Rhodies in Bloom at the Heritage Museum and Gardens

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Dexter Rhodies

Just up the street from our inn here in West Barnstable, MA is Heritage Museum and Gardens, formerly known as Heritage Plantation. The beautifully landscaped grounds of the Museum are a naturalized woodland park on the edge of upper Shawme Pond in Sandwich, MA. Founded by the Lilly family, of Eli Lilly and Company fame, to house several of the family’s collections, the grounds encompass nearly 100 acres. Lovely at any time of year, the gardens really come alive in late May and June, when hundreds of Dexter Rhododendrons burst into showy bloom.

Heritage Antique Automobile Museum Set among the gardens are three unique museums, the most prominent being a Shaker-style round barn near the entrance of the Museum that houses the J. K. Lilly III Antique Automobile Collection. A stunning display of antique automobiles, the museum features over thirty antique American automobiles, including a 1913 Ford Model T, which our grandchildren loved to sit in and pretend to drive. Nearby is the American History Museum, which hosts an impressive collection of military miniatures, antique firearms, and the distinguished bird carvings of master carvers A. Elmer and Cleon Crowell.

The Art Museum houses two exhibition galleries. The first is a folk art gallery with portraits, weathervanes, Nantucket baskets, scrimshaw, shop signs, and other fine examples of American folk art. In the past the North Gallery exhibits included Currier & Ives lithographs and a wide variety of fine art paintings from New England. This year, however, it will feature the art of Frank Vining Smith, one of the last painters to focus his efforts on depicting the Golden Age of Sail.

Heritage Museum Carousel

The real draw of a visit to Heritage, especially for our grandkids, is the hand-carved antique carousel, which was purchased in 1971, ostensibly to entice more women to the museum. Located in the Art Museum, the carousel was made by Charles I. D. Looff. A ride on the carousel is free with admission and sparks ear-to-ear grins and shouts of delight from all who alight.

Also on the grounds is the Old East Windmill, which was originally built in 1800 in Orleans, MA. The windmill was purchased by the Lilly family in1968,and moved to its present location where it was restored and fitted with an electric drive. Surrounding the windmill are gardens of roses, hydrangea, day lilies, and hosta.

We enjoy walking the miles of paved paths throughout the grounds, which are dotted with benches every few feet so that you can sit in the shade and enjoy the view. Parking is free and complimentary shuttles operate in the middle hours of the day on weekends for those not inclined to walk. Visitors are welcome to bring a picnic, or take advantage of the seasonal café. The museum is open from April through October, though several special programs and workshops are offered throughout the year. Occasionally on summer evenings, Heritage hosts a family movie night or music concert in its outdoor concert theater.