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Bucks County's castle: Fonthill Museum

At the very edge of Doylestown, Pennsylvania at the intersection of Route 313 and East Court Street, looms Fonthill Museum, an intriguing and whimsical architectural structure. Crafted entirely from the imagination of one man, Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930), it stands as a monument to his travels, diverse interests and personal life. Consisting of 44 rooms of varying sizes, many with their own unique decor and themes, it is a truly magical place. Each space was lovingly fashioned and features Old Master prints, art, textiles, tiles from around the world, all manner of lighting devices and implements from ancient times.

A gentleman scholar and Doylestown native, Mercer was afforded the opportunity to travel to Europe with his Aunt Elizabeth Bigelow Lawrence while still a youth. It was during these tours abroad that his imagination ran wild and his infatuation with castles took root. Some years later, during the winter of 1907, plans were laid to create a castle right in his hometown. Mercer chose approximately 60 acres of land on the outskirts of town on which to situate his house-museum and just four years later construction was completed.

Although he had been a student of both the arts and law, Mercer received no formal education in architecture and Fonthill was one of the first re-inforced concrete residences in America. With a team of ten dedicated men and a horse named Lucy, Mercer set to work on his dream home, overseeing the entire process. For the time in which he lived, Mercer wanted the home outfitted with modern conveniences. For 1912, he went all out, installing plumbing, lighting and heating systems. In addition, an internal staff call-bell and telephone offered thorough communications.

Upon seeing his vision through to completion in May of 1912, Henry Mercer invited a multitude of family and friends to his house-museum. Special public tours were given via his housekeeper Laura Swain. The Bucks County Historical Society presently administers Fonthill Museum and hourly tours via guest reservation run daily. The site also offers specialty and holiday tours, educational programs and is a venue for special events, weddings and more. To register for a tour or receive more information, call 215-348-9461 or visit the Bucks County Historical Society website at www.mercermuseum.org.