Henry Chapman Mercer lived a life in full. Born of a leading family in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, he attended Harvard University and studied law at the University of Pennsylvania. He left the legal practice and spent almost eight years traveling throughout Europe. He then found archeology as his calling, working at the University of Pennsylvania as a curator of American and Prehistoric Archeology. During this time, he fell in love with pottery and apprenticed to a master potter to learn this art. Henry created a factory, the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, to produce hand-made tiles. Later in his life, he spent his time and fortune collecting the tools of crafts and trades that were being eliminated by industrialism. By the time of his passing in 1930, he had created one of the largest historical collections of American trades and crafts (via Wikipedia and Harvard Magazine).
I had previously visited Henry’s museum, the Mercer Museum, in May of this past year. However, I had not been able to tour the other museum that honors this unique man – his home, Fonthill Castle. Built between 1908-1912, Fonthill Castle is a 44-room colossus made from reinforced concrete. Designed by Henry, who dabbled as an amateur architect as well, Fonthill is decorated with tiles made from his tile factory, and is still filled with all the artifacts of his life, none of which are reproductions. On a cold, yet sunny, day in early February, my wife and I set off to explore this historic site.
Before I dive into the trip, however, I did want to pass along a few updates. First, on a sad note, I found out recently that Irv Gordon passed away in November. Irv attained fame for driving his 1966 Volvo P1800 coupe a Guinness Record 3.2 MILLION miles. His name is synonymous with “road trip warrior,” and beyond that, he seemed like a really interesting guy. I would have enjoyed an opportunity to grab a cup of coffee with him and chat about driving, cars, and adventures on the road. As he said once, “The long way around is sometimes the best way around.” This video captures Irv in all of his quirkiness and charm:
And now, some updates from closer to home:
As I mentioned above, this trip was the first time I experienced a significant snowstorm in the Adirondacks. Perhaps this short video of snow falling across a frozen lake can give you a sense of the weather we experienced:
And now, onto the trip to Fonthill Castle:
On the way home, I mentioned to my wife that, similar to the NJ Lighthouse Challenge we completed in October, there should be a U.S. Castle challenge, where tourists visit every major castle in our nation, a country established long after the great castles and chateaus of Europe were built. At least for one afternoon, however, we were able to explore a castle and learn more about a fascinating individual and his life’s work. Fonthill Castle is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm, and Sunday from noon until 5:00 pm. Admission is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors age 65 and older, $8 for children ages 6-17, children 5 and younger can enter for free, and so can US active duty military personnel and their families. AAA members can receive a $1 off discount, so make sure you show your card when you buy your tickets! One bit of advice: when planning to visit, call ahead to make a reservation, as the guided tours fill up quickly. If you are near Philadelphia, I would highly recommend detouring to charming Doylestown to visit the Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle.
Thanks for reading this longer post, and coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!
2 thoughts on “Castles Made of Sand”
I love the intricate details of the castle, especially in that tile work! What a testament to that guy’s skill in working with clay and pottery. Vietnamese food looks tasty. About that Accord though! Yikes – that’s a lot of salt, haha. Nice testament to Irv Gordon. He was an inspiration to many of us.
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The castle was really impressive in person – glad you enjoyed!! And it’s a shame about Irv- I really would have liked an opportunity to hang out with the guy at least once.