Photograph by Reflections by Ruth Photography
Henry Chapman Mercer’s neighbors in Doylestown, Pa., must have been intrigued by the construction that went on from 1908 to 1912 at the bachelor’s property on the edge of town. This Renaissance man—known as an archaeologist, antiquarian, artisan and inveterate collector of pre-industrial tools—was building a 44-room castle completely of hand-mixed, poured concrete and equipping the home, which he called Fonthill, with the latest amenities, like indoor plumbing, radiators and electricity.
A guided tour of the National Historic Landmark is a highlight of any visit to the Bucks County town. Fonthill is a wonderment of small rooms, hallways and staircases (32 of them). What makes the home extraordinary, however, are the tiles that adorn the ceilings, floors, pillars and walls—tiles of Mercer’s creation and those he collected on expeditions to Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
As a supplement to the Fonthill tour, visitors can stop at the Moravian Pottery & Tile Works down the hill from the castle. Mercer was a proponent of the Arts and Crafts movement. He found the pottery to produce handmade tiles from locally procured clay. The Tile Works is now run by Bucks County as a working history museum, where visitors can see artisans reproduce Mercer-designed tiles.
Mercer built another concrete castle to exhibit his collection of tools. It’s in the center of Doylestown. Every kind of tool, from butter churns to whaling tools to a Conestoga wagon, is displayed throughout the six-story, maze-like Mercer Museum, hanging haphazardly from the ceiling and preserved in massed collections in glassed-in alcoves, just the way Mercer arranged them a century ago.
The regional art museum, located next to the Mercer Museum, is named for another native son, writer James A. Michener. The James A. Michener Museum of Art will host “Offering of the Angels: Treasures from the Uffizi” through Aug. 11. The selection offers 44 Renaissance and Baroque paintings and tapestries from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
Doylestown also offers numerous restaurant and upscale shops clustered on Main Street and State Street. There’s also a community-based movie theater downtown, the County Theater, which shows independent, art and foreign films.
Good options for dining include Chambers 19 Bistro, Bobby Simone’s or the Freight House, which is near the train station.
Stay at the Stone Ridge Farm Country Inn on a 10-acre horse farm in nearby Perkasie, a 10-minute drive from Doylestown. The B&B is in a converted historic barn filled with antiques and by the paintings of innkeeper Jackie Walker. (visitbuckscounty.org.)