Mercer Museum is a very unique space that is a blend of whimsy, madness, and history. There’s nothing else quite like it.
This castle built in Doylestown, PA will transport you to another time and place. You’ve never seen anything quite like the Mercer Museum… the cement castle museum built on the design whim of Mr. Mercer to store his chaotic collection of pre-Industrial Americana.
From outside the museum looks like a fairytale castle. You get the sense that you are about to walk back in time and find the entire building filled with twinkling candles, silver mirrors, and wall tapestries. If you lean towards Arthurian legends, you can easily imagine knights and round tables. If your imagination lean towards the magical, your mind will easily fill this castle with wizards and magical wands. Whatever strikes your fancy, I can ensure that this place will trigger the imagination, but inside is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before!
The castle museum is jammed-packed with a wild assortment of any
pre-industrial item Mr. Mercer could collect. Items are dangling from the ceiling, dripping from the walls, strapped to the pillars, and tucked into every nook and cranny.
My impression of this castle was to imagine an ancient attic that had several generations of family ‘artifacts’ crammed into every nook and cranny, and I – a curious explorer! – was free to rummage through the attic for hours on end – finding old dibs and dabs of stuff no one uses any more. It is the world’s best rummage space. If ONLY the museum actually let me rummage!
Mr. Mercer did save everything that was part of everyday American life. From domestic items to heavy farmer equipment, this museum has preserved a period of history that could have been lost to time. Delicate and tiny items were carefully collected and displayed. If you are planning to write an historical piece, be sure to visit this museum and see first-hand what the old ways were like.
When you pass the visitor’s center and enter the museum itself, you will walk into the ground floor and have your attention immediately pulled up to the tower’s central space – which is crammed with baskets, crates, whaling boats, farming equipment, sleds, carriages… and so much more. Your eyes cannot settle on one thing without seeing dozens of surrounding items.
It is visual chaos. If you are drawn to details… you could get lost in that space as your eyes flit from small to massive items – all crammed into one space. The ceiling is so littered with items, it looks like a messy room that is upside down. I got a sense of staring down while I craned my neck looking up.
This museum collection has a whiff of madness… maybe mania. Something about this collection is so demanding of space that it has no space to breathe, and you must mentally extract dozens of items from one visual space. This is NOT your neat and tidy museum display. There’s something wild about the Mercer Museum, and I rather loved that sense of madness.
On this day, I was visiting the Mercer museum with a friend. And we were more than slightly intimidated. So we made a plan: we opted to head straight to the highest floor of the castle and make our way down to the ground floor. The first part of our exploration and followed a path that took us OVER the roof of another building, which seemed to be a building nestled inside another building.
What is this madness? It seems that they decided to build a bigger structure to squat over an existing structure… and now the original building’s roof was the new structure’s floor. Again… What? There were cement gable dormer windows which should be overhead but were actually down by my ankles. My senses were offended, but my curiosity was piqued.
The roof and gable dormer windows are strewn with cast iron stoves of every size and style. As we continued walking along, we came upon a crooked window that was built crookedly into the cement wall of the castle, Why? I still don’t know why… I have to go back and find the answer to this crooked window.
Then I found doggie footprints in the cement path – evidence of Mr. Mercer’s beloved pet dog that strolled across the still-wet cement and sealed his footprints in history. What madness was alive and well during the building of this museum?
Somehow it just keeps getting better. Stair cases which collide at the bottom because they were added without plans. More doggie footprints. Tiny, tiny doors. And not to mention the collection! Did you know there’s an actual gallows in the museum? It is built into a room that is exactly the width of the gallows. You don’t even know you are approaching the gallows until you are under the gallows and there’s a sign that tells you to look up. Then when you look up, you are standing under the gallows itself. That’s a feeling you can’t get anywhere else.
I think my favorite room was the cast iron fireplace back plates which were stored in every square inch of the museum. There were several that were mounted on hinges so that you could scroll through the metal plates like a giant, cartoonish book. The other plates are mounted everywhere… EVERYWHERE. On the wall, on the pillars, on the floor, on shelves… everywhere.
There is a vertical grand piano. VERTICAL. There is… everything. Tools, equipment, gear, everything. Even an old stone mile marker for Philadelphia that used to reside along a road.
The Cement Museum
The Mercer Museum is one that must be experienced. Discover the chaos of the structure and the collection. The castle is unique unto itself, and would be worth the tour to experience Mr. Mercer’s driving passion to build a fire-proof structure to store his collection. He refused to build with any wood. Even the window frames are made of cement.
Then add an overly impressive (daunting?) collection of artifacts that you could never see in one visit… and you have a great day spent rummaging through our Americana history. This museum does have amazingly beautiful items, statues, art work, carvings, tile work, etc.
Fonthill Castle is another very unique cement structure that was build by Mr. Mercer as his residence. It is well worth a visit to this living historical site. The tile shop is located nearby, which is also available for tours.
This was our FIRST room?! I was set!