The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) currently preserves and oversees acres of land containing Cape May's most notable Victorian-era landmarks, relying on a staff of 160 and nearly twice as many volunteers. At its inception, though, MAC existed purely as a volunteer effort. Passionate people came together with a simple mission: preserve area history. The founding members first joined forces to rescue the Emlen Physick Estate mansion?built in 1879?from demolition. Successfully fending off the bulldozers, they went so far as to restore it through volunteer man-hours alone.
Having preserved the mansion, the MAC crew decided to transform their volunteer-only organization into a staffed outfit. The new, full-time staff members did more than just run the mansion site; they set their sights, quite literally, higher. They restored the 1859 Cape May Lighthouse, a towering landmark that had been closed to the public for almost 50 years. They also undertook the restoration, repair, and oversight of Fire Control Tower No. 23, the last uncompromised lookout tower erected during World War II. They now oversee all sites, maintaining over 100 of years of history, which is presented through tours, events, and chats with talkative ghosts.
Imaginative play and exploration blossom in the natural world of Camden Children's Garden, where families encounter enchanting themed gardens and rides. Inside the four-acre horticultural playground, visitors walk among an imagined version of Ben Franklin's workshop and spot monarchs and black swallows inside the tropical environment of the butterfly house. Outside, an apatosaurus looms over the dinosaur garden, watching as mini archeologists uncover dino bones and the broken lamp he hid from his mother 80 million years ago.
Children stretch their imaginations as they live like their favorite fictional characters in the storybook garden and hunt for faeries in the Irish garden. Grownups can take a break while kids perch on rides such as a biologically diverse carousel that takes little ones up 30 feet and back down. The Arrow River train takes up to 38 children, 22 adults, and one confused buffalo on a 600-foot journey through miniature landscapes and attractions such as the historic Camden Caboose.
It's a child's paradise in the Garden State Discovery Museum, where pint-size patrons can climb up rock walls, cavort with wildlife, and imagine themselves as vets, doctors, and news anchors in hands-on exhibits. Red-eared turtles lounge in the wildlife area, inviting kids to gaze upon their slimy shells, and science displays teach guests about gravity, lava, and light.
Howard Pyle's unexpected death in 1912 brought a group of artists, entrepreneurs, and businessmen together to grieve their friend. They couldn't let the artist's passion for teaching and illustration disappear as quickly as he had; so, they decided to form the Wilmington Society of Fine Arts with the sole purpose of preserving his legacy. They gathered funds from locals who felt just as strongly as they did?family members, friends, students, fans?and purchased approximately 100 pieces of his artwork.
Little did they know that, with these 100 pieces, they were starting something greater than a memorial for a good friend. The Wilmington Society of Fine Arts would, over time, add more and more artwork to its collection, growing into an 80,000-square-foot space and out of its original name. The Delaware Art Museum, as its called today, now counts more than 12,000 works of art as part of its collection. Permanent features showcase British pre-Raphaelites, the urban landscapes of John Sloan, modern American art, and, of course, Howard Pyle. The masterpieces don't stop when visitors venture outside?the Copeland Sculpture Garden adorns its lush natural scenery with nine works from the museum's permanent collection, along with a massive outdoor labyrinth.
The area’s only living history museum with a focus on the New Republic Era from 1790 to 1830, Greenbank Mills and Philips Farm pulls the wool away from visitors’ eyes to reveal the development of grain and textile milling in America. Two breeds of sheep, leicester longwools and delane merinos, call Greenbank home, and visitors can follow sheepish locks from shearing through dyeing, as textile transmogrifiers spin them into gossamer strands destined for warm winter shawls and giant webs designed to ensnare skateboarders. Or guests can delve into Greenbank's 300-year history as a working mill by grinding grain by hand into floury heaps of summer snow.
Nestled inside a former railroad-car factory, the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts took shape in 1979, led by a small group of artists and art patrons. The DCCA moved to a permanent location in 2000—one with 35,000 square feet of space, seven galleries, and individual studios for 26 artists—but still clings to its original mission of building public appreciation for contemporary art through exhibitions and educational programs.
Although the center is a noncollecting museum, it does feature roughly 30 exhibits each year from regional, national, and international artists. These shifting collections explore relevant societal themes such as the public obsession with celebrity, the flippant nature of consumerism, and the effects urban metropolises have on how humans relate to nature and each other. The exhibits can use any variety of media, and the studio artists embrace this same freedom by using everything from paints to video in their works.
To engage visitors outside the gallery spaces, the DCCA hosts educational programs for adults as well as exploratory classes for children, which help wee ones create their own relevant, meaningful pieces. Tours allow groups to learn more about the exhibits while an informed guide tries to recite every single anagram of Delaware.