Cape Cod Attractions – Heritage Museums and Gardens

Ah, Spring on Cape Cod!! The daffodils along the roadways are in bloom as are the trees providing splashes of color across the blue sky. And there is no better place to enjoy the Spring bloom on Cape Cod than a visit to The Heritage Museums and Gardens, located in Sandwich, MA. The Heritage consists of 76 acres of meticulously groomed gardens with several miles of paved walkways and trails.

The Heritage Museums and Gardens is probably most widely known for its collection of Dexter rhododendrons. Charles Owen Dexter was a very successful textile manufacturer in New Bedford who, in 1921, at the age of 59, was told that he did not have long to live. To live out his remaining days, he purchased the old Shawme farm. Despite the warning of his doctors, Dexter lived for an additional 22 years and during this time, worked with the noted landscape architect, Paul Frost of Cambridge, to transform the farm and surrounding woodlands into a magnificent country estate. Dexter took a personal interest in rhododendrons and starting with a Chinese species, Rhododendron fortunei, produced over 145 distinct hybrids noted for hardiness, size, color and fragrance . Today, the Heritage Museums and Gardens maintains thousands of rhododendron shrubs representing over 125 of these species. Since these scrubs bloom from mid May to mid June, it is not too late to book a stay at any of the Classic Inns of Historic Cape Cod Bay and visit the Heritage to view this amazing sight.

While the rhododendron gardens are spectacular, The Heritage Museums and Gardens also maintain various collections that bloom throughout the Spring, Summer and Fall with over 1,200 varieties of daylilies, 136 varieties of hosta and 62 varieties of heaths and heathers and a collection of specimen trees including European Beech, Fringe Tree, Chinese Witch Hazel, Weeping Spruce, Blue Atlas cedar, Silk Tree and Japanese Stewartia Tree.

In 1969, Josiah K. Lilly III, Great Grandson of Eli Lilly, purchased the estate and established the Heritage Plantation (later renamed The Heritage Museums and Gardens). JK Lilly was a noted philanthropist and first executive director of the Lilly Endowment, was a long time Cape Cod resident and through his own personal donations, was a benefactor of Falmouth Hospital, the JML Care Center, Falmouth Academy and the Cape Cod Conservatory of Music and Arts.


In addition to maintaining and enhancing the Gardens on the estate, JK Lilly also established several museums to house various Lilly Family Collections including an American History Museum, Art Museum and perhaps most famously, the J.K. Lilly III Automobile Museum . This museum, housed in a replica Shaker Round Barn, contains over 30 automobiles including several of historic significance including a 1909 White Motor Company Steam Car Model M which was one of the first official cars of the White House, owned by President William Taft) and a 1930 Duesenberg formerly owned by actor Gary Cooper. Other not to be missed exhibits are the working 100 year old hand-carved Charles Looff carousel and the 210 year old windmill.

The Heritage Museums and Gardens, located in Sandwich, MA is open from April 1 through October 31 and is an easy drive from any of the Classic Inns of Historic Cape Cod Bay (4).

This week’s post by the 1830 Quince Tree House. Stay tuned for next week’s post by Old Manse Inn.

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