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Fonthill Castle

Henry Chapman Mercer, b 1856- d 1930
525 East Court, Doylestown, PA 180901 - view on Google Maps
215-348-9461
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“Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”
—Henry Mercer
Built between 1908-1912, Fonthill Castle was the home of archaeologist, anthropologist, ceramist, scholar and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930). Mercer built Fonthill Castle as his home and as a showplace for his collection of tiles and prints.

ABOUT

The castle serves as an early example of reinforced concrete and features forty-four rooms, over two hundred windows, and eighteen fireplaces. Fonthill Castle’s interior features Mercer’s renowned, handcrafted ceramic tiles designed at the height of the Arts and Crafts movement.
In 1856, Henry Chapman Mercer was born in Doylestown, PA, where he lived his whole life until his passing in 1930. He is known today for his legacy as an archaeologist, tile maker and collector.

Even as a boy, Mercer had an interest in collecting, stuffing his pockets with birds’ eggs and Indian arrowheads. After graduating from Harvard in 1879, he seemed destined by family tradition for a career in law, but soon found that history and art were his true callings.

In 1907, Mercer decided to build his dream home, using part of the inheritance his aunt had left him. The building was planned from the interior, he later explained, with little thought given to the exterior until all forty-four rooms had been “imaged and sketched.” Blocks of clay representing the rooms were piled up on a table, much like toy building blocks. All aspects of the castle were aligned, and then realigned until Mercer was satisfied with the silhouette of his home. He then made a plaster-of-Paris model to scale and used it as a reference throughout the construction.

Eight (sometimes ten) laborers, unfamiliar with concrete construction, were hired under Mercer’s “constant direction.” They learned his special techniques with poured concrete and built Fonthill Castle in four years. Mercer chose to use concrete for his castle because of its plasticity and its fire resistance.

Fonthill Castle was the first of three Mercer buildings in Doylestown and served as a showplace for Mercer’s famed Moravian tiles, which were produced during the American Arts & Crafts Movement. The Castle is an eclectic mix of Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles.

Today, Fonthill Castle is operated by the Bucks County Historical Society and is a designated National Historic Landmark. It is accredited by the American Alliance of is Museums and is open for daily one-hour guided tours.

Did you know...?

There are 44 rooms in Fonthill Castle, including 10 bathrooms; 5 bedrooms; at least 32 stairwells; 18 fireplaces; and 21 chimneys and air vents, and also a collection of more than 6,000 books.

SPECIAL RESOURCES

The Mercer Museum, operated by the Bucks County Historical Society, houses Henry Mercer’s collection of pre-industrial tools and objects of everyday life in 18th- and early 19th-century America. The Museum also maintains a research library, which contains manuscript and other special collections related to Henry Mercer’s life, work, and artistic pursuits. Henry Mercer’s private library at Fonthill Castle, shelved in rooms throughout the house, offers additional insight into his varied interests, thought and historical scholarship. And Mercer’s own art – pastels, drawings, etchings, and tile designs – may be found at both Fonthill and in the Mercer Museum collections. All of these materials are available for research by scholars and others interested in Mercer and his career. See our website regarding library hours and collections access appointments.

WHAT TO DO HERE

  • Daily one-hour tours of the house
  • Walk through the historic grounds
  • Enjoy seasonal community programs
  • Visit Mercer’s other buildings – the Mercer Museum and the Moravian Pottery & Tileworks (operated by the County of Bucks)