I recently spent 2 1/2 days in the Wilmington Delaware area. My Amtrak ride from NYC was less than two hours. My host was Lyn Lewis, the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau. I knew little about the area since I always passed thru Delaware on the way south to Baltimore or Washington DC. I will never make that mistake again. It helped that the last two days in September & the first day of October had perfect weather. 75-80 degrees with sun and low humidity. Wilmington is the corporate capital of America with all the major banks and many corporations located there. U.S law allows companies to incorporate in Delaware and to be governed by Delaware’s laws and tax code. Since the state does not tax “intangible assets” companies can move part of their business to Delaware and thus avoid taxes in other states. The tax attorneys out there could probably explain it better than I have. Greater Wilmington also encompasses Chester County Pennsylvania with its estates and gardens thanks to the generosity of various members of the du Pont family.
Our first stop was the Delaware Art Museum. The museum is best known for works by Wilmington-native Howard Pyle and fellow American illustrators. There are urban cityscapes by John Sloan as well as a large collection of British Pre-Raphaelite art. I had a delightful lunch in the Thronson’s Café.
We had a guided tour of the Hagley Museum & Library, which is located on 235 acres along the banks of the Brandywine. Hagley is the site of the gunpowder works founded by E. I. du Pont in 1802. Our visit included restored mills, a workers' community, and the ancestral home and gardens of the du Pont family. The last part of our visit was an explanation of how gunpowder was produced including a gunpowder explosion
After a long day of touring my host asked me if I wanted an early dinner & did I like seafood? The answer was yes to both so she took me to Harry's Seafood Grill and we ate outdoors overlooking the Christina River. It helped that it was a sunny warm day at the end of September. I had the grand seafood platter that consisted of two each- oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp and crab. Yummy and quite reasonably priced (by New York standards) at $25.50. Of course, I started with clam chowder. The 1.3-mile Riverwalk pales in length & scope to the one in San Antonio but it worked for me. Bars and restaurants, miniature golf, a beer garden, IMAX theater, children's museum, a working brewery, minor league baseball etc. I watched the boaters from a local rowing club, people walking their dogs, biking, jogging and holding hands. I know if I come back in five years there will be many more attractions. Don't wait- go now.
Before dropping me at my hotel we toured the Wilmington Riverfront and along Market Street in downtown Wilmington. My host hotel for two nights was the Westin Wilmington. I would have given the hotel 5 Stars if they didn't have the smallest indoor pool, maybe in the world (I have been to 149 countries). Why not add a hot tub next to the pool? The deepest part of this pool is 3 feet & with two swim strokes I went end to end. I read recent reviews of this hotel that were not very kind to the staff. I found exactly the opposite. I forgot a few bathroom essentials & the front desk staff was kind enough to supply them to me at no cost. I had a problem with the one dinner I ate in the hotel dining room. I had a long exhausting day visiting sites and just wanted a hamburger & an early to bed. I waited & waited. I was told the kitchen was backed up with a private event in the ballroom. After 40 minutes I walked to the front desk & expressed my disappointment with the wait. The gentlemen behind the desk walked me back to the restaurant. Two minutes later the hamburger arrived. It was delicious. I was told there would be no charge for my entree. I thanked the desk person & mentioned that really was not necessary. He insisted that I had been waiting much too long & that was the least he could do. The hotel is perfectly located and surrounded by the Riverfront area, which had many attractions within walking distance. My room was clean, brightly lit and had a great rain shower. Coffee maker, fridge, safe, comfortable chairs & a working desk and large screen TV.
I was being picked up early the next morning for touring so decided to eat breakfast in the restaurant. Great choice. My pancakes were the best I had ever had. The French toast the second morning was almost as good. A bonus was meeting the plant lady Deborah Lemon who doubled as the restaurant hostess. She has a major hand with all the indoor and outdoor plants in and around the hotel. I watched her making small plant centerpieces for an evening function that night.
My second morning in Wilmington began with a tram ride through the naturalistic gardens at Winterthur. There is an extensive collection of American decorative arts both in the house and exhibition galleries. The 60-acre garden and surrounding1,000-acre woodlands and meadows are available to the public. One can play in Enchanted Woods, the fairy-tale children's garden. Collector and horticulturist Henry Francis DuPont opened his 175-room home, Winterthur to the public. There are almost 90,000 objects made or used in America between 1640 and 1860. We toured the house and then had lunch in their cafeteria
My next du Pont estate visit was to Nemours for a tour of the mansion and gardens. Owned and developed by Alfred I. du Pont, Nemours Estate includes a 77-room mansion, the largest formal French gardens in North America, a garage housing a collection of vintage automobiles, and nearly 200 acres of scenic woodlands, meadows and lawns. It was built in the late18th-century French style. On the property is the Nemours pediatric health system that is committed to children's health care in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida.
A six-mile drive brought us to colonial New Castle with its cobblestone streets on this riverfront overlooking the Delaware River. This Colonial/Federal village is second only to Williamsburg, Virginia in the number and authenticity of its historic structures. Peter Stuyvesant, who was sent to provide the Dutch with command of all river traffic, founded New Castle, originally named Fort Casimir, in 1651. We talked to the crew of the Kalmar Nyckel, a sailing ship that gives tours of the river as well as joining many tall ship festivals.
On my last morning, I was taken on a tour of the original Andrew Wyeth Studio. He was one of America’s best-known twentieth-century artists and painted many of his most important works of art in his Chadds Ford Pennsylvania studio. Given to the Brandywine River Museum of Art by the artist’s wife, Betsy Wyeth. It served as the artist’s principal Pennsylvania workplace from 1940 to 2008. The studio still houses the furnishings, library and collections acquired by the artist, as well as examples of the art materials he used throughout his career. We then spent an hour touring the Brandywine River Museum of Art. It is home to a permanent collection of artwork by three generations of the Wyeth family and contemporaries. Part of the Brandywine Conservancy, the museum resides in a restored mill along the bucolic Brandywine Creek.
My last stop before catching my Amtrak train back to NYC was Longwood Gardens which is located in Kenneth Square Pennsylvania, in the Brandywine Creek Valley about 1/2 hour outside Wilmington. There are over 1,000 acres with indoor (20) and outdoor gardens and over 4,600 plants and trees. The area was going to be used for logging when Pierre S. du Pont purchased the property. It is another example of the various members of the du Pont family and their generosity. I was there for the 1PM Longwood Fountain show along the 600-foot Flower Garden Walk. One needs to spend almost a whole day here. There are food and drink carts along the way and a very large restaurant on the property. There are lots of things for the kids with shows and educational events. Bring comfortable shoes.