The 14 most beautiful home and garden tours in America

Published: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 @ 4:14 PM
Updated: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 @ 4:14 PM

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You might think home and garden tours are merely a superficial pleasure (the kind Grandma might enjoy), but you're only half right. Sure, these estates offer their fair share of sensory pleasures—the scent of blossoming flowers, the gurgle of fountains, the warmth of the sunshine as you traverse the grounds—but their beauty is far from skin-deep. To make our list, a property had to be as interesting as it is beautiful, and the result is a collection of homes with real stories to tell. A Georgian Revival mansion that housed descendants of Abraham Lincoln, a palatial, Charles II-style mansion so striking that three classic Hollywood films were shot there—these are the kinds of places you'll still be talking about long after you've left. And then there are the gardens—romantic, Italian-inspired grounds, tropical forests, the gardening world's versions of the Mona Lisa and David. Yes, Grandma would like these places, but who wouldn't?


1) Filoli, Woodside, California

Husband-and-wife gold-mine owners built this Georgian-inspired 36,000-square-foot house between 1915 and 1917, about 30 miles south of San Francisco. But the property's star feature is the 16-acre English Renaissance garden, which was completed in 1929. The 654-acre Filoli estate is known for its bonsai and magnolia collections, as well as the largest heirloom orchard in private hands in the United States.
Best time to visit: In February through August on the fourth Wednesday of every month (and the third Wednesday in September and October), Filoli hosts afternoon teas, where visitors snack on scones with fresh lemon curd and sip tea out of china cups. Open Tuesdays-Sundays (except holidays) until October 21 in 2012, 86 Cañada Rd., 650/364-8300, filoli.org, admission $15, tea $45 (including admission).

Join us on a photo tour of the homes and gardens.

2) Hildene, Manchester, Vermont

The 107-year-old Hildene is a must-see for presidential-history buffs: After all, it was built by Robert Lincoln, the only son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln to survive into adulthood. Set on a promontory 300 feet above the Battenkill Valley in Vermont's southwest corner, the Georgian Revival mansion housed descendants of the president until 1975 and still contains Lincoln family heirlooms, such as a 1,000-pipe organ installed in 1908, as well as one of only three of the President's iconic stovepipe hats in existence today. Hildene's gardens are notable for their multi-colored flowers, including more than 1,000 peony blooms, planted to resemble a cathedral-style stained-glass window.
Best time to visit: Mid-June marks the start of peony season; visit the Hoyt Garden to see Hildene's massive collection of the flowers (many from the original plantings) in bloom. Open daily (except for major holidays), 1005 Hildene Rd., 800/578-1788, hildene.org, admission $16.


3) Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Built in 1923, the Villa Terrace was once owned by Lloyd Smith, president of the A.O. Smith Corporation, which made bicycle parts, hot water heaters, and later heavy munitions during World War II. The place now serves as a decorative arts museum, housing pieces from the 15th to the 18th centuries, including an extensive collection of artisan iron crafts. The estate's grounds, which overlook Lake Michigan, are known for the Renaissance Garden, which was modeled after 16th-century Tuscany and restored in 2002. Highlights include bushes that sprout culinary and medicinal herbs and the Scaletta d'Aqua, a water stairway that flows down past three terraces of crab apple trees into a fishpond.
Best time to visit: Every year, on the first Sunday in June, the Renaissance Garden celebrates its official opening with free admission. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 2220 N. Terrace Ave., 414/271-3656, villaterracemuseum.org, admission $5.


4) Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia

Designed by Thomas Jefferson in the neoclassical style, this plantation home sits on a mountaintop 70 miles northwest of Richmond. From oval flowerbeds to winding paths, Jefferson designed every fruit, vegetable, and flower garden over two centuries ago. Today, those gardens are planted up to three times per year to let seasonal flowers shine, including bee balm and calendula. Don't miss the home itself, where you can see Jefferson's 18th-century furniture, books, and gadgets such as the polygraph, a device which used pens and ink to make exact duplicates of his letters as he wrote them.
Best time to visit: Spring and early summer bring the prettiest blossoms. Vibrant tulips reign late April; ornamental Sweet William and delicate Canterbury bells bloom in May. Open daily except Christmas, 931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, 434/984-9822, monticello.org, admission $17-$24 (depending on the season).


5) Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina

Set against the Blue Ridge Mountains, George Vanderbilt's 250-room chateau-style estate ranks as the largest private home in America. The 75 acres of formal and informal gardens—from a tree-specked shrub garden with meandering paths to a manicured Italian garden dotted with pools—were designed by master landscaper Frederick Law Olmsted, best known for creating New York City's Central Park. There's also a conservatory filled with tropical plants and a rose garden, which houses more than 250 varieties of the flower.
Best time to visit: During the annual Festival of Flowers (April 7-May 20), Biltmore's gardens burst with color as tulips and azaleas start to bloom. Open 365 days a year, 1 Lodge St., 800/411-3812, biltmore.com, admission varies by season and ranges from $35-$64.


6) Bartram's Garden, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Located less than 15 minutes from downtown Philadelphia, this 45-acre farmstead's bucolic vibe belies its urban surroundings. Not only do the grounds hold native species of ferns, wildflowers, and trees, including America's oldest gingko, but they're also home to the country's oldest living botanical garden, which botanist John Bartram started in 1728.
Best time to visit: In past springs, boats to Bartram's have departed from Philadelphia's Central City, though prices and dates have not been set for this year. After a cruise down the Schuylkill River, visitors are led on a tour of Bartram's grounds. Open year-round (except holidays), 54th St. and Lindbergh Blvd., 215/729-5281, bartramsgarden.org, admission $10; boat tour tickets available at schuylkillbankstours.tix.com.


7) Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, Charleston, South Carolina

A former slave plantation established in 1679, Magnolia contains America's oldest public gardens. They were constructed in 1840 by John Grimké Drayton, the original estate owner's great-great grandson, and opened to visitors three decades later. Today, the English-style gardens feature winding paths lined with native azaleas (Grimké Drayton is said to have introduced the flower to the U.S.) and antique camellias, as well as a pre-Revolution-era plantation house and a petting zoo with African pygmy goats and whitetail deer.
Best time to visit: Magnolia is known for its azalea collection—the biggest in the U.S.—so go in late March or early April when the flowers start to pop. Open year-round, 3550 Ashley River Rd., 800/367-3517, magnoliaplantation.com, admission $10.


8) Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami

Biscayne Bay glitters just beyond the 10 acres of European-inspired gardens and native forest at Vizcaya, an opulent, European-style villa built in 1916 as a winter home for agricultural industrialist James Deering. The mansion-turned-museum houses international antiques and art from the 15th through 19th centuries. But the real scene-stealer is the outdoor sculpture garden, which features artifacts like a Roman altar from the second century AD and the 290-year-old Sutri Fountain, imported from Italy especially by Deering.
Best time to visit: Romantics will dig Vizcaya's moonlight garden tours, which offer live music and a chance to gaze at flowers under the stars and are scheduled around full moons. Check the website for dates. Open daily (except Tuesdays and Thanksgiving/Christmas), 3251 South Miami Ave., 305/250-9133, vizcayamuseum.org, admission $15.


9) Naumkeag, Stockbridge, Massachusetts

This Gilded-Age mansion in the Berkshires was completed in 1886 as a summer retreat for prominent New York attorney Joseph Choate and his family. The 44-room house—which contains the Choates' furniture and artwork from Europe and Asia—sits among 10 acres of terraced gardens designed by America's first Modernist landscape architect, Fletcher Steele. Of particular note are the Blue Steps, four tiers of fountain pools surrounded by a grove of white birches.
Best time to visit: The fall foliage in the Berkshires is considered some of the most stunning anywhere in America. The leaves hit their peak in October so head to Naumkeag as close to the end of the season as possible to see the leaves beginning to turn. Open daily, Memorial Day through Columbus Day, 5 Prospect Hill Rd., 413/298-3239, thetrustees.org, admission $15.


10) Old Westbury Gardens, Old Westbury, New York

Hollywood has made good use of this palatial, Charles II-style mansion on Long Island's Gold Coast: North By Northwest, The Age of Innocence, and Cruel Intentions were all shot here. The estate was built between 1904 and 1906 for financier and lawyer John S. Phipps, with elements borrowed from classic British country estates and the medieval Battle Abbey. The collections of English antiques, American furnishings, and Chinese porcelain were amassed over the family's 50-year residence. Westbury House sits on a 200-acre property that once held a number of Quaker farms, surrounded by eight formal gardens, plus wooded paths, ponds, and more than 100 species of trees.
Best time to visit: Over 40 flower varieties (from lilacs to irises to tropical water lilies) bloom April through July, but leaf-peeping is a must in October, when Westbury's grounds burst with bold red, orange, and yellow fall foliage. Open daily (except Tuesdays), April 30 through October 31, 71 Old Westbury Rd., 516/333-0048, oldwestburygardens.org, admission $10.


11) Hermann-Grima House, New Orleans

Built in 1831 by a German-Jewish immigrant, who made his fortune in cotton, the pink-bricked Hermann-Grima house—which still includes its original mahogany dining table and hurricane shades—contains the only horse stable and functional outdoor kitchen in the French Quarter. Outside, the grounds include Versailles-inspired ornamental parterre filled with antique roses and citrus trees.
Best time to visit: Every October, Hermann-Grima commemorates 19th-century Creole mourning rituals with a "celebration" called Sacred to the Memory. The house is draped in black crepe, and a coffin is stationed in its parlor. It's morbid, sure, but it also happens to be the house's most popular annual event—and the closest you'll get to reenacting a scene from 1800s New Orleans. Open Monday-Saturday, 820 Saint Louis St., 504/525-5661, hgghh.org, admission $12.


12) Green Animals Topiary Garden, Portsmouth, Rhode Island

Have you ever seen a tree that looks like a teddy bear, or a reindeer, or a unicorn? You will at Green Animals Topiary Garden, one of the oldest of its kind in the country. Here, more than 80 plants (including California privet, yew, and English boxwood) have been clipped to resemble mammals, birds, and geometric shapes. The garden, which sits on seven acres overlooking Naragansett Bay, shares its land with a rose arbor and fruit trees. The grounds also include a white clapboard house that cotton manufacturer Thomas Brayton bought in 1872—a charmingly meager counterpoint to the ostentatious mansions of Newport, about 10 miles south of here.
Best time to visit: Summertime at Green Animals brings sensory overload: The herb gardens are fragrant, the on-site orchards brim with fruit, and Naragansett Bay is guaranteed to be a picturesque shade of blue. Open May 12-October 8, 380 Cory's Ln., 401/847-1000, newportmansions.org, admission $14.50.


13) Historic Deepwood Estate, Salem, Oregon

The 4.2 acres of formal English gardens and nature trails at Deepwood—a multi-gabled, Queen Anne Victorian home built in 1894—were designed by Lord & Schryver, the Northwest's first female landscape architecture team. The gardens, which are surrounded by the Rita Steiner Nature Trail, are full of romantic touches: gazebos, ivy-covered arbors, and fleur-de-lis-adorned gates.
Best time to visit: TheDeepwood Wine & Jazz Fest takes place in the estate's gardens on June 30; for $10, guests can stroll among the flowers while jamming out to local musicians. Oregon wine and gourmet snacks are on hand, too. Open daily (except Tuesdays), May 1-October 15; open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, October 16-April 30, 1116 Mission St. SE, 503/363-1825, historicdeepwoodestate.org, admission $4, though access to the grounds is free.


14) Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona

Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home and studio, where he lived from 1937 until his death in 1959, sits at the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in the Sonoran Desert. (The 550-acre property is now the main campus of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and the international headquarters for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.) The house, considered to be one of the architect's masterpieces for touches like the cabaret theater and shaded pool, was constructed with native materials such as desert rocks, and its translucent roof and slanted windows let natural light flood in. Wright was so energized and reinvigorated by Taliesin's desert landscape that he designed some of his most renowned buildings, like New York's Guggenheim Museum, in the abode's drafting room. Outside, the grounds include a sculpture garden filled with bronze statues and desert plants.
Best time to visit:
The year 2012 marks the 75th anniversary of Taliesin, and the milestone is being celebrated throughout the year with a series of symposiums, fundraisers, and concerts (check website for dates). If you want to skip the fanfare, sign up for the Night Lights tour, which runs Fridays from February through October. The two-hour trek starts at twilight and lets you experience Taliesin's grounds under the dusky desert sky. Open daily (except major holidays), 12621 North Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., 480/627-5340, franklloydwright.org, admission varies by tour ($18-$60), Night Lights, $35

Same-sex couple claim Southwest discriminated during boarding

Published: Wednesday, May 24, 2017 @ 12:56 PM



Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

A Florida same-sex couple claim Southwest Airlines refused to let them board with their three children and a grandparent as a family.

Grant Morse says the family was rebuffed at the family boarding area at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport in New York Saturday, The Associated Press reported. Morse said a Southwest Airlines gate agent told them that they were not a family, even though Morse told the agent that Morse and his husband, Sam Ballachino, are legally married. 

>> Read more trending stories

Morse said the family was forced to wait while other families were allowed to board, then the airline told them they'd saved four seats in the back of the plane, not enough for the family to sit together. Morse claimed that Ballachino's 83-year-old grandmother was placed in an emergency exit row seat.

Southwest defended its actions in a statement, saying that both parents were invited to board with their children but the third adult was not eligible to board under the airline's family boarding policy.

Memorial Day 2017: Travelers will hit highest level since 2005

Published: Wednesday, May 24, 2017 @ 11:43 AM

Foot traffic at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport checkpoints was heavy early Fri., May 27, 2016 before Memorial Day weekend. JOHN SPINK/ JSPINK@AJC.COM
John Spink/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

If you plan to travel Memorial Day weekend, expect a lot of company.

A whole lot.

AAA said more than 39.3 million people are planning a holiday trip at least 50 miles from home - the most since 2005 and a 2.7 percent increase over last year.

Of those, travelers, 34.6 million - or 88.1 percent - will drive to their destination.

“We think it’s because of the increase in wages,” said Garrett Townsend, public affairs director for Georgia. “People are feeling more comfortable about spending money.”

Adding to that confidence, he said, are gas prices. 

>> Read more trending news

“While gas prices are certainly not as low as last year, they are much lower than they were in 2015,” he said. Even if they creep up “I don’t think it’s going to increase enough for people to change their plans.”

Here’s the bad news: airfares, car rental rates and mid-range hotels will probably cost you more this year.

Average airfares for the top 40 domestic flight routes will be 9 percent higher this Memorial Day, with an average round trip ticket landing at $181, according to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index.

Need a room? Plan to dig deeper.  The average AAA Three Diamond Rated hotel will cost roughly $215, or 18 percent more than 2016.

The top U.S. destination is Orlando.

AAA expects to help more than 330,000 motorists during the holiday weekend, with the main reasons being lockouts, flat tires and battery-related issues.

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Add Hocking Hills to your bucket list

Published: Saturday, September 27, 2014 @ 12:00 AM
Updated: Saturday, September 27, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

While the Hocking Hills State Park is beautiful any time of year, with its scenic waterfalls and caves, many additional activities are offered in the warmer months. Park goers can enjoy horseback riding, ziplining, canoeing, and other activities in the area.

Directions to Hocking Hills State Park

 

From Dayton, take U.S. Route 35 East through Xenia. As you approach Chillicothe, take the State Route 159/Bridge Street exit toward U.S. Route 23 North. Turn left on North Bridge Street/State Route 159. Follow State Route 159. Turn right on State Route 180. Turn right on State Route 56 East/State Route 180. Follow State Route 56. Stay straight to go on State Route 664.

 

For more information, go to parks.ohiodnr.gov/hockinghills or call (740) 385-6842.

At the end of last year, Buzzfeed came out with its “22 Stunning Under-The-Radar Destinations To Add To Your Bucket List In 2014.” The places on the list sound exotic: Orchid Island, Taiwan; Ometepe, Nicaragua; Rangiroa, French Polynesia.

 

All the destinations are thousands of miles away from Southwest Ohio, except for one: Hocking Hills State Park, the only place in the entire United States that made Buzzfeed’s list.

 

If you haven’t been there for years or, worse, if you’ve never been there at all, that’s a downright crying shame because Hocking Hills in Hocking County is the geological crowning jewel of Ohio and is fantastic to visit regardless of the season. I’ve been there on sultry summer days; also, when snow was on the ground.

 

Personally, my favorite times are in the spring and fall. When I was there this past April, the seasonal waterfalls were spectacular — I could hear the roar of the falls long before I reached them. There’s not so much water in the fall, but the turning color of the foliage and milder temperature makes hiking a delight.

 

The park is comprised of five separate non-contiguous areas: Old Man’s Cave, Cedar Falls, Ash Cave, Rock House and Cantwell Cliffs. Old Man’s Cave is the most popular destination of the five, but the unique features of each of the other four sites are definitely worth a visit.

 

I carry a backpack with plenty of water and opt for serious waterproof hiking boots when I’m on these trails. A boot with a thin sole lets me feel when I’m stepping on loose pebbles or twigs. In the winter and spring, the trails can be slippery because of ice and mud. In dry conditions, they can be slippery because of loose sand and in the fall, leaves can cover the rocks and roots that jut out of the trails.

 

I also carry food — usually a cucumber and almond butter sandwich, some chips, a piece of fruit and maybe some nuts. There are picnic tables and shelters at all the sites. After a day of hiking, a special treat is a double scoop of ice cream at Grandma Faye’s grocery and general store on State Route 664 about 1 mile west of Old Man’s Cave.

 

On my last day of hiking, I splurged for lunch at Hocking Hills Dining Lodge, also about a mile from Old Man’s Cave. The lodge has an extensive menu that includes pizza, entrees like center-cut pork chops and ribeye, lots of sandwiches, burgers and oodles of beer. I loved the Better Burger ($7.95) with cheddar (add $1) on a homemade potato bun with hand-cut fries on the side.

 

WHY HOCKING HILLS IS SO SPECIAL

 

Hundreds of millions of years ago, Hocking Hills was submerged beneath the Atlantic Ocean, the currents of which deposited vast amounts of sand and gravel. When the ocean receded, the sand and gravel bonded with silica and iron oxide to form a unique kind of sandstone found only in this part of the world. The middle layer of this Blackhand sandstone (named for a non-extant large black hand that American Indians painted out of soot on the side of a cliff) was very soft, and about 10,000 years ago glacial meltwaters carved out deep gorges, which are now teeming with lush vegetation, gigantic trees with exposed and twisted roots, and moss-covered boulders where chipmunks like to scamper.

 

Old Man’s Cave

 

Located off State Route 664, Old Man’s Cave isn’t a cave, but rather a large recess in a 150-foot-deep gorge, its name inspired by a hermit who lived here more than 100 years ago and whose remains are believed to be buried beneath the ledge.

 

Besides the large recess, there’s plenty more to see. The site is divided into five major sections: Upper Falls, Upper Gorge, Middle Falls, Lower Falls and Lower Gorge. If you take your time to look around, you’ll see it’s all fantastically beautiful — and don’t be surprised to see what resemble human-like faces peering out of many of the rock formations.

 

Near the Upper Falls is a don’t-miss natural whirlpool called The Devil’s Bathtub. Water flows down a tiered waterfall into a round basin. According to folklore, the basin is so deep that it reaches Hell; actually, it is only a few feet deep.

 

Just don’t plan on bringing a bar of Irish Spring and jumping in. The Devil’s Bathtub is off limits to visitors.

 

Cedar Falls

 

The Lower Gorge Trail from Old Man’s Cave will take you to Cedar Falls. Despite its name, there are no cedars, but plenty of hemlocks, which early Europeans mistook for cedar. The largest and most spectacular waterfall at Hocking Hills State Park is here, where the Queer Creek tumbles into the chasm.

 

Now, for the geeky part: Scientists and engineers will appreciate the path leading from the parking lot accessible from State Route 374. Called Democracy Steps, it was created by Japanese artist and architect Akio Hizume, who applied the mathematical principles of the Fibonacci Sequence as well as Penrose tiling into the design of the path.

 

Ash Cave

 

A mile or so from Cedar Falls, after turning right on State Route 56, you won’t find any ashes in Ash Cave, and just like Old Man’s Cave, it isn’t even a real cave.

 

But when you reach the 700-foot-long horseshoe-shaped recess, you may feel like you’re on the set of a science fiction movie that takes place on Mars or some other desolate planet. You’ll also know you’re not alone — previous visitors have destroyed the primordial illusion by defacing the sandstone boulders by carving initials, names, other words and shapes into them. The enormous size of the recess, its peculiar quality of light, the sand and boulders, and the unauthorized modern-day hieroglyphics give Ash Cave a funky vibe.

 

Humans have been drawn to this place long before European explorers discovered enormous piles of ashes believed to have accumulated from centuries of fires. A group of sandstone boulders near the entrance of the recess is called Pulpit Rock because early Christian settlers used to hold church service here.

 

Ash Cave has a seasonal waterfall created by the East Fork of the Queer Creek. On prior visits, I’ve seen the pool of water below the waterfall shaped almost like a heart. Ash Cave is a popular site for weddings and a permit must be obtained from the park office (740-385- 6842).

 

There are two trails, an upper and a lower. The lower trail is paved, flat and wheelchair accessible.

 

Rock House

 

The only true cave at Hocking Hills State Park, Rock House is midway down a 150-foot cliff. It’s 200 feet long and features seven Gothic-like “windows.” American Indians used it for shelter and built ovens in some of the recesses. After European settlers arrived, it became a hiding place for outlaws and was nicknamed Robbers’ Roost.

 

I always carry a flashlight when I visit the cave because the floor is uneven; plus, in the wetter months, it can be slippery in spots.

 

The Loop Trail starts at the parking lot. I prefer going left, which descends much farther than the other route and provides a fabulous view of Rock House. But the price for that view is then having to ascend some very steep steps to reach the entrance of the cave.

 

Cantwell Cliffs

 

Not for the faint of heart, Cantwell Cliffs is both figuratively and literally a breath-taking experience. Located on State Route 374, it is the remotest of the five park sites, 17 miles away from Old Man’s Cave.

 

It’s a rugged trail that offers a heart-pumping descent through extremely narrow passageways — nicknamed Fat Woman’s Squeeze — to get to the bottom of the gorge.

 

This is a dangerous place so stay on the trail — not only for your own safety but for other hikers as well. During my recent visit to the cliffs, I’d descended into the valley when I suddenly heard a loud commotion and looked up in time to watch small boulders and rocks tumble down the recess because someone who’d gone off trail had stepped on a loose one. Fortunately, no one was in the path of the minor rock slide.

 

The ascent out of the gorge is very steep, and I’m always convinced that gravity here is denser by the time I make it back to the parking lot.

 

NEARBY SITES OF INTEREST

 

Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve

 

Named after W.J. Conkle, who carved his name and the date 1797 into sandstone, Conkle’s Hollow is another woolly place located off State Route 374. Hikers have two trails to choose from: the scenic floor trail and the even more scenic but very challenging rim trail 200 feet above.

 

The lower trail is pleasant and will take about an hour, in and out. The 2.5-mile-long upper trail, which is pretty darn rugged, may take 2 or 3 hours to complete. The view from the rim is truly spectacular, but is no place for babies, small children, pets or spouses/boyfriends/girlfriends afraid of heights. I’ve witnessed the breakup of a couple on this rim.

 

Rock Bridge State Nature Preserve

 

Located outside the town of Rockbridge, just off U.S. Route 33, Rock Bridge is the longest of several dozen natural bridges in the state of Ohio. The stone arch is more than 100 feet long; 20 feet at its widest and about 6 feet at its narrowest; and 50 feet above a ravine.

 
A 1.75-mile long loop trail will take you to the bridge. Part of the trail is a boardwalk over a bog. The area can be muddy, so you may want to carry a walking stick.

African-American Museum is worth waiting for

Published: Tuesday, May 02, 2017 @ 9:12 PM


            Desks and a wood burning stove from the Hope School are on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on Sept. 14, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Ken Cedeno/McClatchy/TNS)
            Ken Cedeno

WASHINGTON — It’s a project frequently referred to as “100 years in the making.” But if your travel plans include a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, be prepared to wait a while longer. The next tickets become available online May 3 at 9 a.m. — for admission in August.

Since the museum opened last September, the culmination of a dream conceived in 1915 by African American Civil war veterans, more than 1 million visitors have waited patiently to enter it. (The museum is part of the Smithsonian Institution, leading some to call it the Blacksonian, which is great deal easier to pronounce than NMAAHC.)

Once inside, visitors wait even more to view some of the 37,000 objects on display. If you’re the type of museum-goer who could roller skate through the Louvre, you might be satisfied in two hours. But many visitors take six to absorb the full experience.

Typical lines for entrance to the lowest level of the museum, which document the African American experience from 1400 to 1968 — a slave cabin, the casket of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a Jim Crow railroad car — last 45 minutes. Those waiting share space with equally-long lines of others waiting to sample food — Creole shrimp and grits, Gullah style Hoppin’ John, braised short ribs — in the 400-seat Sweet Home Cafe.

“I don’t see the lines getting any shorter,” the museum’s founding director, Lonnie Bunch, said in an interview last month. “I don’t think we’re going to have those moments when I can bounce a basketball through the museum — at least not for the next three or four or five years.”

“The museum’s design has also caused choke-points,” observed a reviewer in The Washington Post. “For example, the intentionally cramped entrance to the slavery section on the lowest level can’t handle the number of people who can fit into the massive elevator that ferries guests below ground. Museum officials have decided to not fill the elevator to capacity, which causes lines at the elevator two levels above.”

Traffic in the three floors above the Heritage Hall entrance level, which include a gift shop — T-shirts, coffee mugs, Kwanzaa items — flows more easily.

Level 2, “Explore Your Family History,” offers interactive displays. There’s the front end of a blue, 1949 Oldsmobile. Seated behind it in “the driver’s seat,” a six-year-old boy from Atlanta swipes a screen that calls up scenes of what he might have experienced if he were taking a trip in the ‘40s from Chicago to grandma’s house in Alabama. He sees signs on restaurants in Indiana refusing to serve “Negroes.” Gas stations in Kentucky whose pumps operated only for whites. One picture advises bringing an empty coffee can along because not all restrooms would accommodate him and his family.

On the same level, in a quiet room lined with computers, a man from Long Island searches for information about his great-grandfather. Spencer Thompson, he learns, lived in South Carolina in 1850, but was not a slave.

Level 3, “Community Galleries,”, honors African American Medal of Honor winners in the “Military Experience” gallery and sports stars in the “Leveling the Playing Field gallery.” An imposing feature in the sports wing is a life-sized statue of sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised an Olympian controversy with their black power salute during the playing of our National Anthem at the 1968 Games in Mexico City (only the most devout football fans might know that Smith played for the Cincinnati Bengals in 1969 — two games, one reception, 41 yards).

The museum tops out on Level 4, “Cultural Expressions,” two cellphone friendly displays dominate the “Musical Crossroads” gallery: the 1,200-pound Holy Mothership prop used at Parliament-Funkadelic concerts and the late Chuck Berry’s apple-red 1973 Cadillac. The car previously had been driven onto the stage for the documentary “Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll!,” which was filmed at the Fox Theater in St. Louis. That was the same theater from which he had been denied admission as a child because of his race.

An apt analogy, perhaps, for a museum that’s well worth the wait.

IF YOU GO

— The museum is located at 1400 Constitution Ave NW. Parking in the area is limited and visitors are encouraged to use public transportation.

— Open every day except Christmas from 10-5:30.

— Admission is free but all visitors, including infants, must have tickets, which may be obtained only online at ETIX.

— Advance timed entry passes are released monthly. The next release date is May 3 for tickets to be used in August.

— A limited number of same day tickets are available. Check availability at nmaahc.si.edu

— A limited number of walk-up tickets are available on week days only.

— For more information call 1-844-750-3012