Travel Guide PA: An Unexpected Find at the Brandywine River Museum

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I like art museums. Well, I like them in the sense that it’s a nice way to kill a few hours, feel cultured, and maybe see something I’ll remember or be interested in to blog about. I’ve been to my fair share over the years. I’m not an art snob, nor do I consider myself educated enough in the subject to properly critique a painting or sculpture. My experiences have been wide-ranging. The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut left me awestruck while the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey made me want to run for the exits because of how nasty the workers and “security” were. I think non-art fanatics probably feel the same way: art museums can be stuffy, snobby, and dry. 

The Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania was going to be an activity which would eat up a rainy morning when we had nothing else to do. For $15 a person, it was not a bad deal. The first exhibit was a massive doll-house collection. When I say “massive”, I mean the actual size not the amount of dolls/pieces. The scale was large. It was like walking through an almost life-size doll-house. I loved it. Thought it was fascinating. But on the second floor was what really blew me away.

They had a large model train display. If you have been to the Choo Choo Barn in Strasburg, it was similar to that (and dare I say, better?). Mountains, valleys, streams, rivers, trees, buildings, and anything else you could imagine. Several trains rode the many intricately placed tracks. The freight train and main attraction had 118 cars. It actually took five minutes of staring at the same spot to see the entire train pass. Look, I’ve never been super into trains. I think they’re interesting. I’m not a “Rail Fan” or whatever they are called. But this was cool. Yes, cool. People of all ages (quite literally from infants to those in their 80’s) stood around smiling, laughing, pointing. There was too much to absorb.

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Little cute finds were everywhere. There was a tiny figure of N.C Wyeth (a local painter who is the main focus of the museum along, with his family) painting in the hills. A locomotive was overrun by about 15 tiny Minions and a drive-in theater played the Minions movie short films. There was a clearing in the middle of a forest that had deer scattered around who were being approached by an ape-like figure who could only be Bigfoot. On one of the mountains, a Flying saucer hovered overhead. The town itself was 1950’s themed. The trains ranged in eras. Christmas trees and decorations were all over the little village and its accouterments. A camera was hooked up to the lead-car of the freight train, streaming a live broadcast to a monitor mounted to one of the columns. You could see the ride from the train’s perspective. They had thought of everything.

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I was so excited. This was actually fun. What the heck was it doing in an art museum? Surely, this was too non-serious for a serious museum collection containing the Wyeth family and other local artists. Nope. Two workers, who apparently are full-time and focus on nothing else in the museum, stand by the massive switchboard, making changes, fixing train cars, and chatting with visitors. I wanted to go over and congratulate them for having what might be the greatest job in the world. My pictures of this exhibit will not do it justice. This was too amazing to be captured in its authenticity.

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We even returned the next day to see it one more time. Museum receipts are valid for a free admission if you save it for the day after. It was worth coming back. Everyone there was incredibly friendly and appeared to love working at the museum. My hats off to the staff and whoever runs the collections. They did a great job, making what is normally a stuffy experience fun and exciting. This is a must-see for train lovers, or anyone with children who love trains. It’s a permanent display but changes with the seasons.

The Brandywine River Museum is located at 1 Hoffman’s Mill Road in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. 

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