Special Features... Off The Beaten Path In Bucks

by Victoria Memminger

There’s a lot more to Bucks County than Revolutionary War battle sites and scenic state parks along the Delaware River. Fine examples of 18th and 19th century architecture in many of the small towns have been turned into museums and are open to the public, though some are by appointment only and others have limited hours. Some of the places listed here are unique and quirky. Others offer genealogy libraries and local artifacts. You can find everything from a canal locktender’s house to a concrete castle to the eclectic estate of a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author. If you are tired of crowds, long walks to and from parking lots, and high admission fees, these quiet, out-of-the-way places are the answer.

Fonthill Museum

Swamp Road (Rte. 313), Doylestown, PA (215-348-6722)—Henry Chapman Mercer was a lawyer who never practiced, an archaeologist, architect, author, collector of everything (and anything) and an authority on tiles. Thanks to a wealthy aunt, he toured Europe when he was in his teens and apparently never met a castle he didn’t like. His three buildings in Doylestown—the Mercer Museum, Fonthill, and the Moravian Tile Works—attest to his lifelong passion for the romantic, and they are as fascinating today as they were when he built them.

Fonthill, Mercer’s home, was designed and built by Mercer. The building, of reinforced concrete, was completed in 1912. It has 44 rooms (14 of which are included in the tour), 10 bathrooms, 18 fireplaces and 21 chimneys. From the outside, it looks like nothing so much as a breathtaking medieval castle, an impression that becomes even stronger upon entering. Narrow stone stairways lead upward from dark, catacomb-like passages; high windows cast beams of light into the dark corners; every available surface is covered with exquisite, one-of-a-kind tiles.

Mercer’s fondness for concrete extended to using it for built-in bookcases, writing tables, and dressers—all, of course, decorated with the tiles he was designing and producing at the tile works in his back yard. Perhaps the most impressive space is the Columbus Room, which traces the 1492 voyages in colorful mosaics that flow across the ceiling and down onto the walls. The tiles on view at Fonthill are not just those that Mercer created—they also illustrate his catholic taste in collections. The Delft tiles are believed to be one of the largest, most wide-ranging collections in existence; there are Chinese tiles representing 400 years worth of Chinese design; the Persian and Spanish tile collections he amassed were yet another source of inspiration.

Fonthill sits on 70 acres just outside of downtown Doylestown. In 1998 it was one of the subjects of A&E’s “America’s Castles” series, and it attracts visitors from around the world. Tours are limited to 12 people and should be scheduled in advance. (Open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. with the last tour starting at 4 p.m.)

Moravian Pottery & Tile Works

130 Swamp Road (Rte. 313), Doylestown, PA (215-345-6722)—This ìworkingî museum, designed to resemble a Spanish Mission, was started by Henry Chapman Mercer in 1910 and is still producing the hand-made decorative tiles and designs pioneered by Mercer.

           

Artifacts from the Moravian Seminary near Bethlehem, Pa., were an early influence on Mercer. As a proponent of the Arts and Crafts movement, his creativity in ceramics can be seen in Boston’s Gardner Museum, the Pennsylvania State Capitol, and thousands of public and private buildings around the country.

There are seven ceramicists at work in the tile factory and visitors get to see the production process; old tile-making tools and plaster molds are also on display. Tiles are sold in the Tile Shop. (Self-guided tours are available daily from 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., with the last tour starting at 4 p.m.)  

The National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa

654 Ferry Road, Doylestown, PA (215-345-0600)—In 1954, a reproduction of the pre-medieval picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa (a small town in Poland) was sent to the United States; the following year, the Pauline Fathers established the monastery and shrine in Doylestown. A large church, dedicated in 1966, sits on 170 acres and the site now includes, besides the church and the monastery, a cemetery, gift shop, and cafeteria. The complex is closed only on holidays—the church and the bookstore hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Tours are available only for groups of 25 or more and must be scheduled two weeks in advance. Visitors are welcome to tour the grounds and a brochure is provided for self-guided tours.)

Pearl S. Buck House

520 Dublin Road, Perkasie, PA (215-249-0100)—Although Pearl S. Buck is best known as the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Good Earth, her main interest was children. Pearl S. Buck International, which has its headquarters at this site, was founded to help children, who, as a result of their cultural and ethnic backgrounds, have been denied educational, social, and economic opportunities.

Ms. Buck spent much of her early life in China, but her adult years were lived in this 1835 stone farmhouse on 60 acres in Perkasie. The contents reflect Ms. Buck’s multicultural background: early Pennsylvania country furniture, decorative Chinese screens, oriental carpets, a silk wall hanging given to her by the Dalai Lama of Tibet, a rice china tea set, and works by well known local artists. She wrote her novels here and in the Awards Room both her Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes are on display, along with the hundreds of other awards she received. The International Gift Shop sells Asian merchandise and a selection of Ms. Buck’s books. (The estate is open from March through December. Tours are available Tuesdays through Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 1 and 2 p.m. and Sundays at 1 and 2 p.m. Reservations are required for groups of 10 or more.)

Erwin-Stover House

Route 32, Erwinna, PA (215-489-5133)—The village of Erwinna is named for the Erwin family who built the original section of this tenant farmer’s house sometime between 1798 and 1820. It remained in the Erwin family until 1846, when it was purchased by a mill owner named Henry Stover. One of Stover’s sons lived there, sharing the property with a tenant farmer, and added the western section of the house between 1870 and 1880. The property was left to Bucks County for use as a park by John J. Stover in 1955; restoration took place between 1958 and 1976. The house is an excellent example of both the Federal style of architecture (the original section) and the Victorian style (later additions.) (Open Saturdays and Sundays, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.)

Parry Mansion

45 South Main Street, New Hope, PA (215-862-5652)—A splendid Georgian colonial built in 1784, the Parry family home is in the center of the borough of New Hope. Until the New Hope Historical Society bought the house in 1966, members of the Parry family had lived there continuously for generations. It was restored by the Society and was established as not only a historic landmark but also as a decorative museum spanning 125 years (1775 to 1900) of American design in furniture and accessories. Each room represents a different period; guides are knowledgeable about the history of the house and the family and the furnishings. (Open April to December on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Group tours are by appointment only.)

Locktender’s House

145 South Main Street, New Hope, PA (215-862-2021)—This small pleasant house was built around 1820 and became the locktender’s house in the 1850s. The house is part of the Delaware Canal State Park, but it is maintained and kept open thanks to an arrangement with the Friends of the Delaware Canal, who restored it and serve as volunteer tour guides. There’s not a lot to tour—only the two rooms on the main floor are open to the public, but history buffs and elementary-school children will love it. The rooms are filled with local artifacts and the walls are covered with historical narratives and pictures explaining the operation and history of the canal. There’s no gift shop, but eight or nine pieces of canal-related merchandise are for sale and all profits go to helping the Friends of the Delaware Canal keep up their good work. (Open seven days a week, all year. From November through April, the hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; from May through October, the house is open until 4 p.m.)

The David Library of the American Revolution

1201 River Road, Washington’s Crossing, PA (215-493-6776)—In 1959, Sol Feinstone, a businessman, philanthropist, and collector of Americana, founded this library and named it after his grandson David, who was born developmentally disabled. In 1974, the present building was erected on the site of the Feinstone’s 18th century farm. To ensure the future of the foundation, Mr. Feinstone donated his extensive collection of Revolutionary War manuscripts, his farm, and an endowment. The library has a reference collection of 40,000 books and pamphlets and a microform archive of approximately 10,000 reels. It also has an extensive collection of British materials, some of which are not available elsewhere in the United States. (Open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.)

The Court Inn

Court Street and Center Avenue, Newtown, PA (215-968-4004)—The house that serves as headquarters for the Newtown Historical Association was built in 1734 and was a public tavern until 1818, when it was bought by a local hatter. Over the years, the inn was enlarged or modified eight times, the last in 1840 when the frame second story was added to the south wing. There are a number of interesting architectural features, plus artifacts and publications relating to the history of the area. (Open Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Thursday evenings from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. In the summer, the house is also open on Sundays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.)

Moland House

1641 Old York Road, Hartsville, PA (call for directions—215-345-6439)—The 1750 farmhouse that belonged to the Moland family is currently undergoing a complete restoration to its 1777 appearance, which was when George Washington made it his headquarters while preparing for the battles of Brandywine and Germantown. Set on 12 acres with a barn and tenant house, the farm is also the place where both the Marquis de Lafayette and professional Polish cavalry officer Casimir Pulaski joined the American cause. (Tours by appointment only.)

Langhorne Library

160 West Maple Avenue, Langhorne, PA (215-757-1888)—The original town library, built in 1889, will be of interest mainly to those who have traced their families back to this area or to those who are considering relocation to this pretty town. The library is run by the Historic Langhorne Association and offers a research library, old maps and photos, genealogy charts, and a gift shop. (Open by appointment and on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to noon and 7 to 9 p.m. From July to September, it is also open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon.)

Margaret R. Grundy Museum

610 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, PA (215-788-9432)—The house that is now the Margaret R. Grundy Museum was built in 1818, but the Grundy family, who owned textile mills, did not buy it until 1884, so the family furnishings and décor are mostly Victorian. It is in the heart of Bristol and the sizeable property runs along the Delaware River. The museum is under the auspices of The Grundy Foundation; two floors are open to the public and admission is free. (Open weekdays 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.)

 

 

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