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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Visiting a Castle in Philadelphia

Our trip to Philadelphia was jam packed. In fact, we didn't even spend the whole time in Philadelphia, especially considering we stayed a majority of the trip in Hershey. I'm not opposed to a trip that feels like a road trip, and it also gave us the chance to view the surrounding areas and an excuse to get out and see other surrounding cities besides Chestnut Hill (where we went to the Witches & Wizards Weekend. 

Lancaster wasn't too far from us, and we went there, too, but we also visited Doylestown and Kennett Square. In Doylestown, I saw they had something called Fonthill Castle. Obviously, I'm a person who loves a castle, so I was definitely in. Nearby was also the Mercer Museum, which houses Henry Mercer's collections of stuff, who built Fonthill Castle.

Fonthill Castle
This labyrinthine mansion was built from the ground up from concrete through trial and error. Henry Mercer always dreamed of living in a castle and with the help of a few laborers and a horse, he designed a bunch of rooms to house his handmade tiles as a sort of showroom for buyers. He liked the idea of telling stories through his tiles and the house was positively overrun with them. Wherever you looked, they were embedded in walls, the ceiling and even the floor, though the floor was much less busy than everywhere else you looked. 

the well house
All these tiles were embedded into the cement before it dried

Henry Mercer was well off and came from a wealthy family. He went to law school, but never really practiced law. He also traveled extensively. He tried a lot of things and excelled in quite a few. He never got married, but he wanted to live in a castle, so he sketched some plans and jumped right in. Some stuff worked, some didn't, and eventually he had rooms built and had to figure out a way to connect them. There isn't anything like the ground floor and the second floor in his house. There will be a hallway with a staircase and a room off halfway up and then another at the top and then a different staircase that goes elsewhere. If you didn't know where you were going, you'd be lost a million times a day. And you'd get so much exercise. 

Mercer was a collector on top of an "architect" and "potter", so much so that there is so much stuff everywhere, but not as much as in his personal office. My husband declared it had a bachelor pad vibe, and it totally did. He was like a little kid who just put everything in that room that he thought was cool: swords, guns, books, skulls. You name it. Not only that, but all of the bookshelves in there were basically apple crates stacked on each other. 

The house was really interesting if you didn't think about having to actually live there, because I think I wouldn't have lasted that long. I described it on Instagram as what Versailles would look if the occupants had to make everything themselves. It's definitely an acquired taste. It has its appeal and the house has an interesting story, though it's quite cold in the winter and hot in the summer, as concrete is not a good material to really make a house out of, but Henry Mercer has accidentally burned down someone's barn when he was a kid and that stuck with him and he was deeply afraid of house fires.

You enter directly into this "courtyard".

After our tour, we took in lunch and then headed to the Mercer Museum, which is 7 floors of Henry Mercer's weird collections of everyday objects. From lanterns to cooking utensils to horse troughs to baby cradles, you name it, he had it. He even had a full-size country store and a real gallows. 

If you learn nothing else about Henry Mercer, it's his love of people who work hard for a living and the things they needed in order to do their jobs. It may have been because he never had to work a day in his life, which gave him the opportunity to try a lot of things, without officially fully mastering any. I thought perhaps he loved Americana, but his collection includes items from Europe as well. 

There's even a kid's play room with items from Mercer's collections and an activity room

These 7 floors are basically full of everything that didn't fit into his house. He took what he learned from building his house to build this building as well. It might be no wonder why he never married, what with being so eccentric (or a hoarder). This is a great place to take kids to see how many things they can find or identify. When we were there they actually had a sort of scavenger hunt that you could pick up in the lobby.

In my next blog post, I'll talk about Lancaster and Kennett Square, so you can see why renting a car for a day or two might really be worth it.

Have you ever been to Philadelphia? If so, what was your favorite part of your trip?

Disclaimer: Visit Philly gave me a VIP attraction pass in order to visit Fonthill Castle and the Mercer Museum at no cost, but all opinions are 100% my own.

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