Quiet Wilmington, Delaware is a bargain place to explore with the school kids, because of the gardens, museums, and American history this area has to offer.
Wilmington, Delaware, rich in history and art, may not be the first place you think of as a family destination. Perhaps, like me, you should think again! A recent weekend there introduced me to all it has to offer, and several on-going and special exhibits should encourage you to put Wilmington on your family’s itinerary.
Living History & Science
The Hagley Museum and Library (302/658-2400) complex is delightfully set along 235 acres adjacent to the Brandywine River. This is where the du Pont story began, as it was the family’s first home in America, as well as the birthplace, in 1802, of the gunpowder factory that is the genesis of the DuPont Company. The home, gardens, mills and machine shops tell a fascinating story that will engage children and parents.
However, one current exhibit entitled “Science and Discovery” is especially geared towards families. It’s an interactive exploration of the role that DuPont has played from the 19th century when it manufacturered gun powder and explosives, through its 20th century contributions to science and everyday life as a chemical company, and into the 21st century. Celebrating 200 years of company history and discoveries which changed our lives, the exhibit presents information on such materials as cellophane, teflon, nylon and Kevlar (used in bullet-resistant vests), as well as materials used in the space shuttle suits and NASCAR racing cars and suits on display. Hands-on activities invite kids to learn about the interesting properties of polymers and a Discovery Lab is available for more explorations.
Local History at a Unique Country Estate
The Wintherthur Museum and Gardens (800/448-3883)is the fabulous country estate of Henry Francis du Pont, an avid collector of American decorative arts and antiques. Over 175 rooms contain his vast antique collections and 60 acres of gardens and landscape are yours to explore on narrated tours. Will your kids love this?
Maybe not, but the “Touch-It Room” is a hands-on area where children can explore early American life by dressing up and visiting a General Store, attending a tea party, and playing with handcrafted wooden toys. Museum staff is always on hand to answer questions.
The extensive gardens, are also an important part of the Winterthur experience, and Enchanted Woods is a magical, three-acre garden especially for kids. It is inhabited by woodland fairies, pixies, elves and gnomes who live amid the trees and plants and invite childen on an exciting adventure.
The Delaware History Museum (302/656-0637) traces the history of the First State through items of everyday life, costumes, toys and local arts. “Grandma’s Attic“ at the Kid’s Museum at the Delaware History Museum, is where visitors can dress-up and play in a Discovery Center, complete with a market and 1940s kitchen. For more info, check out the parent organization, the Historical Society of Delaware. You’ll be amazed at how school-age children become engaged in reliving history by putting on some old clothes.
In essence, Wilmington, Delaware attractions really know how to cater to children, providing an entertaining but thoroughly educational encounter with American history. For example, other current shows at our visit to the Hagley included one about the history of New York’s Penn Station, (complete with HO scale model of the train terminal circa 1929), and an awesome, kid-friendly exhibit (open only on the weekends) about how machines and tools make our lives easier. One display in this exhibit allowed a child to lift a whole group of people up in the air using the magic of pulleys!
New exhibits are being added all the time, however, so check out the website of each of these attractions when you begin planning your quiet weekend away.
The city and surrounding area are top values when it comes to accommodations. Your needs should reflect the time of year you plan to visit, although it can be any time, as the weather is always mild. You can find everything from country inns (check out Dover in the center of the state), to farm stays, oceanview motels (look in the Beaches region), rooms with sloping ceilings in historic attics, to grand suites in major hotels (check out the Wilmington hotels in the state’s northeast region), by visiting the Delaware Tourism website.
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