Five months into the pandemic, when emergency repairs dictated that the water in our condo would be off for an entire workday, I had a kind of ‘last straw’ moment-- not at the required water shutdown, but at having to cope yet again with the unexpected.
Was there a quick solution? Although we have a car, we were being super careful seniors. We had barely ventured more than a mile beyond the border of Philadelphia since early March. Perhaps it was time. My husband and I put our heads together and recalled that just 35 minutes away, in the Brandywine region just outside of Wilmington, was The Inn at Montchanin Village, a 28 room series of suites in historic and adjacent houses dating to 1799. The buildings were originally part of the DuPont estate and provided homes for the company’s laborers. Today, the complex includes Krazy Kat’s located in the former blacksmith’s shop. It is an impressive restaurant with an innovative chef.
We had not had a dinner out nor spent a night at a hotel since the pandemic hit, but this might work, we thought. Further, it was less than a fifteen-minute drive from there to several Brandywine sites we loved to visit, including Winterthur, the Delaware Art Museum, the Mt. Cuba Center, Longwood Gardens, and the Brandywine River Museum. More about those a little later.
Online research revealed that the Inn had a strong COVID-19 policy. At the time we planned to visit, it promised at least 36 hours between guest room bookings. Since visitors were few, the time between guests was generally much longer. The Inn is on the National Register of Historic Places, beautifully decorated, and with an image to uphold. We decided to take the leap. We booked a two-night package at an attractive rate. We believe there were only one or two other rooms occupied while we were there and in different buildings.
We were not disappointed: our room turned out to be the Jefferson Suite, complete with two cozy porches, a bedroom with four poster bed, a living room with a tiny kitchen with microwave, fridge and coffee machine. Plus, an enormous and attractive marble bathroom with two sinks and everything else one could ask for, as if to underscore how good a decision this idea had been!
On our first day, we decided to visit the closest attraction to us, the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library
, just five minutes down the road. The heat index was well into the 90’s, so we didn’t try to walk the gardens or wooded trails, but we did have a delightful visit to the Museum, which is adjacent to the Henry Francis DuPont home, Winterthur’s centerpiece. The current exhibit does not close until January 3, 2021 and celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment: “Re-Vision 20/20: Through a Woman’s Lens”. We found it to be inspiring and stimulating. It draws on Winterthur’s celebrated collection of Americana and uncovers women who were artists, activists, and thinkers in the early days of the republic. We were the only visitors in the hours we spent in the exhibit galleries.
That evening, we genuinely enjoyed our dinner at Krazy Kat’s Restaurant. Due to Delaware’s 25% capacity indoor dining limits, there were only two other parties dining, each at least 15 feet from us and of quiet demeanor. The lobster bisque was outstanding, as were the other dishes we chose-- all served by welcoming and professional staff.
The next day we went slightly further afield through scenic backroads to the Brandywine River Museum of Art
, about 15 to 20 minutes away, depending on the route chosen (Route 52 to Route 1 is fastest). It is just over the border in Chadd’s Ford, PA. While we were already very familiar with this quietly superb museum, well-known for its works by Andrew Wyeth, his father N.C. Wyeth, and son Jamie Wyeth, we hadn’t known of its current exhibit “Votes for Women: A Visual History”, commemorating, as did Winterthur, the 100th Anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, this time examining effective and engaging suffragette visual strategies that included, posters, plays, political cartoons, and even fashion. Again, we had most of the galleries to ourselves, and could count on one hand the other visitors encountered.
We had lunch at the museum’s charming café which overlooks the Brandywine River. Other nearby and appealing options include Antica, just a one-minute drive from the museum, and The Gables at Chadd’s Ford, a mile or two down the Baltimore Pike. The latter has a lovely outdoor garden, but during COVID may be only open for dinner, except on Saturday and Sundays, when it is open for brunch.
Though we did not get to them on this trip, the following sites are also very worthy of a visit:
- Longwood Gardens: More than 1,000 acres of stunning gardens, fountains, historic buildings, meadows and a year-round conservatory with bonsai and orchid displays, among many others.
- Delaware Art Museum: This appealing museum, about five minutes off I-95’s Route 52 exit in Wilmington, has a fine collection of American paintings, illustrations, and sculpture, as well as an extensive collection of pre-Raphaelite art. A pleasant café and an outdoor sculpture garden add to the appeal, making it a great day-trip option.
- Mt. Cuba Center: Just named the “Best Botanical Garden” in North America by USA Today, this Center is a bit of a surprise: a gracious historic house with lovely views, distinctive walks, gardens, and an intriguing focus on native plants. Another perfect daytrip.
Also, nearby, and worthwhile, are the Hagley Museum and Library
, focusing on the DuPont family and Corporation, and the Nemours Mansion and Gardens
, the former home of Alfred I. DuPont.
The Brandywine region is a treasure trove of beauty, history, and inspiration—a continent to be explored in our own back yard. If you need a respite, give it a try! The fall foliage provides for a great opportunity for a day trip. For more information on what to see and where to stay, go to: https://www.brandywinevalley.com
Jeanne Sigler is a happy resident of Society Hill, having moved here after a 30-year career as President of Jeanne Sigler and Associates, Inc. in New York City. The full-service fundraising consulting firm served a broad array of nonprofit organizations in the arts, education, and the environment, among others. She and her husband, Jim Fratto, traveled extensively both for work and pleasure. With this and other articles, she shares their love of discovering new points of interest near and far, and during the pre, during, and hopefully, post-pandemic era.