The Brandywine Valley

Fine art and fine wine, opulent mansions and formal gardens, a Revolutionary battleground and museums of mushrooms—all in valley stretched from Philly to Wilmington?

The Brandywine Valley meandering from southern Pennsylvania into Wilmington, Delaware, preserves pre-Revolutionary War farms, 19th-century mansions, and some of the most ornate gardens in the country. Within a dozen mile-stretch along Route 1, you'll find a museum for the renowned local school of painting, Revolutionary War sites, friendly wineries, bucolic streams and farm-scapes, historic taverns, the mushroom capital of America, and the legacy of the region's very own aristocratic family, the Du Ponts.

The regional tourist office is at the entrance to Longwood Gardens, on Route 1 just outside the town of Kennett Square (800-228-9933,

Ask the staff about the fascinating history of the tourist office building itself, which as once a meetinghouse for abolitionist Quakers. It was part of the Underground Railroad, and meeting were held here to which the era's foremost foes of slavery came to speak, including Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Lucretia LaMott, Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth.

There are far too many sights and attractions to list here, so we'll just concentrate on the heart of the Brandywine Valley, which lies about 20 minutes south of Philadelphia or north of Wilmington along the stretch of Route 1 between the crossroad's hamlet of Chadds Ford (, at Route 100 and the Brandywine River itself, to the bustling small town of Kennett Square (

The three major Brandywine sights do charge hefty admissions, but are worth it. Offset the wallet drain with a shopping jaunt a few miles down Rt. 202; warehouses and shopping centers loom as you cross the Delaware border and the welcome sign reminds you that this state is the "Home of Tax-Free Shopping."

Fine art & fine wine in Wyeth Country

Driving down Route 1 from Philadelphia, after descending into the valley itself you'll see on your right the Brandywine Battlefield (, where in 1777 George Washington suffered an early and educational defeat, and his 19-year-old French colleague Gen. Lafayette became a hero. Admission, formally free, is not around $6, and it's open Tuesday to Saturday 9am to 4:30pm, Sunday noon to 4:30pm (Dec–Feb open only Thurs–Sat and Sun).

Just a little ways past it to the left is the entrance to the Brandywine Museum (610-388-2700, It showcases the Brandywine School of painting (plus some Hudson valley School artists), especially the local Wyeth artistic dynasty—N.C. Wyeth's original paintings that were used to make the illustrations in such classics as Treasure Island; his son Andrew Wyeth's delicate, intense studies; and moody watercolors by grandson Jamie Wyeth (who currently splits his time between the Brandywine valley and a house in Maine).

The core of the museum is installed in an old streamside mill—look for the worn old circular millstones set into the cement of the ground's walkways—and features a lovely tiny park with bronze animal sculpture and benches to sit and watch the water flow by. Included in the admission is a shuttle just down the road to visit N.C. Wyeth's house and studio. The museum is open daily 9:30am to 4:30pm. Admission is $8.

You can self-tour Chaddsford Winery, 632 Baltimore Pike/Route 1 (610-388-6221,, a family-run operation for 21 years that bottled about 18 different wines. Wine Spectator even rated their Chardonnay tops on the East Coast. There is a regular schedule of fun events—special tastings, live music, wine classes—and they sell cheese, salamis, and crackers for picnicking on the patio and picnic tables on the lawn overlooking the little string of vines imported from Tuscany. It's open daily noon to 6pm, and you pay $5 to sample nine wines (but you get to keep the souvenir glass).

Longwood Gardens & Marvelous Mushrooms

In 1906, Pierce Du Pont bought the old 1798 Pierce's Park to save it from loggers. By the 1920s, the family penchant for gardening turned these 1,050 acres into Longwood Gardens, Route 1 just outside Kennett Square (610/388-1000,, widely regarded as the best horticultural display in America. Spend a few hours exploring the 20 indoor gardens, over 11,000 species of plants, and a complex array of fountains in the some 20 outdoor gardens that are used to put on evening shows in summer and December.

The Du Ponts
This family's influence and heritage has marked the Brandywine Valley region even more than the famed Wyeth clan of local painters. The Du Ponts emigrated here from post-Revolution France and used their talent for industry—and flair for decorative gardens and mansions—to transform a few Brandywine gunpowder mills into one of the world's leading chemical and textile industries.

Among many, many innovations, Du Pont industries invented the first: synthetic rubber, nylon, Teflon, Stainmaster, Kevlar, and Lycra spandex. So whether you wear sheer hose, stretch pants, or a bullet-proof vest, or have forgotten what it was like actually to scrub a pot or call a carpet cleaner, the Du Ponts have changed your life

The gardens are open daily, late Nov to early Jan 9am–9pm; early Jan–Mar 9am–5pm, Apr–late May 9am–6pm, late May–early Sept 9am–6pm (Thurs–Sat 9am–10pm); fall hours not yet set, but similar to spring (9am to 5 or 6pm). Admission is $16.

Incidentally, little Kennett Square is proud to be the largest producer of mushrooms in the U.S., providing 35% of the nation's crop—which, incredibly, works out to 13% of the commercially grown mushrooms in the entire world.

However, the farms are located underground and, sadly, the local Mushroom Museum closed years ago (as did the neighboring Dairy Queen with its excellent fried 'shrooms)—so it's a bit hard to appreciate this fungal breadbasket.

I haven't yet had a chance to get down to visit the new shop for shroom-a-holics in Kennett Square, The Mushroom Cap shop at 114 W. State Street (866-924-8484 or 610-444-8484,, though I hear the owner—Kathi Lafferty, executive director of the town's annual Mushroom Festival— managed to rescue some of the displays from the defunct museum.

Whatever you do, just be sure to order something with mushrooms at lunch.

Du Pont Decorative Extravagance: Winterthur

Winterthur, 5 miles south of Route 1 on Rt. 52, just over the Delaware border (800-448-3883, is not only the best museum of decorative arts in America, it is also a unique museum of U.S. regional interior design, showcasing in 175 rooms the styles of dozens of American homes dating back as far as 1640.

This was the vision of preservation-minded Henry Francis Du Pont, who used his vast wealth to buy up authentic period homes in order to salvage a single room from each—from baseboards to chandeliers and all the furnishings in between—and tack it onto his hybrid mansion. You may pass from the door of a simple Shaker living room into a sumptuous townhouse study, then come across a mansion's sweeping staircase.

The vast park, woods, and gardens surrounding it are lovely, too, second in this region only to Longwood; a 30-minute garden tram ride is included with admission.

Both museum and grounds are open daily, 10am to 5pm. Admission is a steep $17 (gardens, exhibits, and soup tureens only), plus $5 if you want to actually tour the rooms of the house (accessible by hour-long guided tours only); longer tours are available.

Brandywine Bedrooms

The official Web site at lists and links to dozens of lodging options, including chains, B&Bs, inn, apartments, and campgrounds. Here are a few independent and cheap motels that fall through the cracks, plus a couple of the best located (and less pricey) of the local B&Bs and farms that invite you to stay.

The Hillside Motel, 458 Baltimore Pike/Route 1 in Glen Mills just before you get to the core of the Valley (484-840-9144), has barely acceptable bare-bones rooms and surly management, but it's darn cheap—doubles are $50.

Most inns and B&Bs in and around Chadds Ford/Kennett Square charge over $100. Prices are a smidgen lower in West Chester, 10 miles north of Route 1 on Route 202.

Check out the Microtel (888-619-9292,; doubles from $85), and the Abbey Green Motor Lodge, 1036 Wilmington Pike/Rt. 202 (610-692-3310; doubles from $70).

You can find about 15 primo B&Bs at the Brandywine Valley Bed & Breakfasts Association ( The only three listed where rates even start below $100 are: the 1732 Folke Stone Bed & Breakfast, an antiques-filled home of 1732 that was part of the Underground Railroad at 777 Copeland School Rd., West Chester (610-429-0310,; the Walnut Hill Bed & Breakfast, an 1840s millhouse at 541 Chandler's Mill Rd., Avondale (610-444-3703,; and the Cornerstone Inn, built between 1704 and 1820 at 300 Buttonwood Rd. Landenberg (610-274-2143,

There are also two working farms you could stay on that are located about halfway between the Brandywine Valley and the famed Pennsylvania Dutch Country, should you want to visit both regions: Elver Valley Farm, 432 Sawmill Road, off Rt. 41 in Chochranville (877-863-5837,; $70 for two in the Guest Home, $60 cabin for family of 4); and The Olde Stone Guesthouse, 1599 Swann Rd. in Atglen, off Rt. 30 between Rts. 10 and 41 (888-642-9107," target="_blank">; doubles $65–$85, or $85 in the private Spring House).

Dining in the Brandywine

Hank's Place, at the intersection of Route 1 and Rt. 100 in Chadds Ford (610-388-7061,, is a little diner/cafe that caught Gourmet magazine's attention with its breakfasts, though the cheap lunches are good, too, and dishes rarely cost more than $8 (though steaks and seafood can run $10 to $16). It’s open Tues–Sat 7am–7pm, Sun 7am–3pm, and Mon 6am–4pm.

Chadds Ford Tavern, at 1400 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford—on Route 1 across from the Battlefield, 1 mile north of Route 100—(610-459-8453,, serves $5.75 to $6.95 sandwiches (and a full dinner menu) in dark wood booths under a hammered tin ceiling in a fire-warmed room from the 1830s.

The main drag in Kennett Square is lined with eateries. The Half Moon Cafe, 108 W. State St (610-444-7232,, has scrumptious and eclectic salads and sandwiches for $5.50–$11, and 27 taps of hand-pulled ales and beers, including a few local microbrews. It's open Mon–Sat 11:30am–11pm, Sat noon–11pm. A few doors down at 108 E. State St., Enzo's (610-444-8844) does a slice of pizza and a coke for $2.25. It’s open daily.

On Rt. 52 just over the Delaware border, Buckley's Tavern, 5812 Kennett Pike, Centerville, DE (302-656-9776, has been a popular bar with the locals since 1950 and does delicious burgers for $9.25 (the priciest thing on the menu is Shrimp & Grits for $12.95).

Tours Under $995 G Adventures

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in May 2009.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.