The prolonged winter finally teased us with a couple of Spring days before returning to its unseasonably cold weather and so we grabbed the moment to head to the Fonthill Castle in Doylestown, Pennsylvania where symmetry, blue prints, and other typical architectural practices yield to the creative mind of Henry Chapman Mercer.
Our trusty route 611 provided a gentle path into Doylestown with views of the old Delaware Canal that once carried anthracite coal, gravel, limestone, cement, and lumber from the northeastern part of the state all the way to Philadelphia. Many riders were out that day also taking advantage of winter’s brief time off as we allowed the weather to melt away both the cold and the confinement these past months brought to the region. We rolled up the gravel path as the castle slowly revealed itself under the clear sky and the closer we got the more magnificent it appeared to be. We arrived a little early so we walked around parts of the 70 acre property before returning to the entrance for our scheduled tour.
In 1908, an archeologist, artifact collector, tile maker, and author, Henry Chapman Mercer began pouring as much of himself into this great structure as his eight to ten unskilled laborers who poured the hand mixed concrete for three summers to create this 44 room work of art. 10 bathrooms, 5 bedrooms, 32 stairwells 200 plus windows, and 18 fireplaces display the thousands of tiles all designed by Henry himself. Stories of Columbus, a map of Cortez and many other allegorical designs are in abundance everywhere the eye looks. Stairs are not of consistent height, none of the windows share the exact dimensions, pillars vary in their size and shape and other parts of the castle boast their asymmetry but it was all done by Henry’s design, it was completed in such a manner that is pleasing to the visitor. The flow of the irregularities seem to make sense and are welcoming to the eye that has been so exposed to the precision of today’s architecture. It is poetry and art that has jumped off the pages and canvases to become a home.
The uniqueness of this place is such that we think it best to pause the narration to just view the photos for a moment.
See the photos in our YouTube video below
The tour lasted approximately 90 minutes, much to our delight, 30 minutes longer than advertised. There is so much to see around each corner that we think it would take several more hours to absorb it all. Perhaps we’ll return again someday but at this point in the day it was time to ride the 6 miles for a visit to the Buckingham Valley Vineyard.
Buckingham Valley was one of the first wineries started under Pennsylvania’s Farm Winery Act which allows wineries to sell wine directly to the public if it’s made from the grapes of Pennsylvania. Since 1970, the vineyard and winery have been owned and operated by Kathy and Jerry Forest along with their sons Jon, Kevin and Chris. The place felt so laid back and therefore it came as no surprise to read on their web site that, “it has kept the laid back attitude set by its founders: no quotas, almost no staff (just family and friends), no guided tours, no yoga in the vineyard, and no BS.”
Five dollars will buy you the privilege of taking home one of their small wine glasses and 8 samples you can pour yourself. That scenario gave us ample time to pick out and purchase our favorites but it also allows for some to be rude by standing in front of the sample bottles consuming as much wine as they can.
We made our picks from their extensive list and added some cheese to our purchase and headed outside to eat a little and get back on the road. We met Tommy and Lynn who offered space at their picnic table saving us from having to sit on the ground. We sat and talked as they treated us to some treats from Ely Farm products located in Newtown, PA a place we’ll have to stop by next time we’re down this way.
We rolled back up north taking 611 again as the sun began to set and the brief blast of Spring began to make way to the cold air again. Henry Mercer said he had hoped what he was leaving behind would be enjoyed by future generations. We can certainly say “thank you” to Henry today for such a great time and we’ll have a toast with these excellent Buckingham Valley wines to Henry and to all those who labored to create such an amazing place.