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Art, antiques, and what’s in bloom in Sandwich

By Ellen Albanese
Globe Correspondent / July 31, 2011

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SANDWICH - Heritage Museums and Gardens is that rare New England attraction that offers plenty to see on a rainy day as well as a sunny one. The site has concluded a three-year, $6.5 million capital campaign to complete renovations of facilities and grounds. These included the expansion of the J.K. Lilly III Automobile Museum housed in a Shaker-style round barn, a new Flume Fountain, and Hidden Hollow, an outdoor discovery area for children ages 2 to 10 and their families.

The 100-acre property is well known for its showy Dexter rhododendrons, which provide masses of color in May. In summer gardens feature daylilies, hydrangeas, and annuals. Trees (check out the dramatic weeping spruce near the administration building), shrubs, and flowers are all well labeled.

Nearly as colorful as the gardens are the antique cars on display at the automobile museum. The beautifully restored vehicles include a long, lemon-yellow 1930 Duesenberg once owned by actor Gary Cooper and a classic red 1922 Ford Model T Howe Pumper fire engine. New this season is “Born to Ride,’’ an exhibit of vintage motorcycles, in the same building. The models clearly show the evolution of this mode of transportation; the 1909 Pierce, with its black frame and wide white tires, looks more like an old-fashioned bicycle than a motor vehicle. Also on display are a 1920 Indian with sidecar, a 1936 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead, and a 1951 Indian Chief with a fringed seat.

Opened late last summer, Hidden Hollow is a magical place set in a dry kettle hole. Children can climb stepping stumps, navigate log balance beams, construct forts, build with wooden blocks, dig in the sand, make music on a marimba, and examine the natural world through magnifying glasses and binoculars. A two-story tree house, built by students at the Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School, will offer a bird’s-eye view of the hollow when it opens Aug. 18. “Kids today have lost the wonder of going outside to play,’’ says Ellen Spear, executive director at Heritage. “At Hidden Hollow, they can relearn that skill.’’

The American History Museum displays military miniatures, firearms, and the exquisite bird carvings of A. Elmer and Cleon Crowell. A new exhibit, “America’s Kitchens,’’ shows how the kitchen defines and reflects changes in American culture and technology. Artifacts run the gamut from stone crocks to crock pots, beehive ovens to microwaves, and include such blasts from the past as a turquoise blue 1958 GE refrigerator and a child’s Easy-Bake oven.

The Art Museum has an impressive collection of American folk art, including portraits, cigar-store figures, Nantucket Lightship baskets, and scrimshaw. This season’s special exhibit is “Flying Horses,’’ a look at the history of the carousel. And, of course, visitors can take a spin on Heritage’s own hand-carved carousel, which turns 100 this year.

Ellen Albanese can be reached at ellen.albanese@gmail.com.

If You Go

Heritage Museums & Gardens
67 Grove St., Sandwich
508-888-3300
www.heritagemuseumsand gardens.org
Daily through Oct. 31. Adults $15, ages 4-12 $7, under 4 free.