine Creek State Park to Smith Bridge Road in Pennsylvania, and from the Brandywine Creek almost to US route 202. One could park the car at the Concord Mall shopping center, get out their mountain bike, cross the highway and soon be riding trails though woods and rolling farmland down to the Brandywine. More convenient for the less adventurous bikers and hikers are small parking lots scattered throughout the Trust lands. The most popular one is on the Brandywine at Creek Road just south of the picturesque covered Smith Bridge. Horses are also permitted on the trails.

Delaware Nature Society (10)

www.delawarenaturesociety.org

Nestled in Delaware's "chateau country" it has trails, education center and library. They provide excellent excursions into areas not always accessible to the general public. See website for reservation information.

Ridley Creek State Park Pennsylvania (10)

tel: 610-892-3900
www.state.pa.us

Five mile paved loop trail for foot and bicycle traffic runs along the Ridley creek and through wood and farm land. Be prepared for hills. Toilets available. Off road trails for foot traffic only weave throughout the park. Designated horse trails are in another section. There is no use fee except to visit the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation where costumed guides demonstrate agricultural colonial life.

Tyler Arboretum (10)

www.tylerarboretum.org

Adjoining Ridley Creek State Park is Tyler Arboretum with over 20 miles of hiking trails. Check website for programs. Use fee for non-members.

Lodging

Consult any of the tourism websites for listings. Many beautiful, historic B&Bs are available for a romantic stay. I have visited only a few of them. Below are my four favorites.

Hamanassett Bed & Breakfast (10)

725 Darlington Rd., Chester Heights PA
tel: 610-459-3000, 877-836-8212
www.hamanassett.com

Located on a seven acre estate near Ridley Creek State Park and very convenient to Route 1, this beautifully preserved and restored 1850s English country style mansion offers elegant yet comfortable accommodations with lovely common areas and grounds. The owners/innkeepers are well versed in hospitality. The child and pet friendly carriage house books quickly, so reserve well in advance. A wooded hiking trail along the Chester Creek is just steps from their driveway.

Sweetwater Farm Bed & Breakfast (10)

50 Sweetwater Road, Glenn Mills PA 19342
tel: 610-459-4711
www.sweetwaterfarmbb.com

Also conveniently located near the major attractions, this 1734 stone Quaker farmhouse is the centerpiece of this quintessential picture perfect 50 acre Pennsylvania gentleman farm. Five child and pet friendly guest cottages are available in addition to the 12 guest rooms. The roads in this area could be navigated by the road savvy, hill climbing bicyclist, but one must beware of the occasional distracted driver.

The Pennsbury Inn B&B (5)

883 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford PA
tel: 610-388-1435
www.pennsburyinn.com

Located close to Longwood Gardens is the Pennsbury Inn, dating back to 1714. Rooms are decorated to a very high standard. Common areas are historic, warm and inviting. The outstanding gardens make this a popular choice for visiting horticulturists.

Hedgerow Bed & Breakfast Suites (5)

268 Kennett Pike, Chadds Ford, PA
tel: 610-388-6080
www.brandywine-valley.com

Peace and privacy are what made this B&B stand out for me. I could easily hide out here for a weekend and never leave my suite. The location is convenient to major attractions for those who wish to go out.

Fall at Longwood

Fall at Longwood

Dining

One will not go hungry in this area. Along the Routes 1 and 202 corridors are many chain restaurants both casual and upscale. Any tourist bureau or B&B website will have plenty of restaurant recommendations. My favorite is the Terrace Restaurant at Longwood Gardens but I will mention two of the most popular restaurants nearby.

The Dilworthtown Inn (5) www.dilworthtown.com is a nationally recognized restaurant in an historic building. Friends who have been there for special occasions rate it highly for food, service and atmosphere. I have yet to visit it.

I did have lunch at Simon Pearce on the Brandywine (5) recently. www.simonpearce.com  The interior of the restaurant is tiered so that all tables have views. My $14 entree of baked salmon over crab asparagus risotto with lobster sauce was excellent. For $12 my friend enjoyed a huge plate of field greens with asparagus and caramelized onion quiche. Accompanying the meal was whole grain Irish Soda bread and wonderfully textured scones. Mushroom soup and a dessert of large fresh mixed berries topped by strawberry gelato brought the total bill to $48, including tax. Everything was freshly made and served on the pottery, flatware and glassware made by the Simon Pearce organization. On the ground floor is the glass blowing studio where visitors can watch glassware being made. A shop sells all the products made by the organization.

Notes for travelers from other regions

Renting a car is the best way to see the area. There is not much crime in this region, but it is still wise to lock everything out of sight when parking the car, especially at the larger shopping malls. The biggest danger is having a collision with a White Tailed Deer. They are active early morning and in the evening, having the most wanton disregard for traffic safety from September through January. They often travel in groups so if you see one, be aware that there may be others nearby who may jump in front of your car.

Ticks from deer often carry Borrelia spirochetes, the causative agent of Lyme disease. Folks hiking through woods and underbrush need to check themselves for these tiny ticks afterwards. There is little risk if walking through manicured gardens.

Southeastern Pennsylvania usually has one or two cases of rabies in wild animals per year. Humans are seldom exposed to this disease, but never touch a wild animal, no matter how tame it appears.

Resources

The websites of local tourist bureaus provide sightseeing, lodging and dining recommendations.

www.brandywinevalley.com: Chester County PA's site suggests various itineraries to cover the plethora of attractions.

www.brandywinecountry.com: Delaware county PA's site includes some Philadelphia information.

www.visitwilmingtonde.com: Covers Wilmington, Delaware and surrounds.

www.padutchcountry.com: Nearby Lancaster County PA is an easy day trip.

www.stackpolebooks.com: An excellent guide book is Brandywine Valley, the Informed Traveler's Guide by Sharon Hernes Silverman.


Jeanne has lived in Southeastern PA since the early 50's and has visited Longwood Gardens so many times she thinks of it as her rich uncle's estate. An experienced paddler, she once won the Over 40 Female Pairs category of the Northbrook Canoe Challenge Race (only to find out at the awards ceremony that there was no one else in the category!). Some areas of southern Tuscany remind Jeanne of parts of Chester County and she has wished that the strict development regulations of the province of Siena could apply to this area. However doing the research for these notes has led to a deeper appreciation for all the people and corporations here in the US who have worked so hard to preserve the Brandywine Valley.

© Jeanne Wordley, 2005

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