By Laurie Millman and Martin Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
We’ve heard for years about the beautiful DuPont family mansions and gardens in the Wilmington, Delaware and Brandywine Valley region. With Marty now mobility-challenged, we set out on a long weekend to visit these fine architectural examples of Gilded, Industrial Age homes and gardens, to check out first-hand how the DuPont historic sites accommodate visitors with accessibility issues:
Winterthur Mansion and Gardens
The Winterthur grounds are expansive, with walking trails running through 1,000 acres of woods, meadowlands and farmland. Natural and groomed paths are also found throughout the 60-acre gardens surrounding the childhood home and country estate of Henry Francis DuPont (1880-1969). The Mansion complex includes the family home, botanical labs, Library and Museum galleries revolving exhibits.
Winterthur offers a number of accessibility options to tour the garden area and the mansion complex: a) Companion-guided wheelchairs and strollers are available at no cost at the Visitor Center where you pick up your tickets, as well as at the Galleries Reception Atrium. b) Shuttles and trams for touring the gardens and reaching the mansion and galleries have wheelchair lifts and ramps, and designated wheelchair spots that allow a wheelchair to be securely locked in place. There is a sharp incline leading up to the mansion’s main entrance from the tram stop, which will require some effort to push a wheelchair up the hill; but once inside, it is easy to navigate around the main floor of the house with an accessibility device.
Guide and therapy dogs are allowed on the shuttle and tram, as well as in the buildings. Assistive listening systems are available for guided tours and special presentations. With at least one week’s notice, a sign-language interpreter can be hired for your visit. The grounds have restrooms with ADA bars and are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair or mobile scooter.
Winterthur is open to the public from late February through mid-November. Tour tickets are currently available by calling 800-448-3883, or on-site in the Visitor Center. Reserve a wheelchair when you make a tour reservation, to ensure availability when you arrive. To learn more about accessibility options at Winterthur, explore this link: https://www.winterthur.org/visit/plan-your-visit/transportation-and-special-needs-access/. For a virtual tour of Winterthur, go to https://tour.winterthur.org/.
Winterthur Mansion and Gardens, 800-448-3883, 5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, DE 197350, www.winterthur.org.
The early 20th century home and grounds of Alfred I. DuPont was designed in a late 18th-century French style. Nemours offers self-guided tours of the mansion. You will have to bring your own mobility devices, as the Estate does not rent wheelchairs, electric scooters or strollers, nor does it offer a shuttle or tram to tour around the 200 acres of grounds and gardens.
Nemours mansion and gardens is a hike from the parking lot. For those walking the grounds, wear comfortable walking shoes. Although the roads and paths leading to the mansion are flat, paved, and accessible by wheelchair, scooter, and stroller, the garden paths are not paved nor handicap accessible. However, between the beautifully manicured sunken gardens, reflection pools and Art-Nouveau statues, there is a wide overlook for picturesque views, which can be reached by a mobility device.
When arriving at the Nemours mansion, the staff is very accommodating for visitors traveling with mobile devices (strollers are not allowed inside): they put out small ramps to get our wheelchair over a few steps leading into the mansion’s main floor. Once inside, visitors take a self-guided tour of the two accessible floors. Nemours has a huge, grand spiraling staircase leading up to the bedrooms on the second floor. Alternatively, for assistance to go up to the second floor, a first floor mansion attendant will contact a member of the staff on the second floor and direct you to an elevator that opens to a mezzanine level. The second floor attendant will be waiting to assist with a stair lift to the second floor.
The Estate is open to visitors from April through December, with self-guided tours of the mansion and chauffeur’s garage. ADA bathrooms are located a short walk from the parking lot and in the mansion. Food and water are not available onsite, but visitors are encouraged to bring food and water, even to bring a blanket to picnic on the grounds. Service animals are allowed on the grounds and in the mansion.
Nemours Estate, 600 Rockland Road, Wilmington, DE, 302-651-6912, http://nemoursestate.org
Hagley Museum and Library
The Hagley complex offers a hands-on learning experience for all ages about early American commerce and life. The 235 acres of the Hagley grounds, founded by E. I. DuPont in 1802 for manufacturing gunpowder, rise above the Brandywine River. Open daily, Hagley currently offers small-group tours of the ancestral DuPont family home and garden. Interpretive docents and demonstrations are also found at the restored mill, the artisans building, and the Workers Hill Community, where the gunpowder works employees lived.
Pick up tickets for your timed tour at the Hagley Visitor Center and Gift Shop. A bus with a wheelchair lift leaves from the Visitor Center parking area. Some areas of Hagley are not easily navigable in a mobility device – ask the staff in the Visitor Center to highlight those areas on a grounds map. To reserve a group tour or a lunch and learn tour, go to https://www.hagley.org/plan-your-visit/hours-admission, call 302-658-2400, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Call or email to confirm wheelchair availability.
Hagley Museum and Library, 200 Hagley Creek Rd, Wilmington, DE, 302-658-2400, www.hagley.org.
Longwood Gardens was developed initially in the early 20th century by Pierre DuPont to be enjoyed by family and friends. To perpetuate and expand his vision, after DuPont died in the mid-1950s, the mission of the Gardens was to continue for public enjoyment and education. This is one of our favorite gardens in the country and one of the largest in the world. With 1,100 acres of outdoor gardens, Longwood is open year-round for visitors (even Christmas Day!) to enjoy the ever-changing seasonal displays of outdoor natural beauty, along with “dancing” fountains scattered throughout the grounds and beautiful, indoor glass conservatories (one of them a massive 4.5 acres).
Over the past few years, the Main Fountain Garden area has been the location of beautiful fountain, light and fire shows with synchronized music. Fountain performances will resume on May 5, 2022.
Longwood does not offer a shuttle or tram to tour around the large park, but the hilly garden paths are primarily paved and mobility device accessible, as well as most buildings. Visitors to Longwood Gardens are strongly recommended to bring their own mobility devices (strollers, wheelchairs and scooters with 3 or more wheels). Through our experience, electric-powered mobility scooters will handle the steeper paths better than companion-pushed wheelchairs. The Visitor’s Center offers a limited supply of electric scooters on a first-come, first-served basis, with a “pay as you wish” rental fee policy for the entirety of your visit – more of a donation than a fixed price. A limited number of free wheelchairs and strollers are also available at the Visitor’s Center. The Gardens provides many water fountains and bathrooms that are mobility device accessible. Service dogs are permitted on the grounds and in the buildings. With at least two week’s notice, a sign-language interpreter will be available for a private, guided group walking tour; amplified listening devices are also available for use on the private tours.
At this writing, the Gardens is selling timed tickets. Check out availability and ticket prices at https://longwoodgardens.org/visit.
Longwood Gardens, 1001 Longwood Rd, Kennett Square, PA 19348, 610-388-1000, https://longwoodgardens.org.
As our experience shows, there is no reason not to continue to explore and experience attractions and destinations, just prepare in advance.
April is National Garden Month
April is National Garden Month. As the colors of spring begin to appear across Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley, enjoy the warmer weather and change of seasons with a weekend tour of the region’s numerous botanical gardens, all within a short distance of one another.
Jennifer Boes, Director of Marketing Communications and Media Relations for Greater Williamsburg prepared this driving itinerary:
Start at Rockwood Park, just off I-95 in north Wilmington. Though not as well known as some of the area’s other gardens, the grounds surrounding the rural Gothic-style Rockwood Mansion are sublime. Explore the 72 acres of parkland including a six-acre formal garden. Unique features include a monkey puzzle tree (an unusual-looking evergreen native to Chile); a ha-ha (a sunken wall used to keep livestock away); and a stone from the Giant’s Causeway, a distinctive hexagonal rock formation along Ireland’s coast. An apothecary garden, filled with medicinal plants, was added in fall 2019.
Hagley Museum & Library’s gardens are as much about function as they are about form. It has two very different restored gardens that date back to the 1800s: one that fed the du Pont family and another that fed company workers. A pollinator garden, new in 2020, attracts a variety of butterflies and bees.
Nemours Estate’s French-style gardens, inspired by Versailles, are among the finest and largest of their kind in the U.S. There’s a formal boxwood garden and a maze dominated by a sculpture gilded in 23-karat gold leaf. The Baroque-style Russian gate was acquired from a palace built by Catherine the Great. The English gate was once used at Wimbledon Manor. In addition to the formal gardens, there are family-friendly woodland walking trails to explore.
Winterthur Museum & Gardens features 1,000 acres of rolling hills, streams, meadows and forests. A favorite of the young and young at heart is the fairytale-like Enchanted Woods with its Faerie Cottage and Tulip treehouse. From April into May, the Azalea Woods, with thousands of Kurume azaleas and wildflowers that weave through the forest, is a must see.
The nationally renowned Longwood Gardens is home to 11,000 varieties of plants spread across 1,100 acres of meadows, woodlands, and elaborate horticultural displays. In the four-acre conservatory, don’t miss the Wood’s Cycad. Called Longwood’s “King of the Conservatory,” this palm tree-like plant is extinct in nature and one of the rarest plants in the world.
The final stop on the garden tour is Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware. Opened for general admission to the public in 2013, it is home to more than 1,000 native plants, many of which are threatened by extinction. On the gently rolling hills of the Delaware Piedmont, part of the Appalachian Mountain system, it consists of 630 acres of historic pastures, fields, ponds, native forests, a woodland wildflower garden, and formal landscapes. One notable feature is the trillium garden, containing every trillium species native to the eastern U.S.
The Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau is an excellent source of information to preplan your visit to the Wilmington-Brandywine region: 800-489-6664, www.visitwilmingtonde.com.
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