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Greater Philadelphia: Mansions and gardens to visit in March

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The greater Philadelphia region is steeped in history and stories of wealthy families who so influenced what we enjoy today. March is a great month to appreciate these four estates chronicled in our country’s early history.

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History open to explore

The Highland’s history began in 1794, when wealthy politician and merchant, Anthony Morris purchased some 200 acres. By 1796, he had completed the impressive mansion, but was forced to sell in 1808. The estate was expanded to 300 acres by the time it was purchased by wine merchant George Sheaff. The two acre formal garden, he first created in 1840, included a variety of grapes and a large garden described in its day as a striking example of science skill and taste. Miss Caroline Shinkler purchased The Highlands in 1917 and helped the property regain its elegance. Her niece, Emily and husband Nicholas Roosevelt owned from 1941 to 1957 when they gave the property to the Commonwealth. In 1975, The Highlands Historical Society formed to preserve, restore, and interpret this historic treasure. The Highlands Mansion and Gardens now include 44 acres and offer tours to visitors each weekday at 1:30 p.m. Be sure to visit this month of March. 7001 Sheaff Lane, Fort Washington, PA 19034.

The original part of the Peirce-du Pont home, built in 1730 by Joshua Peirce, was thirty years after the property’s original purchase from William Penn by fellow Quaker, George Peirce. But it was twin brothers Joshua and Samuel Peirce who had the vision and passion as they planted the first specimens of an arboretum in 1798. The property has been open to the public almost continuously since then. By 1850 the brothers had amassed one of the finest collections of trees in the nation. Industrialist Pierre S. DuPont purchased in 1906 to save the arboretum from being sold for lumber. He made it his private estate and added extensively inspired by his attendance to world’s fairs. The Peirce-du Pont house at Longwood Gardens is open for guests to appreciate its collection of historic photos, artifacts, and movies. As March may be cool, you may especially appreciate the four acre heated conservatory and 20 gardens during your visit. Longwood Gardens 399 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA.

The Hunting Hill Mansion property was originally owned by Delaware County millionaire, Sam Riddle, who is most notable for owning the race horse Man O’ War. In 1913, he gave the property to his niece Sarah Dobson Fiske and her husband Walter Jeffords. The Jeffords transformed the modest farmhouse into an old world English Tudor style mansion and grew the estate to 2000 acres, repeating the gray stone façade of on structures throughout the grounds. The formal gardens, which include a rose, topiary and fountain garden, were designed by the firm who designed New York City’s Central Park and other early national parks. The Jeffords sold the Hunting Hill Mansion and 2000 acres to the state in the 1960s. Today is a treasure for outdoor enthusiasts, horseback riders and numerous couples who choose Hunting Hill Mansion for their wedding day event. The Hunting Hill Mansion at Ridley Creek State Park, 351 Gradyville Road, Newtown Square, PA 19073.

Winterthur’s history began when Jacques Antonien and Evelina DuPont Bidermann built a home and named it after the small Swiss town from where Jacques’ family came. Evelina’s family had been nobles in France and had established EI du Pont de Nemours and Company, the present day DuPont Company. They moved into Winterthur in 1839, when it was simply a 12 room Greek revival manor house. After their deaths, the home passed to Henry Algernon du Pont, their nephew. His son, Henry Francis, is the one credited with Winterthur’s legacy and goal to create a museum preserving the best of American style and craftsmanship. The 1000 acre estate contains gardens he designed. His studies of horticulture taught him color theory and succession-of-bloom principles that he steadfastly put into practice. Today, visitors can enjoy a symphony like balance of textures, colors and fragrance. Visiting in March allows witness to the early colors of spring and may also be especially grand for the newest event that opened March 1st, The Costumes of Downton Abbey. Winterthur, 5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, DE 19735.

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