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Trip Report A day in Doylestown, Pa: Meandering in the Mercer Mile, plus ducks

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Friday was a gorgeous day here, so I conveniently shoved off some housekeeping tasks and wended my way to Doylestown. Although it's just about an hour outside of Philadelphia, I'd never been there and figured it was high time for me to see the sites and sights.

I took the train (R5) to the New Britain stop, under the (mistaken, as it happens) assumption that I'd be able to get a taxi in the area. I had a hankering to see the lavender in bloom at Peace Valley Lavender Farm, so I took off walking through the picturesque houses with the blooming daylilies and such, following the road to Peace Valley Park. The Park is beautifully serene, with a large lake, nice hiking trails, and even some deer when one gets a trifle...misplaced. (I never get really lost, but I do get misplaced a lot.)

The ducks were being very majestic and floaty on the lake; even my presence didn't seem to disturb them into that frantic duck-quackery that so often happens. This was definitely one of those "For what is so rare as a day in June" days; clear blue sky, 70's, and reasonable humidity. (And then we got socked on Saturday, but that's another story.) I found my way to New Galena Road, the street on which the Peace Valley farm is located, but, unfortunately, went the wrong way. Fortunately, the nice lady in the car who stopped for me to ask directions gave me a lift up to the farm, as I'd gone quite a ways in the wrong direction. (All the while kinda having the feeling it was the wrong way, but I never depend on my internal GPS.)

The farm is lovely with its hillside of lavender in bloom; not the fields of Provence, but a nice stop for lavender honey, lavender and oatmeal soap, and a lavender dark chocolate bar. (yum) Yes, I'm a bit of a lavender freak. There's lavender and honey ice cream served on occasion at a spot relatively nearby, but wasn't on that day.

I hopped a ride with another lovely lady who was leaving the farm and got to Fonthill; this friendliness is, to me, small-town America at its best. It would have been a long and weary walk had I depended on the taxi service!

Fonthill and the Moravian Tile Works are in the same complex: Fonthill is the home of Henry Chapman Mercer, who started the Moravian Tile Works, kind've in opposition to the assembly line/factory systems. Mercer tiles are now found in assorted interesting places, such as Grauman's Chinese Theater and the floor of the State capitol building in Harrisburg (one of my favorite buildings ever, inside, but that, too, is another story.) But nowhere are they found in the configurations that they're found at Fonthill--or in proximity with such things as Sumerian cuneiform tablets inlaid in a pillar, and Nubian pottery, casually stacked.

You need a reserved tour to go through Fonthill; I was able to get into the 2:30 tour easily, but that didn't give me time to actually tour the Tile Works. I got pix of the outside, though, and went drooling through the gift shop.

Fonthill was built by Mercer, for whom the word eccentric seems to be custom-fit. He was a lawyer by schooling, an archeologist and tile-maker by trade, and a collector by obsession. Living with malaria, Bright's disease, and various other illnesses, Mercer managed to create a unique and practical art form with his tiles (the designs for which were inspired by Moravian {German} stove plates, hence the name) and become well known in the Arts and Crafts movement of the turn of the 19th to 20th century.

The building itself is concrete: supposedly, it was built room by room of earth and wood; then, the tiles were placed on the earth and wood, and the concrete poured on. When the concrete dried, the earth and wood were removed, and what was left was beautifully decorated ceilings, with vaulting and arches and such. The colors just glow: there are the glazes, in blues and golds and reds and oranges, and the unglazed tiles in earthier versions of the same. It's a big place--the original farmhouse was encased in concrete, eventually; no fires with concrete--and it would be easy to get lost! It's really a unique building, and one that I'd highly recommend. It's got Mercer's touches everywhere, down to the Baedeker's travel books he used in his early travels (including going through much of Europe on a personalized houseboat. Sounds like fun.)

The tour is about an hour, and our elder docent was knowledgeable and fun. The collections of Chinese roof tiles, Persian tile, the aforementioned Sumerian tablets, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, are all labeled in Mercer's neat printing.

About a half hour's stroll away is the Mercer Museum. It's a lovely little town to walk through, and I understand there are some great restaurants: unfortunately, I didn't have time for one as I wanted to catch the Mercer whilst it was still open (until 5). The Mercer is where the obsessive collecting comes to play. I felt like a kid in a candy store; I have always loved the tools and materials of craft and work, and that's what is found here in staggering numbers.

The six floors, arranged around an open area, are lit by natural lighting. On each floor there are different "shops" filled with the accessories of a particular craft, but the really eye-popping part is--well, when you almost can't see a Conestoga wagon due to everything else that's hanging there, let's just say there are a lot of forms of transportation hanging up.

There's also a room of those famous stove plates, and a tile fireplace; as Fonthill does not allow indoor photography, this is a place to at least get pix of the tiles. Fonthill needs to be seen, though; I'd even choose it over the Mercer, if one had to choose. Fortunately, you can get a combined ticket for the two ($15) and they're not too far apart. (about a mile) It's doable by public transportation from Philadelphia if you take the train to Doylestown and don't mind a 2 mile plus walk, but probably best conquered by car for most.

Here are some pictures, just to give a glimpse: http://travel.webshots.com/album/577936089ARgPPj

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