“Chairs on the ceiling? Whaling boats floating in the air? Conestoga wagons, Indian chief statues, and gallows… oh my!” These thoughts may course through the mind of a visitor to Bucks County, Pennsylvania’s Mercer Museum. Hardly your ordinary history museum, this six-story concrete castle acts as a 19th century Americana catch-all, that houses almost 300,000 handmade objects collected by the museum’s founder, Henry C. Mercer. This National Historic Landmark was built in 1916 by Mercer, an eclectic historian and archaeologist, who strove to preserve handmade American artifacts during the height of the machine-manufacturing age of the Industrial Revolution. On a visit there, you can explore the nooks and crannies of this slightly creepy castle. Everyday items such as children’s toys, cookery, medical tools, and furniture are displayed on the six balconies that overlook the main atrium where wagons and boats are suspended in mid-air and chairs are strapped to the ceiling. The Mercer Museum also boasts of an extensive library. With heavy arches and dark, foreboding walls the building looks like the setting for a gothic novel.
If, after exploring the castle, you find that you want to immerse yourself more fully into the wonderfully wacky designs of Henry Mercer, his nearby home, Fonthill, is also open to the public. Like the museum, Fonthill, a National Historic Landmark, is constructed out of concrete and contains many unique items, such as stuffed alligators and ancient cuneiform tablets. Designed with a mix of Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles, Fonthill also showcases Mercer’s famed Moravian tiles, products of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Fonthill provides tours for its many international and local guests. It is important to plan ahead when you visit Fonthill to make sure you secure a spot on a tour, which I unfortunately was unable to do.
Doylestown has many fine eateries although one of its most unique is found on the grounds of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. Located on a beautiful hilltop, one can admire the view of Bucks County’s rolling countryside while enjoying pierogis, golabki (stuffed cabbage), and other Polish specialties. While there, you can hear Polish spoken freely among employees and visitors. Proud of its heritage, the shrine hosts a much-celebrated Polish-American festival in late summer. For many people who are not Polish, including myself, the festival is a great introduction to this culture.
The quaint community of Doylestown is easily accessible for those who live in the mid-Atlantic area. It takes about forty minutes by car from Philadelphia and less than two hours from New York City. Two summers ago, my family and I were suffering late summer boredom, so we took a day trip to experience Doylestown. This trip was one of the best vacations I ever had. In the fast pace of today’s world, it’s hard to find relaxing family time. Doylestown emits a very family focused ambiance; my mom, dad, sister, and I were able to spend quality time together. From exploring castles to strolling the grounds of the shrine overlooking Bucks County, I had not only an educational experience, but also an enjoyable time making memories with my family. Although I have traveled to many far away places, my trip to Doylestown proves that sometimes the best vacations come from time spent close to home. Everyone, with family and friends, should take the time to explore their surrounding community. You never know what you might find…a whaling boat flying through the air, a love of Polish food, or happy family memories.
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