Boomeresque:Definition
1. Adj.: Describing a person born between 1 Jan. 1946 and 31 Dec. 1964
2. Adj.: Description of a person, place or thing possessing Baby Boomer je ne sais quoi
3. See also, Boomer, Esq.: A Baby Boomer who is also a licensed attorney (See, e.g., About).

A Visit to Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania and the Mercer Mile

by Suzanne Fluhr on November 1, 2018 · 25 comments

Mercer Museum, Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Mr. Excitement and I are baby boomers on the far side of the Big Six Oh, but taking off 2 days for a mid-week visit to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, starting in Doylestown, still felt like skipping school, a guilty pleasure. (Note: I’m pretty sure I never actually skipped school because I was THAT scared exciting.)

Bucks County is one of the four Pennsylvania counties adjacent to Philadelphia. It is just northeast of the city, bordering on the Delaware River and New Jersey to the east. As a travel blogger, I’d love to be invited to visit my 7th continent, Antarctica hint; but meanwhile, we welcomed an invitation from Visit Bucks County and the Galvanized America Inn to get to know our own back yard better. (Although we were generously hosted for review purposes, the opinions expressed here are my own.)

Historic District, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

The Doylestown Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 . 90% of the structures were built before 1930. One of these is the brick Lenape Hall built in 1874. Most buildings in the Historic District are much smaller in scale and architectural style.

It was only a little over 33 miles (about a 70 minute drive) from our Rittenhouse Square condo in Center City Philadelphia, to our first stop in historic Doylestown, the county seat (governmental capital) of Bucks County since 1813. For those who live in and around Philadelphia (and even New York City), a visit to Bucks County could qualify as a staycation. However, our overnight visit to Bucks County proved it’s possible to feel “away” without boarding an airplane, a cruise ship, or sitting in a car or train for many hours.

You don’t even have to drive from Philadelphia to spend the day visiting the Mercer Mile in Doylestown, Bucks County. At the end of this post, I’ve included a travel tip about how to visit Doylestown and the Mercer Mile from Center City Philadelphia using public transportation. This makes a visit to Doylestown, Bucks County a very convenient trip outside the city for tourists visiting Philadelphia from elsewhere who don’t want to have to rent a car.

We drove to Doylestown from the south on Route 611. I’m old enough to remember when the area was bucolic farmland. Today, it’s a trip past McMansion housing developments and strip malls, but that quickly gives way to Doylestown’s quaint historic charm.

Regular Boomeresque readers know I’m a bit of a history nerd, so I was eager to commune with Bucks County’s past. We started by exploring the “Mercer Mile” in Doylestown.

Meet Henry Chapman Mercer on the “Mercer Mile” in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

One of Doylestown’s favorite, and most eccentric, sons is Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930).  He was educated at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. However, instead of practicing law, Mercer indulged his inner Renaissance Man, and undertook serious study of archaeology, architecture, and history. His interests spanned ancient civilizations to the pre-industrial material culture of the United States.

statue of Henry Mercer on a park bench in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

I usually can’t resist a cheesy photo when I see a statue on a bench. A passing local in Doylestown told me I was sitting next to Henry Mercer.

Mercer widely traveled the world. He used an inherited fortune to amass a large collection of international antiquaries and art. He also became particularly interested in pre-Industrial Age American artifacts that had been used in daily life processes. He feared they would be lost with “progress”.

Mercer also developed a special interest in German and Pennsylvania Dutch (German) ceramic art, principally tiles. In 1898, inspired by the American Arts and Crafts Movement, he started what would prove to be a profitable business, the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works.

Between 1908 and 1916, Mercer designed and built three buildings in his hometown, Doylestown, Bucks County. He employed what was then a rare building technique using poured reinforced concrete. The large concrete structures were built by a small group of local laborers. Mercer’s buildings are very different from the local farm houses, and also from the architecture in Doylestown that features mainly the American colonial, federal, and Victorian styles.

We enjoyed visiting all three of Mercer’s buildings on what is known as the “Mercer Mile”. Fonthill Castle, the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, and the Mercer Museum, can all be visited in one day, including a lunch break and some time for window (or actual) shopping in downtown Doylestown.

Visit Fonthill Castle in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Between 1908 and 1912, Mercer built himself a concrete “castle”. Fonthill Castle is the first of the 3 structures Mercer designed and built in Doylestown. The castle sits in a park-like, 60 acre setting outside Doylestown’s commercial area.

Henry Mercer's home: Exterior Fonthill Castle, Doylestown, Pennsylvania

The exterior of Henry Mercer’s poured reinforced concrete Fonthill Castle.

We took a pre-reserved hour and a half guided tour of 15 of Fonthill’s 44 rooms with a small group of other visitors. We learned Fonthill has 32 staircases. Our exploration of the warren of Fonthill’s rooms required using using several of them. Therefore, the regular Fonthill guided tour is not advisable for those with mobility problems because of uneven concrete flooring and the ubiquitous narrow, concrete staircases. Four ground floor rooms are accessible by wheelchair and it is possible to arrange a special tour to include these rooms and the exterior of the Castle.

Fonthill Castle staircase, Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

The beginning of just one of the 32 staircases in Fonthill Castle.

As surprising and impressive as it is to come upon the exterior of a concrete castle in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the interior of Fonthill is equally intriguing. At times during our tour, I thought the term “mind blowing” was appropriate.

Fonthill Castle ceiling with Mercer Tiles

An example of the somewhat astounding riot of tile work on one ceiling in the 44 room Fonthill Castle.

The interior of Fonthill Castle is decorated from the floors up through the ceilings with tiles from Mercer’s own Moravian Pottery and Tile Works. Visitors find objects such as ancient cuneiform Babylonian tablets, and Chinese, Spanish, Dutch and Persian tiles, embedded next to Mercer’s own ceramic American Arts and Crafts style tile creations. Walls and ceilings that are not tile covered are left as raw concrete.

Mercer’s collection of 6,000 books is also part of the decor. We were not rushed through rooms because each had so much to see. Our guide explained that a practical reason for the denseness of the decoration is that Mercer used his home as a showroom for prospective tile customers.

Fonthill Castle library, Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Just a few of Henry Mercer’s collection of some 6,000 books displayed in his library room along with his omnipresent tiles.

Henry Mercer died in Fonthill in 1930, but his will specified his housekeeper and her husband who helped run the tile operation could live in the house throughout their lives. After the housekeeper’s death in 1976, Fonthill became a museum administered by the non-profit Bucks County Historical Society of which Henry Mercer was a founding member. In 1985, Fonthill was recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

If you go to Fonthill Castle:

Address: 

525 E Court St
Doylestown, PA 18901
*Adjacent free parking

Telephone: 215-348-9461

Website

Current Hours and Admission Fees:

Monday through Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm
Sundays:  Noon – 5 pm

Reservations are required for tours although, if possible, Fonthill will try to accommodate day of walk ins.

Fonthill Castle provides one-hour guided tours. Monday through Friday, For reservations and tour times, call 215-348-9461 or email fhmail@fonthillmuseum.org, Monday through Friday, the first tour starts at 11 a.m., Saturday the first tour starts at 10:30 a.m., Sunday the first tour starts at noon.  The last tour of each day is 4:00 pm.

Personal photography without flash is permitted during tours. We saw some signs that said photography permits were required, but that did not seem to be the case for personal photography during our visit.

Admission fees:
Adult: $15;  Senior (65 +): $13;  Youth (6-17) $8; Under 6: Free; Combined Admission to both Mercer Museum & Fonthill Castle: Adult $26, Youth $15

Visit to Mercer’s Moravian Pottery and Tile Works

Henry Mercer built his Moravian Pottery and Tile Works a five minute walk from his Fonthill home. Like Fonthill, the tile works was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985. There is a place to park your car quite close to each building, but walking between the two is also an option.

Mercer also used his poured reinforced concrete building method to construct the pottery and tile works during 1911 and 1912 to house the successful enterprise he had started in 1898. Again, he chose an American Arts and Crafts architectural style, but with eclectic references to a European medieval cloister.

Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

The exterior of Henry Mercer’s Moravian Pottery and Tile Works.

During his lifetime, Mercer actively marketed his tiles for major projects. In 1906, he supplied 16,000 square feet of tile for the floor of the Pennsylvania State Capitol building in Harrisburg, including 368 embedded mosaic tableaus, recounting Pennsylvania’s history from prehistoric times to 1906.

Since 1964, the Bucks County Parks and Recreation Department has maintained Mercer’s Moravian Pottery and Tile Works as a “working museum”. Thus, in addition to supplying mosaic tiles for many projects during Mercer’s lifetime, new tiles using Mercer’s designs continue to be available for purchase in the site’s store and also via an online catalogue. In 2014, Pennsylvania’s Governor and First Lady presented Pope Francis a gift of 4 Mercer tiles representing evangelists.

Visitors to the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works can view a brief film before taking a tour of the operation. There is usually at least one tile maker at work producing tiles in a manner Henry Mercer would recognize and of which he would approve.

If you go to the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works:

Address: 

130 E Swamp Rd.
Doylestown, PA 18901
*Adjacent free parking
Telephone: 215.348.6098

Website

Current Hours and Admission Fees:

Open Daily 10:00 a.m. – 4:45 p.m., except for some holidays
Last Tour starts at 4 PM
Admission Fees: Adults – $5.00, Sr. Citizens – $4.00, Children 7-17 – $3.00

Visit the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Between 1913 and 1916, Mercer built a museum in Doylestown in which to share his extensive collection of over 30,000 objects, representing aspects of pre-industrial American life. To build his museum, Mercer employed 8 day laborers and a horse. They used the same building technique of poured reinforced concrete Mercer first developed to build his nearby home (Fonthill Castle) and his business, the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works. The result is a building as impressive as the collection it houses.

Mercer Museum, Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

The exterior of the Mercer Museum.

Henry Mercer was a founding member of the Bucks County Historical Society. He donated the museum building and his collection to the Society which still administers the Mercer Museum .

Visitors enter the museum through a modern addition to the back of the structure. The collection is displayed on 6 flours surrounding an open atrium. Although the first impression upon entering the collection is that of a somewhat overwhelming hodgepodge, in fact, the collection is displayed much as Henry Mercer designated in what is actually a well conceived  order.

central 6 story high atrium of the Mercer Museum, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

The six story high central atrium of the Mercer Museum. That’s a whale boat hanging.

The objects are not displayed chronologically, but rather by “purpose” or discipline. For example, glass production, food preservation and preparation, a general store, printing, cloth making, whaling, and criminal justice, are but a few of the over 60 trades represented.

Mercer Museum, Doylestown, Bucks County, Spinning and weaving exhibit

The room with objects used in spinning and weaving prior to 1850 is just one of the many trades represented in the Mercer Museum.

Except for large items (such as a whaling boat) hanging on the walls of the atrium, the well curated exhibits are behind glass with fairly extensive helpful explanations. There is one interactive room where children can have a hands on experience.

Note: The original section of the museum is not climate controlled, so dress accordingly.

In the new section of the museum, there is exhibit space for special temporary exhibits. During our visit, there was a visiting, interactive exhibit aimed at children ages 3 to 10 called “Once Upon a Time … Exploring the World of Fairy Tales”.

Although the Mercer Museum clearly encourages visits by children, shepherding young children through the museum could prove challenging because the floors are uneven concrete in some places, including the stairs. This could also prove inappropriate for those with mobility problems. The cavernous structure amplifies and echoes sound. Unless visiting children can be scared cajoled into employing their “inside voices”, I suspect a visiting school group might enjoy the cacophony they could produce. During our visit, just 2 children did a credible job of being heard even when not seen.

If you go:

Address: 

84 S. Pine Street
Doylestown, PA  18901

For GPS: Pine Street & Scout Way, Doylestown, PA  18901

Free parking is available across the street from the museum.

Telephone: (215) 345-0210

Museum Website

Current Hours and Admission Fees

Monday – Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm
Sundays: Noon – 5:00 pm

Adult: $15;  Senior (65 +): $13;  Youth (6-17) $8; Under 6: Free

Combined Admission to both Mercer Museum & Fonthill Castle:
Adult $26, Youth $15

(For other admission categories, see the museum website).

Travel Tip for Visiting Doylestown, Bucks County from Philadelphia Using Public Transportation:

Our visit to Bucks County was a road trip, but you can easily visit the Mercer Mile (the Mercer Museum, Fonthill Castle, and the Moravian Pottery & Tile Works) from Philadelphia by taking the Lansdale – Doylestown SEPTA Regional Rail Line from Center City Philadelphia. Be careful to choose a train that goes all the way to Doylestown. It is about an hour and 45 minute train ride with lots of local stops. Once in Doylestown, according to Google Maps, you can walk to the Mercer Museum in 10 minutes from the train station, and from there, you can walk the mile to Fonthill Castle or use Uber or Lyft for a ride. (BTW, According to Uber, if you use my link to open your Uber account, you get a free ride.)

One of Philadelphia’s marketing slogans maintains that Philly is more fun when you sleep over. The same can be said for Bucks County, so I will be sharing our Bucks County dining and accommodation experiences in my next blog post.

When you visit a city, do you ever make time for a day or overnight trip in the surrounding area?

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Katie November 4, 2018 at 12:35 pm

How fun! I had no idea we had castles like this so close to where we live. Thanks for sharing! My husband and I will have to do a Bucks County trip soon!

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Doreen Pendgracs November 18, 2018 at 5:38 pm

I have never heard of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. But it looks like a great place to visit. Pennsylvania is blessed with so many amazing destinations to visit.

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Johanna Castro November 18, 2018 at 7:42 pm

What an interesting and historical road trip. What fun and I know how you feel about guilty pleasures, just taking off the two of you. We do the same in WA and feel like two naught schoolkids. Bucks County in Pennsylvania is all new to me. I love the historical aspect. Fonthill Castle looks like a place I’d love and somewhere I’d weave writerly ghost stories around!

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 20, 2018 at 12:58 pm

Oh. You’re right. Fonthill would be a great setting for a ghost story.

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Jeff & Crystal Bryant November 19, 2018 at 8:23 am

We knew we had missed so much, when we visited Philly. It looks like we will need to return, so that we can check out Doylestown in depth. Thanks for the tips and wonderful photos.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 20, 2018 at 12:59 pm

Philadelphia and the surrounding counties have a lot to see.

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Carol Guttery November 19, 2018 at 2:25 pm

The exterior of that castle looks like Ireland. But the inside looks like something from Gaudi’s Barcelona— all in Bucks County!

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Carole Terwilliger Meyers November 19, 2018 at 6:43 pm

Your post brings back such pleasant memories of my own visit to Doylestown long ago. I visited all three places as well and remember with pleasure the wonderful tiles in Fonthill Castle. What a treat to revisit with you.

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Lois Alter Mark November 19, 2018 at 10:11 pm

Though I’m certainly no history buff, your post already has me fascinated with Mercer and his many interests. I would absolutely love to check out Doylestown and learn more about its history through the Mercer Mile. So cool!

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Karen Warren November 20, 2018 at 6:28 am

I missed out on Doylestown during my recent visit to Pennsylvania. A pity because it looks very interesting – I’d particularly like to see the Moravian Pottery with its pseudo-medieval cloister.

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michele h peterson November 20, 2018 at 9:34 am

Henry Mercer sounds like quite a fascinating ( and eccentric!) character! I’m guessing he never married ( even though he looks quite handsome based on that bronze statue) as no doubt any wife would soon put an end to using their home as a tile showroom! That mosaic roof at Fonthill Castle really is a riot of colour and texture.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 20, 2018 at 1:09 pm

You’re right. He never Henry Mercer married. Perhaps a tad too eccentric.

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Irene S. Levine November 20, 2018 at 11:51 am

It may have been cold but it looks like you picked a sunny day, perfect to showcase Bucks County. I’d love to visit Mercer’s Castle.

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr November 20, 2018 at 1:12 pm

Bucks County actually seems to be a bedroom community for New York City—since New Yorkers seem to be open to mega commutes. So, you could visit in a day trip, but it’s also a lovely place to sleep over. Lots to see and some very quaint and charming places.

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Rachel Heller November 21, 2018 at 11:11 am

It looks to me like the buildings on the Mercer Mile got better over time. What I mean is that the castle looks like he was practicing and got a bit carried away. No subtlety there! The other two are just much more attractive buildings! I enjoyed reading this: your comment about two kids, unseen but heard, made me laugh out loud!

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Sue Reddel November 25, 2018 at 2:43 pm

It’s fun to be reminded that sometimes visiting places just a few hours or less away from home can be just as interesting as those destinations we visit around the world. I could spend hours in Mercer Castle just staring at all the details.

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Kathleen A Landis December 3, 2018 at 6:29 pm

Don’t forget to visit Doylestown Cemetery Walking Tours. Located right next to Fonthill, and 5 blocks from the Mercer Museum with both the Bucks County Civil War Museum and the Doylestown Historical Society museums in between. Call both museums for hours. Cemetery Walking Tours by appointment only until June.

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Mike December 12, 2018 at 3:46 pm

I love small town America and history and I would get the best of both worlds here! 🙂 Yes I like to check out other places when I make plans. Fantastic post Suzanne! 🙂

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Lydia February 16, 2019 at 7:41 am

Hi Suzanne, what can you suggest the best place to stay that is easy on the pocket for a solo traveler?

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Suzanne Fluhr Suzanne Fluhr February 17, 2019 at 8:25 pm

If you’re not going to have a car, the least expensive option is to stay in Philadelphia where there are several hostels and take the commuter train to Doylestown for a day trip. Alternatively, check Air BnB for someone with a room in or around Doylestown.

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Robin Miller March 20, 2019 at 2:39 pm

Don’t forget Doylestown’s Michener Museum, a wonderful collection of what is known as the Bucks County School of Art, which also includes contemporary art. Aldo, Downtown Doylestown is known for its many fine restaurants, and the County Theatre for independent and international films.

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Kalyan Panja September 15, 2019 at 2:47 am

Thanks for the guide! We went to Pennsylvania (ok, only half a day) but we really have to come back there – so many nice places

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