Browsing the Henry Mercer Masterpieces


Quirky, irascible Henry Chapman Mercer sought to hold alive the handicrafts of the earlier. A trio of Bucks County properties maintain his artwork and his work — and make a fantastic day vacation.

mercer museum Henry Mercer

Henry Mercer is the head at the rear of the corridor of miracles acknowledged as the Mercer Museum. Photograph by B. Krist for GPTMC

It is a rare Bucks County schoolkid who hasn’t gawked at the inside of the Mercer Museum in amazement. Who on earth assembled all this stuff? Plowshares, spinning wheels, stagecoaches, baskets, hats, wallpaper, pottery … it is not so much a museum as a corridor of wonders. There’s even a authentic reside (useless?) gallows, for hangings, up on the major floor. The creating residences Henry Chapman Mercer’s astounding assortment of some 40,000 things made use of in early American handcrafts and trades. Mercer, a graduate of Harvard and a under no circumstances-training law firm, became a self-taught archeologist and joined Penn Museum as curator of American and prehistoric archeology for a entire 3 a long time just before his, um, “curmudgeonly personality” obtained him canned.

He also dabbled in architecture, erecting 3 extraordinary buildings in Bucks County — the museum his house, Fonthill and the Tileworks of Bucks County, previously identified as the Moravian Pottery & Tile Works — that however stand today and supply insights into Mercer’s approach to his perform, which he described as “archeology turned upside down.” He was fascinated by the every day applications and implements that experienced been employed to establish The us but were, at the change of the 20th century, promptly getting discarded as industrialization built them out of date. (He picked up lots of of the goods on exhibit at the museum for mere pennies at nation thrift gross sales.)

Right here are short descriptions of the three properties, alongside with a fourth day-trip location: Aldie Mansion, which Henry’s brother William designed on the site of a household constructed by their moms and dads. The initial 3 are shut adequate to one particular one more to make up what’s termed the “Mercer Mile.”

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Moravian Pottery & Tile Will work. Photograph by B. Krist for GPTMC

The Tileworks of Bucks County

Henry, identified as “Harry,” was born in 1856 in Bucks County, the grandson of a county choose and the son of well-to-do, properly-related parents. Soon after graduating from Harvard in 1879, he became a person of the founders of the Bucks County Historical Culture. Immediately after archeological adventures in the Yucatan Peninsula and the Ohio, Delaware and Tennessee River valleys and his short stint at Penn, Harry began gathering artifacts from pre-industrial The us. This do the job led him to grow to be intrigued in tile-earning, and he uncovered the craft from some of the final practitioners of redware pottery-producing, concentrating on tiles for the reason that they ended up less complicated than thrown pots or bowls.

He would turn out to be planet-renowned for his attractive Arts & Crafts tiles and in 1898 created the Moravian Pottery & Tile Works to make them. Mercer employed the tiles, handmade in abnormal styles, glazed in earthy shades, and decorated with scenes from everyday life, to adorn his household they also make up the mosaic floor of the condition capitol in Harrisburg (built in 1906), where they depict scenes from the Commonwealth’s background. Mercer described a single of these mosaics as “the equal of a significant, Oriental rug” with a “luminous interweaving of tinted shadows.” Right now, the Tileworks even now teaches tile-building and creates and sells illustrations of the craft.

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Fonthill Castle. Photograph by B. Krist for GPTMC


In 1910, fire trucks raced to the 44-room mansion that Mercer, a lifelong bachelor, was in the midst of developing for himself a stone’s throw from the Tile Is effective after a report that its roof was ablaze. There was a fire on the roof: a bonfire, constructed by Harry to celebrate his birthday and to demonstrate the poured-concrete structure’s “fireproof characteristics.”

The making, supposed to appear like an historical fortress, however integrated the most recent features — plumbing, electrical energy, an intercom, an elevator, central heating — creating it, in Harry’s phrases, “a Castle for the New Entire world.” He designed the place room by area, crafted every single room in miniature in clay, then piled them atop and around a single one more until eventually he had the framework he wanted. This was then replicated at comprehensive dimensions with wooden sorts, or molds, that could be loaded with a poured mixture of Portland cement, yellow sand and crushed stone.

The end end result was studded with tiles, including a “credit label” listing “the names of the gentlemen who prepared this residence, directed its approach, executed its building, adorned its walls, embellished its pavements, developed it with their labor, and the horse who uplifted it with its energy.” Whether or not you find the place glorious or way around the top is dependent on your taste, but possibly way, it’s interesting. Should you want to get married in a castle but cannot pay for to fly all your pals to Europe, this is an outstanding option.

The Mercer Museum

Mercer in 1916 built a wide 6-tale poured-concrete constructing to residence his growing collection of tools, and so forth., in the style he noticed as rational. A stagecoach, a whaling vessel and a Conestoga wagon, alongside with other massive objects, hang in the central atrium, surrounded by a warren of staircases, landings, and more compact rooms that contain artifacts divided by Mercer’s possess technique into classifications like Clock and Watchmaking, Needlework and Laundry, Basket and Broom Producing and Tobacco Culture.

Amongst the things on display is the Lenape Stone, a 4-inch piece of slate turned up by a farmer around Lahaska in 1872 and later on declared by Mercer to be a prehistoric pendant depicting Indigenous People in america looking woolly mammoths (which, of course, had died out by the time individuals arrived on Earth’s scene. That did not cease Mercer, who wrote a e-book about how the uncover was proof of a vanished race. Most specialists these days agree the stone is a forgery, but hey, who is aware?).

Upon finishing the museum, Mercer donated it to the Historical Modern society. By the way, ideal across the avenue, on the website of what utilised to be the county prison, is the headquarters of the Bucks County Absolutely free Library.

Aldie Mansion

Harry’s brother, William, with his wife, Martha Dana Mercer, designed this Tudor tribute in 1927 on the website the place the brothers’ parents’ house when stood — which evidently occasioned a falling-out between the two adult men. William was a sculptor of some renown, and the mansion and grounds are replete with examples of his do the job in the type of gargoyles and architectural aspects. (There are tiles, much too.) Cash for the venture had been furnished by their mother’s sister, Lela, who married into the rich Lawrence family of Boston. (Harry and William’s sister, Lela, was her namesake.) Lela Lawrence, who was childless, frequently took her nephews and niece on excursions of Europe, on one of which Lela the youthful fell head around heels for an Austrian baron she later married in the Aldie gardens. You can even now get married there now!

William and Martha savored entertaining the likes of Groucho Marx and the von Trappe family at their beautiful home, which now is the headquarters of the Heritage Conservancy, “a local community-primarily based corporation devoted to the preservation and protection of major open up spaces, natural means, and our historic heritage.”