Thursday, November 19, 2020

A Million Lights Delight Young and Old in a Small Pennsylvania Town

Christmas lights
A million lights light up the night in Bernville
 

Every year around November, the sleepy little borough of Bernville springs to life attracting thousands to a winter wonderland that offers up a holiday helping of Christmas spirit and this year is no different.

Excitement builds as cars approach the crest of the hill that leads to Koziar’s Christmas Village. The blinking tableau of more than a million lights elicits wide-eyed amazement as sibling’s squabble for the best window position to lay eyes on the scene below.

The popular attraction, about 50 minutes from Harrisburg, has been bringing families together for 73 years.

“I grew up in the area and enjoyed Christmas Village as a tradition,” said Wayne Hoffman, who has since relocated to Florida. “It’s one of the fondest memories of my childhood.”

Hoffman returned to Bernville a few years back to take his mother on the pilgrimage for old time’s sake.

“I was happy to fly across the country to return and reflect on the past as I sipped on hot chocolate and viewed all the fun displays,” he said.

Plastic Santa and decoration
Photo ops abound.

At Koziar’s, visitors are led on a journey around the village via painted arrows to view both indoor and outdoor displays, while music changes with each exhibit and Christmas characters like Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman greet children for photo ops.

“It all started as a ‘labor of love,’” said Sonia Koziar, recounting the story of how her father, William, would decorate the property known as Spring Lake Dairy Farm. “People started referring to our property as ‘The Christmas House,’ and, before long, people were parking on the hill and walking across the fields for a closer look.”

Each year, the project grew bigger until the family ended up planning their chores around it.

“We had to milk the cows before turning on the lights because we didn’t have enough electrical power to do both,” she said.

At the end of each year, the family would gather around the table to plan what new attractions they wanted to add the following year.

The tradition of adding items has continued since. Added just a few years ago is a life-sized brontosaurus and a light show that takes place in the middle of the pond, which features a 30-foot-high twinkling tree that reflects off the water.

They join spectacles like Santa fishing off the pier, dolphins leaping out of the lake and a gargantuan American flag that lights up an 80-foot-high silo.

“We took the flag down temporarily to fix a few bulbs, and I asked our workmen to count the lights, and they counted 2,000,” said Koziar.

The “Kissing Bridge” is also popular, and, if it could talk, it would probably have a few romantic tales to tell.

bridge
"The Kissing Bridge" has been the site of weddings.

“A lot of people meet here on their first date, and some return a few years later to pop the question,” Koziar said, with a smile. “We’ve even had a few weddings on it, which we now try to discourage, because, as you know, it’s freezing this time of year.”

Scores of handcrafted, wooden characters dot a landscape featuring a plethora of scenes in genres ranging from fairy tales to children’s books to farmsteads and Americana.

Child peers in window
Decorated windows are at a perfect height for little ones.

“We employ a full-time artist just for touch ups due to sun damage,” Koziar said.

The self-guided tour leads visitors to miniature buildings that feature various Christmas themes, many of which are just the right size for little ones to peer into via a picture window.

“The four of us donated our childhood toys for various scenes and most are still there,” she said.

Larger buildings are open for visitors to duck in out of the cold to view other attractions, such as train displays. If you get hungry, you can snack on hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, nachos and hot chocolate, which are available for a reasonable price in the refreshment barn.

Train set
A large train set is set up in one of the inside buildings.

Of course, no Christmas Village would be complete without Santa Claus, who has his own headquarters and is ready to hear the wishes of all the girls and boys who visit.

After the first of the year, Koziar’s goes through the annual ritual of tearing everything down again.

“It takes us four months to put it up and two to three months to tear it down,” said Koziar, adding that the property is used as a working farm during the year.

She said the family enjoys the enthusiasm of the crowd the most and looks forward to seeing everyone this year. Because the business is in a sprawling, outdoor area, Covid hasn't presented much of a problem, according to Koziar. She does encourage people to visit the website, however, to learn about timed entry passes, which will be required this year during prime nights during Covid.

“We all love Christmas. It’s the pleasure we get from the people who come,” she said. “The children are ecstatic because they know Santa lives here, and we hear so many stories of people returning, year after year. That’s what makes it so rewarding.”

Koziar’s Christmas Village is located in Bernville, Berks County, at 782 Christmas Village Rd. To learn more, visit www.koziarschristmasvillage.com.

 

Friday, October 16, 2020

A History Lesson in Delaware's Brandywine Valley

I've learned quite a bit about history during my travels over the years, and my recent trip to Delaware was no different. 

My husband and I decided to stay at the Inn at Montchanin Village & Spa in Wilmington, not only for historical reasons, (it's among the top 10 oldest hotels in the United States), but also because of its convenient location.  Each destination, from the du Pont residence of Winterthur, to the Hagely Museum and Library and historic New Castle, is located within a 10 -20 minute drive from the Inn.

The Inn at Montchanin Village & Spa

Located in Wilmington Delaware's Greenville neighborhood is the historic  Montchanin Village & Spa. which is listed on the National Historic Register. and is comprised of 11 restored buildings that house 28 guest rooms. 

The settlement, named after Alexandria de Montchanin, grandmother of the founder of the du Pont company, was once part of the Winterthur estate, and was home to laborers who once worked at the du Pont powder mills.

Montchanin cottage

Our cozy cottage, named Tatnall, which we discovered was a college prep school in Wilmington,  included a sitting room, a kitchenette and a fireplace. 

sign

bedroom

Living room

kitchenette

The restaurant onsite, known as Krazy Kats, operates in a  renovated blacksmith's shop and serves upscale French cuisine.  It's anything but stuffy however, as you can see by the whimsical cats that festoon the walls. Krazy Kats is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and you don't need to stay at the property to dine there.



restaurant
Krazy Kats is known for fine dining, with a whimsical decor. 

restaurant

restaurant


Learning about the Winterthur Estate

eagle statue
An eagle greets guests in the foyer.
Jacques Antoine and Evelina du Pont moved into Winterthur (pronounced Winter tour) in 1839 when it was merely a 12-room Greek revival manor house. When the couple passed,  their nephew Henry Algemon du Pont took over property. Algemon was accomplished in his own right, having graduated first in his class at West Point, before later serving in the Civil War and being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery  at the Battle of Cedar Creek.  As the years went by, the house, which sits on 950 acres, continued to be passed down through the family and thus expanded. When Henry Francis du Pont assumed ownership of the property, the horticulturist and antique collector set about turning the estate into a museum. 

To understand the formality of the estate under H.F. du Pont, I'll quote from an article that ran in American Heritage written by Walter Karp on H.F.  "He slept in a Queen Anne bedroom, breakfasted in a Newport Chippendale morning room, played bridge in a 'Chinese' Chippendale parlor, and dined in a Federal dining room. Footmen in knee breeches attended to the family, and the atmosphere at Winterthur was so icily formal that one kinsman of  'Uncle Harry' thought it 'too tony' to bear and resolved never to return again. In a family not noted for humility, Winterthur was regarded as markedly pretentious."

The museum boasts 175 period-room displays containing approximately 85,000 objects acquired by H.F., who continued to add to his collection until his death in 1969. Artifacts span two centuries of American decorative arts dating from 1640 to 1860.

When we visited in October, the museum had just opened on a limitted basis after being closed for months due to Covid. 

One of the first things we saw, on our tour of the fifth floor after leaving the foyer, was a beautiful staircase that was brought to Winterthur from a 19th-century North Carolina plantation house.

staircase
Known as the Montmorenci Stair Hall, the beautiful, free-hanging staircase was brought to Winterthur from a 19th-century North Carolina plantation house. 

piano
A piano, which dates 1824-1833, made by Robert and William Nunn. 


china
Dinnerware used by George Washington. 

chiller

The Baltimore Drinking Room features wallpaper by Desfosse & Karth known as "Paysages Italien
."

dining room
The Dining Room.


sitting room
The Marlborough Drawing Room.

terrace
A terrace looks out over the property.

During our October visit, we also took a tram tour of the grounds to learn more about H.F.'s love of naturalist gardens. As a horticulturalist, it was important for him to select the best plants from around the world to enhance the landscape of his 60-acre garden. We saw the vibrant fall colors of the tree leaves as they turned yellow, orange and copper. Flowers like the pink autumn crocus were still blooming and crimson crabapple fruits loved by the birds lent additional color to the landscape. Visitors who wait for spring will see even more color when the hills come alive with vibrant azaleas, daffodils, bluebells, lavender, white and pink magnolias, while summer visitors will be treated to blooming daylilies, Russian sage, hydrangeas, roses and dogwoods, to name a few.

For those touring with children, Winterthur features a children's garden called the Enchanted Woods.
In her book, "The Magic of Children's Gardens," author Lolly Tai said that the garden was created as a place where children would be encouraged to use their imagination and enjoy the beauty of a naturalistic garden. A Faerie Cottage is in the center, nestled among the oaks and poplars and is, according to Tai, "the main, unifying element of the garden." As the children walk along the enchanted woods paths, Tai said, "they will encounter garden rooms that delight them." Highlights include mushrooms that spray water in the warmer months, a Fairy Flower Labyrinth, the Faerie Cottage, an 
"Acorn Tearoom," and a Troll Bridge.

The picture below appears in Tai's book and shows a child playing in the mist that emits from the Forbidden Fairy Ring and others frolicking on the Green Man's Face.
kids playing
The Galleries at Winterthur

exhibit


The frequently changing galleries at Winterthur are said to "enhance their permanent collection." During our visit, the main floor exhibit, "Revision 20/20, through a Women's Lens," celebrates the anniversary of the 19th amendment with items used by women who lived in the early years of the du Ponts.
Gallery

Those who know me, know I love fainting couches. (I own three). So, of course, this was one of my favorite pieces in the exhibit. The fainting couch below is estimated to date back to 1815-25. It's representative of fashion in the early republic that was influenced by ancient Greek and Roman precedents. This extraordinarily preserved New York couch represents the height of fashion, as well as a "costly expression of taste and form."

fainting couch
A fainting couch in beautiful shape dates back to the early 1800s.


antique table

antique table

Antique Stove
This rococo parlor stove dates back to the mid-1800s and is both practical and decorative.



Antique clock
An antique clock crafted in Elizabethville, Pa


Visitors who ascend to the second floor of the gallery will learn all about the "Lady of the House," Ruth Wales du Pont. Guests will learn about her love for her husband, her devotion to her daughter, her keen sense of humor and her love of music. 
Ruth du Pont


It's also been revealed through diaries and private letters in the Winterthur archives, that Ruth suffered from "melancholy" and anxiety, yet was lively and gregarious in public. 

The gallery includes a reproduction of her 1916 wedding gown, personal objects like her sheet music and traveling case and more to help the observer gain an understanding of what it was like to be Ruth Wales du Pont.

The Hagely Museum
Hagely visitor center


The Hagely Museum is comprised of 235 acres located along the banks of the Brandywine River and is the site of the gunpowder works founded by E.I. du Pont in 1802. Many guests think of war when they think of gunpowder, but it was used for much more, like mining and tunneling, which were extremely important in America's early years.

Guests begin their visit by checking in to the visitor's center where they can schedule a ride on a bus to take them to the powder yard to see historic stone structures that housed the manufacturing process, along with working 19th century machinery, waterwheels and turbines, black powder explosion demonstrations and more. 

The workers at the powder mill seemed to be quite happy living in their little community, according to author Glenn Porter, who wrote, The Workers' World at Hagley. The book goes on to say that the du Ponts treated their workers well. An excerpt quotes a worker as saying, "The du Ponts were so nice to us. We had no fear of any du Pont. We did respect them very much."
 
settlement
Stone structures housed the manufacturing process. 

du Pont explosive vehicle
Antique vehicles seen in the onsite barn. 

carriage

Covered wagon
Pre-Covid, the house was available for tours, but for now, it's closed to visitors. Officials suggest checking the website in the spring. 

Five generations of du Ponts lived at the house since its completion in 1803. When the home is open for tours, visitors will see it as it was when the last family member lived there--filled with furnishings, folk art and items that the family brought from France in 1799 as well later furnishings.

du Pont home and gardens
The house is currently closed due to Covid. Check website for  updates. 


rear of the du Pont home
The back of the house.

office
A side building used as the first office.

terrace
The Terrace.

The Hagely Museum also hosts special events and demonstrations throughout the year. You can visit their website to learn more by clicking here.

Historic New Castle
Marker

New Castle homes



During our stay, we made it a point to visit historic New Castle. Located six miles south of Wilmington, the old city was settled in 1651 under the leadership of Peter Stuyvesant. The walkable and quaint city features a few shops and restaurants, which includes Jessops Tavern--a must see. The building dates back 300 years and was once home to a cooper named Abraham Jessop.

tavern


tavern

tavern

Beer list
How do you like THIS beer list?

Jessop's Tavern
I saw some people eating what looked like a delicious meatloaf while we were there.

Jessop's Tavern is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week.

Other notable items for history lovers include the New Castle Court House Museum, the New Castle Historical Society and the Amstel House Museum, all of which were closed when we visited. We did take the time to walk the grounds of the cemetery there, where we saw the tombstone of George Read, signer of the Declaration of Independence.
New Castle museum


grave
George Read, signer of the Declaration of Independence is buried in New Castle.

There is a modicum of retail shops in New Castle too, where one can find books and antiques.
shops

This just scratches the surface of what to see in the Brandywine Valley region, especially if you're a history lover. For more information on things to do and see, visit BrandywineValley.com .