Michelle Greco Falcone, the communications manager for Visit Bucks County, recently emailed Day Tripper and asked, “Have you visited Bucks County, PA lately?”
Our collective reply was, no, we haven’t . But maybe that would be a good idea.
Falcone send us a short list of things to do and see in the county, and we’ll be looking into several of them as weeks progress. But we did note that this year is particularly significant for the area, as it is Fonthill Castle and Moravian Pottery & Tile Work’s 100th anniversary. The buildings, along with the Mercer Museum, tell the story of Henry Chapman Mercer, an American archeologist, artifact collector, tile-maker and designer of three distinctive poured concrete structures: Fonthill, his home; the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works; and the Mercer Museum.
Gayle Shupack of the Mercer Museum said of Mercer’s namesake structure, “The six-story concrete castle has delighted generations of visitors with its eclectic collection of 40,000 tools of pre-industrial America since it opened in 1916. The museum was built by Doylestown native, Henry Mercer, on the site of the original headquarters of the Bucks County Historical Society. More than 60 early American crafts and trades are represented including woodworking, metalworking, agricultural, textile, dairy tools, etc. The collection also features a whaling boat, horse drawn carriages and an antique fire engine suspended over head in the museum's Central Court area.”
There is a lot to explore here, so it may be time to start planning your trip for The Mercer Experience, our pick this time for Day Tripper, a weekly look at destinations that are out of town but in reach, and worth the trip.
DAY TRIPPER DIGEST
Estimated Travel Time: A little more than an hour
Why it’s Worth the Trip: Through a shared history, three destinations become one trip to explore. Some restrictions apply (which we’ll discuss in a moment) but there will be no shortage things to see after you’ve traveled the distance to visit Henry Mercer’s buildings.
How to Get There from Here: Detailed driving directions to the Mercer Museum
You’ll Probably Get Hungry: A lot of upscale dining choices are afforded the Doylestown visitor, from the Pennsylvania Soup and Seafood House, destination dining at Honey, indoor and outdoor options at The Freight House, European menus at Slate Bleu, and the nighttime atmosphere of Bobby Simone’s, to a more casual experience at Domani Star and Jules’ Thin Crust Pizza.
While You’re in the Area: A vast array of shops are within walking distance of the Mercer Museum like F.X. Dougherty Home & Gift, The Potomac Bead Company, or chill out at theZen Den Coffee Shop. Grab something for a picnic along the way from Andre’s Wine & Cheese, or indulge your fashion sense at Shop Sixty Five. Peddler's Village is a 15-minute drive from the Mercer and New Hope, a unique destination in its own right, is a 20 minute drive.
“Mercer's goal in preserving items which have become obsolete was to show people how things were done before mechanization. This point hits home when you see a rotary phone case in the museum's Central Court,” Shupack said. “In this day and age of cell phones how many young people have even seen a rotary phone before?”
Saying the exhibits at the museum provide something for everyone, Shupack added, “Children will love seeing the statue of Rollo, Henry Mercer's favorite dog and companion. Rollo's pawprints can be found in all three Mercer buildings. Young children, ages 3-8 will enjoy the 'Animals on the Loose' and also participate in an animal scavenger hunt around the museum.”
"While visitors will step back in time to enjoy the Mercer's original collections, we now offer a contemporary museum experience in our new wing (opened in June 2011) which features a state-of-the-art exhibition gallery and improved visitor amenities, a gift-shop featuring hand-crafted jewelry, redware pottery, children's toys, and more," Shupack said.
Currently, the gallery houses the exhibit "Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow, Living with the Atomic Bomb" through May 28. The museum's summer exhibit, "The Hunt for Treasure," will delve into Mercer’s archeologist side and immerse visitors in the science, history and thrill of treasure-hunting.
Taking another look at who Henry Mercer was, Ed Riedell, the site administrator for his home property Fonthill Castle, said that the structure would offer more of a glimpse into the man beyond his enthusiasm and inclinations, but there were things that potential visitors needed to know.
“With only a few exceptions a year, Fonthill is guided tour only. Reservations are strongly recommended, but not required. There is a limit to the number of people we can take at any one time, so if you really want to go on a particular tour it is best to call ahead,” Riedell said. “At this time we are offering two different tours every day: The regular tour and a special tour (that is only available once a day) called the Intimate Henry tour. That tour has a different route and a different focus. It looks at Fonthill as a home as opposed to a tile showcase or museum and [displays] Henry Mercer's private side [i.e. pet lover, music lover, matchmaker, cranky boss].”
“The Castle is a museum, so the normal museum rules apply. We do not allow interior photography, but guests can take photos outside. The regular tour does go out onto one of the terraces, where visitors can take pictures,” Riedell continued.
The Mercer Museum is located in Doylestown's Cultural District on Pine & Ashland Streets, across the street from the James A. Michener Art Museum. If you purchase a ticket to either museum, you receive a $1 off coupon on your receipt.
“Fonthill is next to the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works (the facility where Mercer's Moravian tiles were and are still made),” Riedell said. “The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works is operated by Bucks County as part of their parks and recreation deptartment, and thus separate from us, but guests there can see the tiles still being made and of course buy some to take home.”
The Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle offer a cost-savings dual ticket, The Mercer Experience. This can be purchased at either museum. Again, reservations are suggested at Fonthill. Both the Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle participate in the Blue Star Museums program where military families enjoy free admission from Memorial Day through Labor Day. AAA can be used for admission to either museum. Fonthill is located 1 mile from the Mercer Museum.
Shupack said that the Mercer Museum has been equipped to welcome everyone, including attendees with specific needs. The original Mercer Museum is about 65 percent handicapped accessible, and the new wing is completely handicapped accessible, she said.