Requiem for Yesteryear.

As the nineteenth century ended and the twentieth century began, the United States was in the midst of a complete change in its manufacturing – the technologically-powered Second Industrial Revolution. Many of the items that are considered commonplace in our lives today had their start during this time: bicycles, vulcanized rubber, widespread use of electricity, gasoline, steam turbines, and the diesel engine, among others. Yet advancements in one area can lead to declines in another. In this case, many of the jobs that had existed for hundreds of years were coming to an end, the artisans’ and craft workers’ skills no longer in demand. With the rise of vulcanized rubber came then beginning of the end of the wagon wheel. The advent of petroleum-based fuels meant that whale oil was no longer in demand, and with it, the end of whaling as a large-scale industry. Widespread electrification of cities and towns meant a decrease in the number of candles that would be needed to light buildings and homes. And on. And on. And on.

Henry Chapman Mercer spent his life ensuring that these trades would not be forgotten. After attending Harvard University and then completing his law degree at the University of Pennsylvania, Mercer left the field of law and apprenticed to learn tile making. His tiles were greatly in demand, providing him with a lucrative career. He used his earnings to seek to preserve the tools and artifacts of industries that were dying. In 1904, he built the Mercer Museum, a seven-story museum, made entirely of concrete. Created to house his growing collection of antiques, the 114-year old Mercer Museum is now a National Historic Landmark (via Wikipedia). After almost a week of rain and thunderstorms, I took advantage of a clear (if hot) day to travel to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and check out this unique site.

Before beginning, however, a few automotive updates are in order:

Odometer reading TRIP A 111111 111.1
The 100,000 mile mark feels like it was ages ago. I had a little fun with this next milestone, because, well, I’m a nerd. Unfortunately, not long after this, I encountered my first significant hiccup with my Accord…
Readout of vehicle inspection - all items are checked in a green box, indicating good status.
I had an unexpected pit stop. While braking, immediately before the car would stop, I began hearing a clunking noise from the front of the car. The noise would recur as I began to accelerate as well. My local Honda dealer diagnosed faulty lower ball joints, which I had replaced (failing ball joints can cause a wheel to literally fall off the car). Fortunately, the rest of the car seems good to go.
Map of eastern Pennsylvania, with a red pin in the location of the Mercer Museum.
Located about 45 minutes north of Philadelphia, the Mercer Museum is located in historic Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1745, Doylestown has been home to many famous residents, including Alecia Beth Moore… better known as the pop artist P!nk.
View of empty highway Route 202 through the windshield of a car.
After days of seemingly endless thunderstorms, wind, and rain, I was glad to hit the open road on a clear and sunny day.
2012 Honda Accord in front of Mercer Museum.
Arrived! In 2011, the museum added a new entrance that includes spaces for special exhibits, classrooms, and a gift shop (on the lower left).
White open wheel race car that says VICEROY on the side. A placard about the car says Black American Racers Inc 1975 Formula Super Vee.
A nice surprise- the Museum is hosting a special exhibit called “Racing: A Need for Speed,” which tells the story of racing in eastern Pennsylvania. The car featured here was run by the Black American Racers Association (BARA) in the 1975 Formula Super Vee championship. BARA was founded to promote African-American racing drivers, mechanics, and team owners.
Exhibit of drag racing items from Cargo Dragway, including a parachute, a "christmas tree," a tool box, and a Cargo varsity jacket.
The temporary exhibit runs from May 12 to September 9, and chronicles racing in various forms in eastern Pennsylvania. The first section of the exhibit focuses on Vargo Dragway in nearby Perkasie, a drag racing track that operated from 1960 through 1969. The device in the center is the starting line timer (nicknamed the Christmas Tree). The amber lights count down from the top of the “tree” to the bottom. When the green lights at the bottom flash, the cars race. When he was younger, my Dad raced a 1970 Dodge Challenger 440 R/T at Atco Raceway in southern New Jersey. Seeing this exhibit made me think of some of his racing stories.
1965 Dodge Coronet funny car in red and white. A drag racing "Christmas Tree" is on the left of the image.
My fascination with cars began at an early age, when my Dad would take me to drag races. Upon walking through the exhibit, I came across “Honker,” a 1965 Dodge Coronet funny car. The name funny car comes from the re-positioning of the rear wheels to improve traction – the cars were no longer like cars you would see on the street (hence the term “funny”). This is the ancestor of the modern funny car, a specialty race car which has a custom chassis covered by a carbon fiber body, powered by a nitromethane-fueled engine producing around 8,000 horsepower, and costing approximately $2.6 million per year to race.
Two race cars and one racing bike in a corner of the exhibit.
The exhibit moved beyond drag racing. In this corner was a 1940 Indian Scout Racing Motorcycle, a 1954 Dirt Sprint Car, and in the foreground, a 1966 Gerhardt-Ford Championship Race Car.
High Wheel Bicycle hanging from the ceiling in front of a display about bicycle racing.
The exhibit spanned other forms of racing, including horse racing, marathons, track and field, and bicycle racing. The short-lived “high wheel bicycle” here had some major safety issues – hit a rut or a rock, and you would be sent flying through the air. Modern bicycles, with same-sized wheels, were first called “safety bicycles,” for all the obvious reasons.
Central atrium of the Mercer museum, looking up at the exhibits.
The Mercer Museum: home to over 40,000 artifacts collected by Henry Mercer.
Tilework featuring Biblical scenes, mounted on a stone column.
Henry Mercer’s tile work is found throughout the museum.
Exhibit of stove plates, in five rows from floor to ceiling.
An entire room is filled with 18th century iron stove plates that were brought to America by German immigrants.
Objects, including a carriage and a rowboat, hanging from the walls around the central atrium.
With so many objects to display, space is at a premium. Items hang from the walls, pillars…
Chairs and cribs hanging from the ceiling.
…and even the ceiling.
Wooden gallows in a small room.
A small section on crime and punishment in early America features a historic hanging gallows.
View from under gallows.
And by historic, I mean this gallows was used in Bucks County, Pennsylvania until the early 20th century.
Small pills and medicines from the 19th century.
“Over the counter” medicine, 1880s-version.
Butter-making equipment, including butter churn and cream skimmers.
Dairy farmer tools from the 19th century, including a butter churn (back left).
Meat grinder and butcher's tools.
The butcher’s shop featured a meat grinder. Which reminded me of an old joke my grandmom would tell: “Hey, did you hear the one about the butcher who backed into the meat grinder? He got a little behind in his work.”
Wallpaper blocks.
In the days before computerized design and printing, wallpaper designs were carved into wallpaper blocks. Workers would take more than a year to create the blocks for one wallpaper pattern.
Stagecoach. Beside it is a sign that says STOP PAY TOLL & SAVE COST
A stagecoach. If you look closely to the right, you can see a toll sign for a 19th century toll road.
Toll sign and road signs.
This sign is for the Hartford Turnpike Road in Connecticut. From the sign, the toll for a horse and rider is 3 and 1/5 cents. A score of cattle is 12 and 1/2 cents. A stagecoach with four or more wheels is 6 and 1/4 cents.
Whaleboat suspended from railings around atrium.
An exhibit on whaling included a 19th century whaleboat. Whale hunters would set out from their large ships to hunt whales in these small boats that were powered by only oars. A sperm whale would be far larger than this boat – one swing of its tail and the boat could easily be destroyed.
Display of kitchen items including pots and bowls, around a hearth.
18th and 19th century kitchenware on display.
Items used for preserving fruit.
Medieval torture devices? Nope. These are some of the tools needed for preserving fruit.
Panorama of 19th century country store.
Hidden away in a corridor on the first floor (which I almost missed) is this replica of a country store. The center of small town life in early US history, the country store supplied building materials, clothes, kitchen items, acted as a bank and a post office, and was the social gathering place in the town.
Items for sale in country store, including sewing machine, socks, and a fan.
Some of the items for sale in the store. Remember, none of these items are reproductions. Everything in the store is at least 100 years old.
Exterior of the Mercer Museum
I spent over an hour touring the museum, and I feel like there was still so much more to see!
Exterior of Empanada Mama.
My wife had sent me an article about Doylestown that had restaurant recommendations, so for lunch I walked over to Empanada Mama. Empanadas are meat-filled pastries from South America and Spain.
Three empanadas in a cardboard box.
Empanada Mama is take-out only. Aside from a three-seat counter, there is nowhere to eat in the shop. I took my three empanadas (Corn, BA Beef, and Korean BBQ Beef) to a local park to enjoy. The verdict? Delicious. My favorite was the Korean BBQ beef.
Exterior of Fonthill Castle.
After lunch, I drove by Fonthill Castle, which was Henry Mercer’s home. Like the museum, Henry made his house out of concrete to avoid having it burn down – his aunt lost her belongings (including her collection of priceless medieval armor) in the Great Boston Fire of 1872.
Tile mosaic on ceiling.
I stopped by the visitor center of Fonthill Castle (it is open for tours daily). Having spent a good amount of time in Doylestown already, I decided to go home. I’ll definitely come back to tour Fonthill, however. This tile work in the house was done by Henry Mercer himself.
Exterior of Moravian Pottery and Tile Works.
Nearby is Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, also built by Henry Mercer, also made of concrete, and also open for tours. I’ll definitely be back!

The Mercer Museum is a fascinating time capsule of American history, of trades and crafts that would have otherwise been forgotten and faded into history. The museum is open Monday through Saturday, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm and Sundays from noon until 5:00 pm. Admission is $15 for an adult, $13 for seniors, children ages 6-17 are $8, and children 5 and under can enter for free. If you enjoy history or exploring how previous generations created the everyday tools and objects necessary for their lives, this is an excellent museum to tour. I’ll definitely be returning to Doylestown to visit the other buildings of Henry Mercer’s life.

Thanks for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!

‘Til next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Requiem for Yesteryear.

  1. What a cool (cluttered? haha) collection Henry put together! Odd that he would hang things from the ceilings and walls. I liked the exhibits on racing, and I’m still dying laughing at your grandmom’s joke about the butcher backing into his meat grinder, haha. Also pretty cool that Chapman displayed his tile work throughout the facility. Sounds like you had a good time. Yet another bucket list item for me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed the tour! Yeah, grandmom’s joke always made me crack up when I was a kid, and when I saw the meat grinder yesterday I instantly thought of grandmom’s joke.

      The racing exhibit was definitely a cool surprise. The drag racing display was fantastic.

      Like

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