Pennsylvania’s Concrete Castle
Nestled on a rolling green hill in a small stand of trees in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, is the curious and singular Fonthill Castle. Built between 1908 and 1912 by renowned American architect Henry Mercer, his castle is one of the best early examples of poured reinforced concrete.
The castle, a unique combination of medieval, gothic and byzantine architectural styles, was designed to show off Mercer’s architectural prowess and house his prints and collection of famed Moravian tiles that were produced during the American Arts & Crafts Movement. He also lived there with his housekeeper.
The massive structure is now open to tours and programs that highlight the life and work of Mercer. Adjacent to the building is the Mercer Museum, one of the best showcases of everyday American life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The museum houses roughly 40,000 items that show how pre-Industrial revolution era Americans worked and lived. It includes tools, crafts and pieces that highlight the early occupation and trade in America. It’s a vivid display of early American life.
The castle was more of a curiosity than tourist destination through much of the 20th century. Mercer died in 1930 and left the castle to his housekeeper, Laura Swain, and her husband, Will. She occasionally opened the castle to tours until her death in 1975. By 1990, the Bucks County Historical Society had become the permanent trustee of the Mercer Fonthill Museum and worked to get Fonthill designated as a National Historic Landmark. The site is now accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.
These days, Fonthill is a crown jewel of Buck County and more than 30,000 visitors tour the museum and castle every year. It’s the perfect family destination and a great stop if you’re looking to get a little way off the beaten path.
The museum and castle are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission ranges from $8 to $14. Kids under 5 get in for free.