MidAtlantic fun: Christmas at the Brandywine River Museum

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Updated: I’m looking forward once again to a visit this year to check out what wonderful ornaments are on display. I’m sharing this post also as part of the blog carnival about family holiday travel destinations at Best Family Travel Advice.

Living in northern Delaware, I’m very lucky to have my pick of wonderful museums all within an easy hour’s drive of my house. There is a wealth of art, history, and horticulture to be found – and that doesn’t even include all that Philadelphia has to offer. It’s hard for me to choose which one I love the best, but a long-time favorite has to be the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

Housed in a gorgeously restored grist mill, the museum showcases art by generations of the Wyeth family, who live and work in the area, as well as landscape art and American illustration. It’s a great art museum for kids because it is small and intimate and much of the work is accessible even for the very youngest children (Tommy was fascinated by the paintings there when he was four months old). The boys always enjoy the swashbuckling N.C. Wyeth paintings of pirates and patriots, which served as illustrations for editions of Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and other classic stories. And I love the more austere and contemplative work of his son Andrew, whose paintings showcase the fields, barns, and streams of the Pennsylvania countryside.

Travel-With-Kids Tip: The museum is run by a nature conservancy that works to preserve what remains of the open space around it, a rolling landscape that is one of the prettiest you’ll find anywhere in the United States. If your child tires of the art indoors, go outside for a stroll on one of the walking trails along the nearby river and meadows.

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The museum is especially fun to visit at the holidays, when a huge model train exhibit takes over one entire room. Five trains run simultaneously on nearly 2000 feet of track, making for a large and intricate display that will fascinate even children who aren’t crazy for trains. Last year the layout included numerous towns and villages, waterfalls, a switching yard, Santa Claus, and a tiny drive-in movie, which was showing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

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Travel-With-Kids Tip: The train display is popular and can get very crowded, especially during the week before Christmas. It’s best to arrive right when the museum opens at 9:30 a.m. Or, you might wait until after New Years – the trains will be on display until January 11. Kids under 6 can visit for free.

There’s so much to see in the train display that we usually spend close to an hour peering at it in the dim light. Eventually we manage to coax the boys away away to see the other big holiday attraction, the display of “critter” ornaments hung on Christmas trees of various sizes. I love these adorable creations made by volunteers using only natural materials and glue. Especially wonderful is the care and detail that goes into each of the thousands of little figures: Angels, owls, peacocks, reindeer, and even to our especial delight, little chicks. Every single one has its own personality, and each is made with materials harvested in a sustainable way – seeds shaken out and sowed in the ground where they are found, dried leaves carefully clipped, and any leftovers saved for later use.

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Last year a choir from one of the local schools began to sing while Teddy and I looked at the ornaments on the trees in the main lobby. Someone played the piano, “Hark the Herald Angels” filled the sunny space, and the air glowed with anticipation and good will. It was a perfect holiday moment.

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Travel-With-Kids Tip: If you’re looking for last-minute holiday gifts, the shop here is surprisingly big given the museum’s relatively small size. They have a particularly good selection of books about art for kids. You can also buy “critter” ornaments.

We are planning to brave the crowd and visit the museum next week on the morning of December 23rd. It’s sure to be a wonderful beginning to our winter holiday. New to us will be the exhibit of illustrations from various editions of Alice in Wonderland as well as the display of antique dolls. Charming as these may be, I expect most of our time will be spent watching the trains whoosh magically past.

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The Brandywine River Museum is located on Route 1 in Chadds Ford, PA and is open every day but Christmas at 9:30 a.m. Normally they close at 4:30, but from December 26 to 30th, they will be open until 6 p.m.

Chadds Ford Things To Do

Reader Responses

2 fellow travelers had this to say

  1. Great blog Mara! As for the Brandywine River Museum it’s one of my favorite museums. I grew up in Malvern, PA and live in Cherry Hill now. Can’t wait to take my youngest (3 years old) to see the trains there next Winter. BTW, I thought your readers might be interested in a site for Philadelphia day trips that’s much like yours http://www.daytripplans.com.

  2. Looks great! I love how museums embrace the holiday season and make it festive. Reminds me to find out what our local children’s museum has to offer this year, and makes me long to live in a more metro area with more museums!

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