History of Fonthill

Henry Chapman Mercer, an archaeologist, tile maker, and ceramist, among other things, was raised by his aunt who was particularly well off. As a young boy Mercer traveled the world with his cousin and aunt and fell deeply in love with the concept of romance, adventure, and art in all its forms. You can see this and some of his other quirky personality traits throughout the Castle's rooms. He dedicated a whole room to Columbus, a re-occuring theme you can see through the whole castle. He had originally planned to become an archaeologist but decided the field didn't quite suit him. He became more inclined towards ceramics, however the clay in Doylestown lent itself much better to tile making, so this is what he set his mind to. Mercer loved the originality of handmade art. Living in a time where the mechanized assembly line was becoming increasingly popular, he insisted not only that his tiles were handmade but also his home. He kept these standards while living there, only ever installing one telephone for use in emergencies only. Although he much preferred his bike he eventually bought a car and hired a driver when his old age no longer allowed him to walk or ride his bicycle into town.
Mercer was adamant about using only manual labor to build the castle because he was a very firm follower of the American Arts & Crafts Movement. Due to the fact that the castle was created entirely of concrete, this made transportation of materials difficult. Creating the ceilings also proved to be a very challenging task.
However, by using very ingenious ideas he made a castle out of a farmhouse.
To get the concrete up to higher levels of the castle they would use a very easy pulley system with a bucket of hand mixed concrete on one end and their trusty horse Lucy at the other, who now has a weather vane in her honor at the very top of the farmhouse. Using this they could pull large batches of concrete to the top level with very little strain on the workers or the horse.
Detail of the columbus room ceiling.
To get the beautiful arched ceilings with the tiles in them was a bit more difficult. First they would build the columns and the
walls to whatever height they would like, then create a makeshift roof of sorts piled with mounds of scrap wood and such;
whatever they could find to make the ceiling as high as they needed. Then they would pour sand all over the top to get a fairly
flat surface, lay all the tiles face down exactly how they wanted them, then pour the concrete over top and
wait for it to dry. (See picture on left) This leaves a very clear grain to each of the ceilings, however the intricately placed tiles cover most of this space. Walking through the castle knowing this adds a wonderful feeling of the dedication Mercer put into his home.
Not only was this Mercer's home but it was also a museum of sorts for his collections of tiles. Walking through you can see a
whole set of dutch tiles hand numbered by Mercer himself. When you think dutch tiles most people think the classic blue on glazed white tile, however looking at the older tiles you can see the progression from the colorful tiles to the white on blue we think of nowadays.

Interesting Fonthill Facts

  • Roof-top Bonfire
    • To celebrate his birthday Mercer held a giant bonfire on top of the tallest tower. This was a common practice in France where they were celebrating Independence day, showing just another hint of his love for traveling.
  • Rollo's Stairs
    • In one of the rooms in the house there is a staircase to the top of the tallest tower. On this staircase there are dog prints that were placed in the wet cement from Mercer's favorite dog, Rollo. The dog footprints on the stairs were supposedly an accident, but most people believe Mercer did this on purpose. These were nicknamed Rollo's stairs, as seen in the tiles that adorn the faces of the steps.
  • Lucy
    • Lucy was Mercer's horse who pulled the rope for the pulley to get all the concrete up to the higher levels. Lucy was a very important part of the building of the castle and was a very efficient idea of Mercer's.
  • Choosing a name
    • Deciding on a name for the castle was surprisingly difficult for Mercer. By the front desk is a page from his notebook with a list of scratched out possible names for the castle. Despite Mercers dislike for the name it was widely used by the surrounding people and virtually impossible for Mercer to change.
  • Special Events
    • Weddings
      • The grounds of Fonthill make it perfect for weddings and receptions. Orchestrated by The Bucks County Historical Society, people can't have their wedding in Fonthill but the grounds make it easy to take wonderful pictures. There are lovely tents set up around the grounds that make wedding receptions practical without ruining the scenery of the surrounding area. Fonthill is a beautiful building inside and out, which also bring in some new visitors for the castle and some extra revenue.
    • Activities for kids, and teens.
      • Summer Camp
        • At the castle they hold a summer camp for little kids. There are signs advertising it around the grounds. Moravian Tile Works, Mercer's tile company is about a minutes walk away from Fonthill, bringing in lots of extra visitors for both buildings.
      • Tile making day for teens
        • After touring the Moravian Tile Works and Fonthill for inspiration teens will design and cut their own mosaic tile design.
      • Our idea for a fun event for people of all ages to bring in visitors,
        • A Masquerade Ball to invite people of all ages in period appropriate costumes. The fee to explore the castle would be lowered and the surrounding area would be decorated. There would be a costume contest and the little kids can make their own masks for the ball. This would be a fun activity for families as well as couples, and older people as well. This would bring much needed publicity to Fonthill, not to mention it would be a fun community event.

Visiting was very easy, all you have to do is call ahead and schedule a time for your tour. Our guide was waiting for us when we arrived and was very nice and helpful as he showed us around.
Fonthill Museum
East Court Street & Route 313
Doylestown, PA 18901
FAX 215-348-9462

Fonthill Hours:
Monday-Saturday 10 am to 5 pm
Sunday noon to 5 pm
Guided tours only; Last tour at 4 pm
Reservations are strongly advised!
Fonthill is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Or visit their website here:

By: J. D'Agostino and P. Clark