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The Pleasures of Brandywine Valley

by Michael K. Lavers
National News Editor
Tuesday Nov 15, 2011

With its bucolic rolling hills, quaint colonial-era homes and vineyards, the Southeast Pennsylvania countryside is the perfect place to escape the nearby megalopolis' hustle and bustle. And it's even closer than one may think.

Located roughly an hour southwest of Philadelphia, the Brandywine Valley provided the backdrop for one of the country's most celebrated artistic dynasties.

Born in Chadds Ford along the Brandywine River on July 12, 1917, Andrew Wyeth was the youngest of illustrator and artist N.C. Wyeth's five children. N.C. Wyeth became famous in 1911 when he painted a series of illustrations that appeared in Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island," but Andrew Wyeth became renowned in his own right with "Christina's World," "Winter 1946" and a series of paintings of Helga Testorf and neighbors Anna and Karl Kruener.

Andrew Wyeth passed away in Chadds Ford in Jan. 2009, but his son Jamie Wyeth had already taken his famous father's mantle. His series of paintings of Russian dancer Rudolk Nureyev are among the nearly 3,800 works on display at the Brandywine River Museum (U.S. Route 1, Chadds Ford) that is located in a 19th century grist mill along the Brandywine.

Aside from the Wyeths, industrialist Pierre S. du Pont also made his mark in this picturesque corner of southeast Pennsylvania. He purchased Joshua and Samuel Peirce's 1,077 acre farm in Kennett Square in 1906 to preserve the trees that they had been planting on the plot since 1798. Longwood Farms (1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square) grew to include a five acre French and Italian-inspired fountain garden, a second Italian water garden, 325 acres of outdoor gardens, open air theatee fountains, water lily pools, three tree houses, the world's largest operational pipe organ and even 20,000 chrysanthemums.

Longwood's Conservatory is among the world's largest greenhouses at 4.5 acres, and it contains 20 indoor gardens with 5,500 species of plants. These include the Silver Garden that contains a variety of cacti, succulents, agave and other xerophytes that are adapted to desert climates; the Orchid House that contains more than 3,200 orchids-including one that is named in honor of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; the Rose House and the Estate Fruit House that allowed du Pont to grow nectarines, kumquats, tomatoes, fresh herbs, grapes and other fruits and vegetables throughout the year.


Brandywine’s Agrarian Legacy

Chester County grows 60 percent of the country’s mushrooms, and its many restaurants and bed and breakfasts take full advantage of the abundant local fungi. 1906 at Longwood Gardens serves mushroom-shaped bread that accompanies its mushroom soup with locally grown shallots and chives or butternut squash bisque with smoked ricotta croutons and pistachio relish. The portabella mushroom and smoked mozzarella sandwich with balsamic and tomato ketchup and arugula is the perfect main course for those who want to continue on the fungi trail.

Other main courses for lunch include a Montgomery County pork loin with acorn squash spaetzle, Brussels sprouts and a mustard sauce and Pennsylvania rainbow trout with parsnip puree, mustard greens and cranberry emulsion.

James Dilworth built what would later become The Dilworthtown Inn (1390 Old Wilmington Pike, West Chester) in 1754 to accommodate his growing family. The British army quartered the inn shortly after the nearby Battle of Brandywine on Sept. 11, 1777, but Dilworth’s son Charles applied for a tavern license in 1780.

The Dilworthtown Inn has welcomed guests since 1972, and its cozy dining room is among the area’s best places to enjoy a hearty meal with fresh ingredients. A black mission fig salad, Hudson Valley fois gras and pistachio encrusted sea scallops were among the myriad of items on the dinner menu during a recent visit. Other dishes include mushroom soup, a Lancaster-braised boneless beef short rib with grilled asparagus, spiced walnuts, Asian pear and a cabernet-wasabi jus and a vegetarian tasting platter with toasted pine nut couscous, grilled bell pepper, roasted portabella mushrooms, cauliflower, broccolini and pan-seared tofu. The Dilworthtown Inn also offers guests a generous wine list and dessert menu.

The Brandywine Valley’s agrarian legacy can also be found in the more than dozen bed and breakfasts that dot the picturesque countryside.

Built between 1825 and 1837, the Fairville Inn Bed and Breakfast (506 Kennett Pike, Chadds Ford) has 13 rooms and two suites located on five acres. Built in 1856, the Hamanassett Bed and Breakfast and Carriage House (725 Darlington Road, Media) was named one of the commonwealth’s top 10 B&Bs in 2010.

The Brandywine Country Cooking School is also located on the property. Built by William Baldwin and designed by Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan, Faunbrook Bed and Breakfast (699 W. Rosedale Ave., West Chester) features six rooms named in honor of then-powerful Congressman Smedley Darlington’s wife and six children. It is also located within short proximity to West Chester University.

Adjacent to Longwood Gardens, the Inn at Whitewing Farm (370 Valley Road, West Chester) dates back to the 1700s when William Penn sold the 46 acre homestead to the Peirce family. The property features six rooms and suites in the carriage house and adjacent barns and stables with plush homemade beddings, marble floor bathrooms and built-in bookcases. Innkeeper Lance Short prepares breakfast each morning in the restored 1796 hay barn between 8:30 - 9:30 a.m. French toast, yogurt parfait with fresh raspberries and blueberries and freshly baked scones were served on during a recent stay. Coffee, tea, juice and snacks are always available.


The Gay Drillmaster of Valley Forge

The Battle of Brandywine that took place in Chadds Ford on Sept. 11, 1777, is among the Revolutionary War’s most pivotal moments. General William Howe and the British army defeated Major Gen. George Washington and his ill-equipped and clearly out-maneuvered Continental Army during the Philadelphia Campaign. This defeat facilitated the occupation of the revolutionary capital until June 1778.

Twelve thousand Continental troops weathered the winter of 1777-1778 in Valley Forge, which is named after an iron forge on Valley Creek that is 18 miles-a day’s walk-northwest of Philadelphia. The army arrived in Valley Forge on Dec. 19, 1777, and soldiers eventually built 2,000 huts, miles of protective trenches along the camp’s perimeter, five earthen forts and even a bridge over the nearby Schuylkill River.

Washington and his top generals used Isaac Potts’ five room house near the confluence of Valley Creek and the Schuylkill River as their headquarters. Inadequate food, shelter, clothing and sanitation plagued the regiments as they weathered the characteristically cold and damp Southeastern Pennsylvania winter. More than 2,000 soldiers succumbed to sickness and disease while encamped at Valley Forge.

Known as the "Drillmaster of Valley Forge," Prussian Lt. Gen. Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben brought some desperately needed discipline and training to the Continental Army at the moment it needed it the most.

Rumors about von Steuben’s homosexuality had swirled in Europe long before he arrived in the United States, but he left Germany in 1777 after allegations that he had sexual relationship with young boys. Benjamin Franklin met von Steuben in Paris after Count Claude Louis, who was the French Minister of War, introduced the men. Von Steuben, his Italian greyhound Azor and four others arrived in Portsmouth, N.H., on Dec. 1, 1777.

Von Steuben agreed to volunteer to train the Continental Army, and he arrived in Valley Forge on Feb. 23, 1778. With Washington’s approval, he wrote drills based on European military techniques that the undisciplined soldiers could easily understand. The Continental Congress approved Washington’s recommendation to appoint von Steuben as Inspector General on May 5, 1778. The French had recently become American allies, but the newly trained Continental Army proved it could stand against the British at the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey on June 28, 1778.

Von Steuben wrote what would become known as the "Blue Book" based upon the drills that he implemented at Valley Forge during the winter of 1778-1779 in Philadelphia. The U.S. Army used it to train its soldiers until 1814.

Creed’s Seafood and Steaks (499 N. Gulph Road, King of Prussia) is a conveniently located restaurant that offers grilled yellow fin tuna, crab cakes, steaks and other dishes on its extensive lunch and dinner menus. With more than 400 high-end boutiques, department stores and restaurants, the King of Prussia Mall (160 N. Gulph Rd., King of Prussia) is the largest retail complex on the East Coast. Wharton Esherick’s hill top studio and home (1520 Horseshoe Trail, Malvern (610) 664-5822) contains more of than 200 of the famed sculptor’s works that reflect the area’s deep wood carving and furniture-making tradition.

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New Hope

Located along the Delaware River across from Lambertville, N.J., in Bucks County, New Hope has drawn artists, Broadway and off-Broadway actors and producers and other creative types since the mid-1800s.

Grace Kelly, Leslie Nielsen, June Lockhart, Frances Reid, Walter Matthau, Merv Griffin, Robert Redford and Liza Minnelli are among the legends who have graced the Bucks County Playhouse stage since it opened its doors in the 1930s. Gays and lesbians from nearby Philadelphia and New York City have vacationed in the area since the 1950s. Founded in 2004, New Hope Celebrates features performances, events, parties and fundraisers each May. The festival culminates with a Pride parade that draws thousands of people to downtown New Hope each year.

There are a myriad of hotels and B&Bs in New Hope and in surrounding areas that allow travelers to experience the charm for which New Hope and the surrounding countryside is known. Originally a tavern that New Hope founder John Wells built in 1722, the Logan Inn (10 W. Ferry St.) in downtown New Hope features 19 rooms and a restaurant that features lunch, dinner, bistro and weekend brunch menu. Built in 1817, the Stephan House (28 W. Bridge St.) in downtown New Hope features eight rooms. Another option is the Hotel du Village (2535 River Road) with its 20 guestrooms and restaurant that serves escargots, Belgian endive salad, veal escalope, encrusted rabbit, frog legs and a variety of other French dishes in its restaurant every day outside of Mondays and Tuesdays. The Wishing Well Guest House (144 Old York Road) contains six rooms on an old farmstead that contains an acre of woodland and a wishing well that gives the B&B its name. The 1740 House Riverside Inn (3690 River Road, Lumberville, Pa.) with 23 riverside rooms dates back to the colonial era. Several rooms have balconies overlooking the Delaware that afford the perfect place to enjoy an early morning cup of coffee against an autumnal backdrop.

New Hope’s abundant restaurants and eateries reflect the diversity upon which the borough is built.


Located in an old Methodist church in downtown New Hope, Marsha Brown Restaurant (15 S. Main St.) offers Creole cuisine that is as distinct as the Louisiana woman after whom the restaurant is named. The raw bar, crawfish etouffe, eggplant Ophelia, gumbo and French Quarter surf and turf are among the dinner menu’s offerings. Marsha Brown’s lunch menu includes burgers and traditional Louisiana po boys sandwiches. An extensive wine and cocktail menu is also on tap.

Locals tout Karla’s (5 W. Mechanic St.) as the most popular LGBT restaurant in New Hope. It’s lunch menu includes baked Brie and macaroni and cheese, omelets, mahi mahi sliders and roast pork, while dinner entrees include grilled vegetable penne, moussaka and ribeye steak. Karla’s also features a weekend brunch and a specialty martini menu that includes blood orange, white peach, pomegranate and passion fruit.

Located in nearby Lahaska, Waterlillies Restaurant (5738 Route 202) is an Italian American eatery that features an expansive omelet menu and eggplant Parmesan, pecan encrusted chicken and wraps for lunch. Dinner entrees include puttanesca, gnocchi with smoked mozzarella, peas and sundried tomatoes in a blush sauce and chicken topped with smoked prosciutto, spinach, and fresh mozzarella with a white wine and garlic sauce. Bowman’s Tavern (1600 River Road) is a gay-owned restaurant that serves fried chicken, meatloaf, sandwiches and other traditional pub food for lunch. Dinner entrees include chicken Marsala, Wiener schnitzel, shrimp scampi and pasta primavera.

The Raven (385 W. Bridge St.) has been the epicenter of the borough’s LGBT nightlife since 1979. The Oak Room plays host to cabaret and Karaoke, while the outdoor dance floor provides the perfect place to let loose or burn off all those dinner calories. The friendly bartenders also mix some pretty stiff drinks!


Philadelphia Showcases Its LGBT History

Philadelphia has taken pains to preserve its legacy as one of cities in which the modern LGBT rights movement was born-a historical marker commemorating the country’s first gay rights march that took place on July 4, 1965, hangs outside Independence Hall, while Mayor Michael Nutter helped to unveil a second marker outside Giovanni’s Room, the country’s oldest continuously operating LGBT bookstore, in Center City during the annual OutFest on Oct. 9.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell famously stumped for votes during his various political campaigns in the newly refurbished Woody’s Bar (202 S. 13th St.) as he worked his way up the local and statewide political ladder. Chelsea Clinton visited Woody’s as part of a gay pub crawl in support of her mother’s presidential campaign in 2008.

Center City-otherwise known as the Gayborhood among LGBT Philadelphians-contains an abundance of other bars and clubs that quickly fill up on weekend nights. Tavern on Camac (243 S. Camac St.) is one of the country’s oldest LGBT bars, while Voyeur (1221 St. James St.) is an after-hours club that is popular among revelers who leave nearby Woody’s after closing time.


Funky El Vez (121 S. 13th St.) describes its eclectic menu as "Mexican American meets East L.A. in a Tijuana taxi"-and the guacamole, quesos fundidos, nachos, tacos and generous Margaritas certainly do not disappoint. Another ethnic option in the Gayborhood is Opa (1311 Sansom St.) that features modern Greek cuisine in an intimate setting. The grilled octopus with chickpea fondue; stewed zucchini with gigante beans, okra and a poached egg, chicken with whole wheat couscous and Greek coffee are among the dozens of appetizers, small and large plates and desserts on the menu. Valanni (1229 Spruce St.) offers a Sunday brunch menu that is popular among locals and visitors alike, while the expansive Reading Terminal Market (12th and Arch Streets) adjacent to the Pennsylvania Convention Center is the perfect place to purchase traditional Amish pies and breads, Italian pastries, Middle Eastern falafel or simply locally grown produce.

Located adjacent to Reading Terminal in the city’s first high-rise building, the Loews Philadelphia (1200 Market St.) contains 581 rooms in what was once the PSFS (Philadelphia Savings Fund Society)’s headquarters. The boutique Alexander Inn (12th and Spruce Streets) contains 48 rooms in the heart of the Gayborhood. A breakfast buffet and 24-hour gym are among the Alexander Inn’s amenities.


Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.


Comments

  • Thad, 2011-11-18 12:54:18

    Thanks for mentioning our corner of the world! You might be surprised that the Dilworthtown Inn is probably the best place in the area for celebrity-watching. How so? Well, QVC is based in nearby West Chester. (You can take the studio tour, even...I’m surprised you didn’t mention it!) But they send their featured celebrities to Dilworthtown for dinner often...so if someone has a new jewelry line you’ll likely see them there. Or even Joan Rivers again. She likes the place. Due to the jobs available in the mushroom industry, Kennett Square has a thriving Mexican community - and the best Mexican restaurants in the area. The locals (including me) gladly gobble down the authentic tacos at Taqueria Moroleon and other neighborhood places!


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