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Boomer Unchained: When Summer Traffic Gets Crazy, Go North

Summer weekends are the time for area residents to vacation AWAY from Delaware beaches,

It’s June and the summer weekend tourist migration to Delaware beaches has begun.

As the clock hands round early afternoon on Thursday, Route 1 south through Lewes clogs.  Anxious local motorists on Savannah Road crawl carefully across the packed highway, praying no impatient driver, attached at the ear to a cell phone, runs the red light and smashes into them.  The intersection is a frequent accident location.

By 11 a.m. Saturday, if the sun is out, Cape Henlopen State park beaches are filled to the brim, with “closed” signs meeting drivers. Parking spaces in Rehoboth are scare. Supermarket parking lots are full.  Route 1 grinds to a halt. Route 24 is a nightmare. Route 26 is equally a mess.  It’s a summer weekend.

Area residents, newbie retirees being no exception, dread the onslaught even as they welcome sunshine and warm days. They plot their excursions to pharmacies and supermarkets for optimal, mid-week times. They analyze the direction of the traffic, and decide when not to drive where. Route 1 through Dewey shuts down altogether during certain weekend events. Its residents are left to the mercy of bike races, marathons and 5Ks.

Beach area residents check to see what’s happening in Dover. NASCAR? A music concert? A motorcycle fundraiser bringing a throng of bikes? What’s happening in Ocean City? A home and garden show? Those folks drive on Route 1, too. What are they doing here?

Any errand on the weekend has to be finished by 9 a.m. no matter what.

What’s a Delaware beach-area resident to do?

Last Friday, we left the craziness and drove north to Winterthur, a duPont family estate in the Wilmington, Delaware-area open to the public.  We happened to be there to see the one-day display of “Historic Autos” that coincided with the exhibit “Costuming The Crown,” which featured 40 costumes from the Netflix series dramatizing the history of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.  A few of the cars on display were owned by Sussex County residents and members of the area British Car Club, so it was fun to run into some friends.  Peter was supposed to bring his 1947 Bentley, but it was having some mechanical issues and couldn’t make the trip. But since we had planned the overnight, including a stay at the nearby lovely Inn at Monchanin Village and a meal at the restaurant Krazy Kats, we decided to go anyway.  I am so glad we did, hence the idea for this blog! This part of Delaware is so worth a getaway weekend.

We enjoyed, as always, looking at the beautiful old British cars, so shiny and well kept. Peter even enjoyed the costume exhibit, which includes historic photographs of the real Queen Elizabeth II as a young woman and videos of the scenes in the TV series where the costumes were worn.

My favorite part of Winterthur was the expansion gardens. Clearly, the owners of this old duPont estate dedicated spent limitless funds in creating some of the most beautiful grounds in the nation. We wandered for a few hours, and landed in the most delightful stand of pines, cedars, and spruces. The spot, situated within the 1,000-acre property, is called the Pinetum. The trees were collected from around the world, and now are breathtakingly tall and huge, reminding you of everything you have read regarding the spirituality of trees.  I held one of the branches of a Norwegian spruce in my hands, closed my eyes, and wished to hear the trees whispering to one another.

We walked through Winterthur’s Enchanted Woods. While I’m sure they were designed with children in mind, the child in both Peter and me emerged. We walked over the Troll Bridge and strolled around and around in the Fairy Flower Labyrinth. We stood within the Upside-Down Tree, and watched two children get sprayed by a fine mist in the Forbidden Fairy Ring.

I’d say many Delawareans are familiar with Winterthur and the attractions of the pastoral “chateau country” region that covers Delaware and the adjacent rural and historic Chester County, Pennsylvania.  Known as the Brandywine Valley, it features rolling green hills and woods, historic country estates, some museums, battle grounds, a winery, quaint villages with lovely restaurants and places to stay.

The valley is virgin ‘tourist’ territory for beach transplants from New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and New York – a perfect destination for a weekend getaway from the crush of beach tourists.  “Chateau country” is less than two hours from Lewes, and the best part of the drive is that it is against the horrific beach traffic, both ways.

Winterthur’s roots date back to 1802 when Éleuthère Irénée duPont de Nemours came from France, purchased the property, and soon established a gunpowder mill in Wilmington, setting the foundation for the DuPont company, the chemical industry, and its legacy in the region and around the world.

E.I. duPont never lived at Winterthur.  Instead, his homestead was established near his gunpower mill – named Eleutherian Mills, located on the banks of the Brandywine. Today, you can visit this historical site, now called Hagley Museum and Library.  The few hundred acres there include restored mills, a workers' community, and the ancestral home and gardens of the du Pont family. It also has one of the most extensive libraries of business and technology in the world. I visited the museum years ago, but have it on my bucket list to visit again.

Winterthur was built in 1937 by E.I. duPont’s daughter Evelina and her husband Jacques Antoine Bidermann. They named it Winterthur after Jacques’ ancestral home in Switzerland. The house and estate were expanded over the generations by duPonts. Almost 60 years ago, collector and horticulturist Henry Francis duPont (1880–1969) opened Winterthur to the public.

I am only touching on Winterthur’s history here as it would take pages and pages to capture all the fascinating details. Instead, I just wanted to share my joy in visiting.

This “Chateau country” includes so many places to visit that I can’t imagine you can do everything in one weekend. Instead, you can check out the websites (see below) and learn about all the events and programs that take place.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Longwood Gardens, located a few minutes’ drive away along Route 52 in the Chadd’s Ford area. It’s roots date by to the 1700s when Joshua Peirce built his home. His family founded the arboretum in the late 1700s. Pierre S. duPont bought the house in 1906 and by 1914 had doubled its size and created the conservatory that became Longwood’s first and famous “winter garden.” Its fountains are spellbinding. I haven’t visited in years but hope to do so again this summer.

I want to mention briefly a third estate - the Nemours Estate in Wilmington, which was developed by Alfred I. duPont (1864-1935). Nemours Estate includes a 77-room mansion, the largest formal French gardens in North America, a chauffeur's garage housing a collection of vintage automobiles used on the estate, and nearly 200 acres of woodlands, meadows and lawns.

Within a few miles is the Brandywine Battlefield, where the largest engagement of the American Revolution was fought. The Brandywine River Museum of Art also is nearby.

I’m rattling on too long, but you get the picture. If you want to escape from the beach area for just a few days, and you don’t want to deal with the traffic to Washington DC, Baltimore, New York, or Philadelphia, try the Brandywine Valley. It is a tranquil and fascinating alternative.

Brandywine Valley:

Brandywine River Museum

Brandywine Battlefield

Hagley Museum and library

Longwood Gardens

Nemours Estate

Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library

Susan Towers, 2020

Susan Towers

Susan L. Towers, M.S., retired from Beebe’s Marketing & Communications department in 2017 to pursue her writing, and to experience new adventures with friends and family. She has published stories in Delaware Beach Life magazine, as well as two fiction short stories in anthologies. She is member of the Rehoboth Beach Writers Guild and the American /Society of Journalists and Authors. She is an advocate of the arts and humanities, and is passionate about the outdoors.