Dash of Holiday Magic at Morris Arboretum
I’ve said it once (probably) and I’ll say it again (definitely.) If you stick trains and little boys in the same vicinity you have a winning toddler attraction. You put those trains in a beautiful garden and you have won this mama’s heart. You throw in some grandparents to enjoy the experience with you, well, needless to say everyone is over the moon at this point.
I knew nothing about raising little boys until I had Dek. I come from a family of girls, but even I knew that the Morris Arboretum Holiday Garden Railway would be a must see when we headed back east this past Christmas. It was a short drive from my parents and an easy morning excursion for the whole family. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to think this. Every other mom with a toddler was there. Quite a few grandparents too. We were all sneaking in one last outing before older kids got out of school and the holidays went into full swing.
My parents are members of the garden and had a few free passes that we took full advantage of. Dek is under 3 so he got in free. I’m sure the garden administration didn’t realize just how huge this train exhibit would be for Dek. If they did, we would have been charged full price for sure.
A short walk down a hill brought us to the permanent train installation. The “conductor” was there to greet us with a map of the trains and buildings. The trains run year round but gets all dressed up for the holidays. Natural materials like bark, leaves, mosses and acorns are used to build and decorate every element that you see. A group of volunteers maintains the exhibit with a lot of love and care that shines through in every detail.
As we wandered the 15 different train lines on over a quarter mile of track I spotted some easily recognizable Philadelphia sights. An engine whizzed by Betsy Ross’s house. Another shot past Independence Hall. Not only did we have trains, but we had a history lesson built in as well. One day we can bring Dek back for his grand tour of historic Philadelphia and pop back to the arboretum for a look at the tiny replicas. He might appreciate the buildings more then. For now, he only had eyes for the choo-choos racing down the track.
Of course no train exhibit would be complete without a peek at Thomas the Tank Engine and his pal Percy. We have none of these trains at home and never watch the show but still Dek knew who they were. I think it’s built into little boy DNA. Either that or his little friends teach him more than I think when we go to their houses.
While the Mike, my dad and Dek sat on a bench pointing out every train and choo-choo track, my mom and I snuck off for a quick walk. I got a quick glimpse of some of the other attractions offered in the gardens. There was a very cool tree house along with a refurbished 1908 log cabin where the original owners spent hours gazing at the stream that trickled by. Everything was open for kids to explore. The cabin even had Lincoln Logs available inside so kids could build their own cabin.
Even more family friendly activities are available throughout the year. Story hours, kid concerts, a plant sale, wetland tours and a cherry blossom festival are just a few events planned for visitors. With so much to do, and grandparents with an annual pass, we will be sure to check out the garden on a future visit. Hopefully next time I will get to see the rose garden in full bloom.
A Little History Lesson
Over a hundred years ago John Morris and his sister Lydia built their summer home, which they named Compton, in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia. As avid travelers throughout America, Asia and Europe they brought ideas, artwork and plants back to their home. The Morris siblings, who were from a wealthy iron manufacturing family, laid the groundwork for a school and laboratory of botany and horticulture. In 1932 the property became the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. It is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. I’d like to think that the Morris siblings dreamed of a day that their efforts would bring smiles to so many families. Small children have an open space to run, explore and discover what the natural world has to offer all thanks to a vision laid out so many years ago.
Know Before You Go
- Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, 100 E. Northwestern Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19118 · 215-247-5777
- Open year round except New Years Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
- Hours: Daily 10am-4pm, April-October weekends open until 5pm, June-August Thursdays open until 8:30pm
- Cost: Adults $16, Youth (3-17) $7, Children under 3 are free
- Picnics are allowed only behind the Visitors Center in the dining area
- The Compton Café offers a nice variety of food at reasonable prices
- The staff asks that you not climb the trees, sculptures or wade through the fountains.
- The Holiday Garden Railway runs from about Thanksgiving until New Years. Check the website for exact dates. If you are visiting outside of the holidays, call ahead to make sure the trains will be running. They do go offline for a period in the winter.