The Mercer Museum & Fonthill Castle: Discover Henry Chapman Mercer’s Legacy

Fonthill Castle - the home of Henry Chapman Mercer

The Mercer Museum is located in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The museum was established by archeologist, anthropologist, and accomplished tile worker, Henry Chapman Mercer. Within the museum are objects that were collected by Mercer throughout his lifetime; most of them from his travels abroad. Down the road from The Mercer Museum is Fonthill Castle, the eclectic home of Henry Chapman Mercer which he designed and built himself. Touring The Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle will give you a look into the fascinating life of Henry Chapman Mercer.

About Henry Chapman Mercer

Henry Chapman MercerPhoto credit: Wikimedia

Henry Chapman Mercer was a world-renowned archeologist and anthropologist, and tile worker. He earned a degree at Harvard, then went on to study law at The University of Pennsylvania. Although he became a lawyer, he never actually practiced law. He decided to travel Europe the same month he was admitted to the Philadelphia County Bar. During this time, he became passionate about finding American artifacts and learning about German pottery.

Mercer became an accomplished tile worker. You can see his work in the Pennsylvania State Capitol building, where he created a series of tiles that depicts the history of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In 1898, he founded Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, where he worked until his death in 1930.

Between 1908 and 1912, he constructed his home, Fonthill Castle, just a short walk down the road, where you’ll see incredible displays on his tile work. Throughout this time, Mercer was collecting artifacts and pre-industrial tools. In 1916, his collection of items grew so large, he decided to build what is now The Mercer Museum to store everything.

All three of these buildings were designed and built by Mercer, who had no previous building experience. He was heavily influenced by The Arts and Crafts movement, which stood for more traditional craftsmanship. Given that Mercer was passionate about the pre-industrial era, this made a lot of sense. Mercer was scared that fire would destroy his buildings and collections, so all three builds were done using hand-poured concrete.

Mercer died in 1930 at the age of 73 after being in poor health for many years. Mercer never married or had children and by most accounts was claimed to be a very eccentric man. The Mercer Museum, Fonthill Castle, and Moravian Pottery and Tile Works are now all owned by The Bucks County Historical Society, where Mercer was a founding member.

About The Mercer Museum

The Mercer Museum

The Mercer Museum

The Mercer Museum holds items collected throughout Henry Chapman Mercer’s lifetime. A lot of his collection included pre-industrial era tools. Mercer worried that the industrial revolution would slowly wipe away hand tools from people’s memories, so he was passionate about preserving them.

The Mercer Museum

The Mercer Museum

He kept a ledger documenting every item in his collection (over 50,000!) and dedicated rooms and floors of the building to specific things he found. The inside of the museum feels a bit like a fun house. You’ll find everything from horse drawn wagons to old fashioned cooking utensils. It was really fascinating to walk through and see such a wide variety of items. While many people would have considered these items to be worthless, they meant a lot to Mercer.

About Fonthill Castle

Fonthill Castle

tile work in the Fonthill Castle library

The home of Henry Chapman Mercer was unlike any home we had ever seen. There are 44 rooms, over 200 windows, and 18 fireplaces inside. Mercer built Fonthill not only as a home but a place to showcase his tile works, which you’ll see throughout the space. Due to the fact Mercer had no building experience, the home definitely has some “imperfections” but it’s truly what makes Fonthill so unique. It’s incredible to think that Mercer was able to create such a massive and intricate space despite never having done so before. Touring the rooms of his castle, we were amazed by what we saw.

bedroom in Fonthill Castle

mosaic tile

More Information

Tickets for The Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle are purchased separately. Admittance to each is $15 for adults and you can purchase tickets online. Due to Covid-19, tours are required and limited. We highly recommend seeing both places if you have the time!

Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. Closed Monday
Mercer Museum Location: 84 S Pine St, Doylestown, PA 18901
Fonthill Castle Location:  525 E Court St, Doylestown, PA 18901

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