The Brandywine River is a storied waterway west of Philadelphia, with its source two tributaries in the area of Honey Brook, Pennsylvania, and its mouth at Wilmington, Delaware, where it joins the Delaware River. Along its course are many places of interest, some quite celebrated and some slightly off the beaten track. We offer the highlights along this wonderful waterway, for your driving pleasure.
Begin in Honey Brook, in northeastern Chester County, Pennsylvania. The East and West branches of the Brandywine are within a few miles of each other, on either side of Honey Brook.
Following the East Branch of the Brandywine Creek
Out of Honey Brook go to Springton Manor Farm, a 300-acre demonstration farm, where you can tour farmland that has been under cultivation since the very early 1700s. Visit to tour the farm and see what’s growing. Continue on to Marsh Creek State Park for hiking, swimming, fishing and boating activities. From there, follow Creek Road (SR 282) into Downingtown, a woodland drive with the Creek on your left for much of the route. In Downingtown, Creek Road becomes Wallace Road (still SR 282), and then at US 30, continue through the intersection; you will now be on Brandywine Avenue / Downingtown Pike AKA 322 heading south out of Downingtown. Dining options in Downingtown include the Station Taproom for Greek salad and Lobster BLTs or the Orangerie at Glen Isle, a tastefully restored building with a lovely dining room; the seven course chef’s choice menu is available only three days per week and reservations are a must.
You will come to Gibson’s Covered Bridge, also known as Harmony Hill Bridge, crossing the East Branch, it is a 78-foot-long Burr Truss wooden bridge, built in 1872. Of the eleven covered bridges that once crossed the Brandywine this is the only one remaining. To drive across the bridge, which is now a one-way bridge, you will have to pass it, crossing the Brandywine on the old metal grated bridge, and then go left on Skelp Level Road and left again on Harmony Hill Road, thereby making a circle round to the bridge location again. This will provide you with a nice view of the Chester County farmland, en route. There is a small pull off just before the bridge, where you can stop to take a photograph. Or if you wish you can hike the East Brandywine Trail, starting from the parking area at Bradford Avenue, and walking to and then beyond Gibson’s Covered Bridge through the Brandywine Meadows Preserve and the Harmony Hill Nature Area. It is a pretty walk along the bank of the East Branch of the Brandywine, enjoyable at any time of year.
Continue s on 322 and then right on N. Creek Road, to continue following the Brandywine. You will be driving through the Laurel Lands Trust’s Stroud Preserve, dedicated to water use research centering upon the White Clay Creek tributary of the Brandywine. The city of West Chester will be eastward if you wish to visit to see the historic architecture including the Chester County Court House, Chester County Historical Society, First Presbyterian Church on West Miner Street, and the Cabinet of Natural Sciences Building, all of which were designed by Thomas U. Walter, famously the architect of the house and senate wings and the dome of the US Capitol. At Allerton Road your route becomes S. Creek road also SR 842. Continue on S Creek Road.
The east and west branch of the Brandywine converge to form the Brandywine River at Shaw’s Bridge Park, a nice spot for picnicking, fishing and hiking.
Following the West Branch of the Brandywine Creek
Again, setting out from Honey Brook, your first goal is Hibernia Park. A beautiful rural park that includes Hibernia Mansion, a golden yellow Palladian Revival home on Hibernia’s hillside, open for tours Memorial Day through Labor Day. Continue through Wagontown and Coatesville. Just south of Coatesville is Brandywine Outfitters Inc. at 2096 Strasburg Road, where you can rent a canoe to spend a leisurely day on the Brandywine. Take along a picnic lunch—reservations are required—be sure to ask about water levels and the speed of the current. Continuing south, you will come to the Laurel Lands Cheslen Preserve – over 1200 acres include a 2 mile section of the creek – 8 miles of unpaved trails ranging from easy to moderate. Here is located the star gazer’s stone, from which Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon made important measurements when creating the Mason-Dixon line. And then you will arrive at the confluence of the two branches.
The Brandywine River
Continue on Creek Road to US 1 at Chadds Ford, where you will want to allow plenty of time to see all the wonders of the Brandywine River Valley:
Brandywine Battle Historic Site – preserves the setting of the biggest battle of the Revolutionary War. It was fought on September 11, 1777. General Washington led the Continental Army and General William Howe led the British forces (who won this battle). Docents portray the soldiers from each side as well as the local farmers. There are special events all through the year, as well as guided tours of the park and battlefield. You may tour the Benjamin Ring House, George Washington’s headquarters during the battle.
Chadds Ford Inn is among the places where you may wish to dine. George Washington did. The restaurant maintains its old stone walls, dark wood, and exposed beams. Try the steak, with truffle pomme puree, sautéed mushrooms, pomegranate cabernet reduction and herbed butter. Save room for bread pudding. Other area dining choices include: The Mendenhall Inn, or The Gables at Chadds Ford.
Brandywine River Museum displays the work of the Brandywine River School of painters, and tours of the homes and studios of several of the Wyeth family of artists. Tour the home and studio that N. C. Wyeth bought in 1911 with proceeds from his illustrations for Treasure Island. You can visit his son, Andrew Wyeth’s Gallery, and tour the Andrew Wyeth Studio where he painted from 1940 until 2008. At the Keruner Farm reproductions of Andrew Wyeth’s works can be viewed on the tours, in the settings where he created them; parts of the house, barn and property show how he highlighted details to communicate a particular mood. Each tour is about an hour long, offered April 1 through November 23; children under 6 are not permitted.
In nearby Kennett Square is one of several DuPont family related national treasures, Longwood Gardens, the landscaped enclave created by Pierre S. du Pont, one of the three cousins who brought the DuPont company in to the 20th century. One of the top great gardens of America, the vast landscape includes fabulous water gardens and topiaries, and the extensive conservatories offer ever-changing breathtaking floral displays. Plan ahead and take a course given by one of the garden experts who comprise the staff at Longwood, such as the superlative floral designer Nancy Gingrich Shenk. Dine amid the blossoms at charming 1906 at Longwood Gardens. While in Kennett Square, visit the Mushroom Cap or the Woodlands at Phillips to learn about and sample some of the area’s famous mushrooms.
Continue Your Drive Into Delaware
Brandywine Creek State Park is a great location for wildlife and wildflowers, from songbirds to white tailed deer. You can even watch hawks migrating, September to November.
Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library is an American estate and museum (pronounced “winter-tour”). Henry Francis DuPont, the second of the three cousins who brought the DuPont company in to the 20th century, had as his hobby the collecting of entire rooms from historic buildings. The museum comprises the bulk of his collection, and its 175 period-room displays are filled with antique furniture, silver, china, rugs, artwork and documented fabrics. Tours are chiefly by reservation, and all but a few are limited to those who are 8 or older. The “Enchanted Garden” section of the grounds, is popular with those with have small children.
Hagley Museum and Library is an industrial history museum that traces the development of the early DuPont company, situated along the Brandywine River. At this site, you may also tour the first DuPont home in America. The Hagley Museum with its models of how things work and the ruins of the old gunpowder making enterprise are all immensely popular with children and young adults; it is located off Route 141 in Greenville, Delaware approximately 4 miles from downtown Wilmington, at the Tyler McConnell Bridge across the Brandywine. The Museum address is: 200 Hagley Road, Wilmington, Delaware.
Nemours is the 300-acre country estate of the late industrialist Alfred I DuPont, the third of the cousins who brought the DuPont company in to the 20th century, a grand home preserved as if the family has just stepped out and will be back in a few minutes, complete with a wonderful water garden designed by DuPont’s landscape architect son. The
guides bring the DuPont family history alive as visitors
experience the beauty of this grand house.
Wishing for just one more house tour? You are in luck! Rockwood Manor is quite popular with those in the know. The stone mansion is an American version of Downton Abbey, and reflects the way the Bringhurst family lived during the turn of the 20th century. Now owned by the state of Delaware, it is open for tours Wednesday through Saturday.
Dining in Wilmington? Try La Fia Bistro for hickory smoked scallops, ricotta asparagus, and red snapper ceviche; Juliana’s for Peruvian food with elegance and great taste; or Pochi Chilean Grille—have the empanadas.
The woodlands and meadows that make up the Brandywine Valley are perhaps the best feature of all, so consider a shade dappled drive to cool off on a hot weekend, or head out to the Brandywine just as the autumn leaves are changing. In every season, the Brandywine will charm you as you #DriveTheNation.