While doing research for a new edition of my guidebook Daytrips Pennsylvania Dutch Country and Philadelphia I revisited Doylestown, a prime choice for an easy and thoroughly engrossing one-day trip from Philadelphia. And a pretty simple one from New York City, as well. Here is my recently revised chapter on it:
Easily one of the most attractive towns in the Philadelphia area, Doylestown offers more than its share of memorable attractions. The best of these are within walking distance of one another, and of the local commuter train station, so you don't even need a car to enjoy this trip.
A family named Doyle took up residence here in the 1730s, opening a tavern around 1745 at the strategic intersection of two rutted Colonial roads, one (now US-202) linking New Hope with Norristown, and the other (now PA-611) running from Philadelphia to Easton. Both tavern and town prospered, and in 1813 Doylestown became the county seat of Bucks County. Today it is a picturesque country town of beautifully-preserved Colonial, Federal, and Victorian houses.
A regional cultural center as well, Doylestown is best known for the works of its resident eccentric, Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930), a noted archaeologist, antiquarian, and leader of the Arts and Crafts Movement. You will encounter several of his strange creations and obsessions as you explore the neighborhood. Other noted locals, either by birth or residence, included the authors James A. Michener and Pearl S. Buck.
By Car, Doylestown is about 25 miles north of downtown Philadelphia. Take PA-611 (Broad St.) all the way and get off at the Main Street exit just south of Doylestown.
By Commuter Train, take the SEPTA Route R-5 from Philadelphia's 30th Street, Suburban, or Market East stations. Service operates hourly on weekdays, less frequently on weekends. Make sure the train is going all the way to Doylestown; some terminate at Lansdale. The ride takes about 75 minutes and leaves you near the main attractions.
Most of the sites are open daily (except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's), but art lovers should note that the outstanding Michener Museum is closed on Mondays and holidays. The Pearl S. Buck House is open from March through December, on Tuesdays through Sundays, but not on major holidays. Advance reservations should be made for the Fonthill Museum as capacity is limited.
For further information contact the Bucks County Conference & Visitors Bureau, 3207 Street Road, Bensalem PA 19020, T: 215-639-0300 or 800-836-BUCKS, W: visitbuckscounty.com.
FOOD AND DRINK:
(being revised at the moment)
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map. Click on map to enlarge.
*MERCER MUSEUM AND SPRUANCE LIBRARY (1), Pine and Ashland streets, T: 215-345-0210, W: mercermuseum.org. Museum open Mon.-Sat. 10-5, Sun. noon-5, closing at 9 on Tues. Library open Tues. 1-9, Wed.-Fri. 1-5, Sat. 10-5. Both closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's. Adults $9, seniors $8, children 5-17 $4, under 5 free. Combination ticket with Fonthill $14. $1 Discount for military and AAA members. Gift shop. Partially accessible.
A stunning concrete structure of 1916 (photo, above) and National Historic Landmark, the Mercer Museum houses the tools and products of more than 60 trades and crafts. It was established by Henry Mercer to display his collection of over 40,000 examples of Early American furnishings, folk art, and implements. Fortunately for succeeding generations, Dr. Mercer saw these artifacts as the stuff of history rather than yard sales. Henry Ford, a man of strong opinions, called this six-story treasure trove the only museum in the country worth visiting. Don't miss the fire engine suspended from a balcony, or the prisoner's dock, gallows, and coffin on the top floor. The audio devices explain everything as you wander around freely in whatever directions your interests take you. For children, there are hands-on stations to try out life in the past. Every year on the second full weekend in May the museum hosts a Folk Fest featuring Early American craft demonstrations, picnics, music, dancing, sheep shearing, quilting, and the like.
The Spruance Libary is a gold mine of information on the nation's past. It contains special collections on Bucks County history and genealogy, and on early American technology, culture, and folk art.
*JAMES A. MICHENER ART MUSEUM (2) (photo, above), 138 South Pine St., T: 215-340-9800, W: michenermuseum.org. Open Tues.-Fri. 10-4:30, Sat. 10-5, Sun. noon-5, closed holidays. Adults $6.50, seniors $6, children 6-18 $4, under 6 free. Museum shop. Café. Completely accessible.
Just across the street from the Mercer Museum stands the old county jail, a handsome structure of 1884. Parts of this were placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings and Sites in 1985, the year the facility closed. In 1988 its preserved sections were converted into an art museum honoring and partly endowed by the late author, James A. Michener, who grew up in Doylestown and later became a noted art collector. Since then, other modern additions have been made, greatly expanding the available gallery space. Permanent collections include a Visual Heritage of Bucks County with regional works of art from Colonial times to the present, the Creative Bucks County multimedia exhibition celebrating the county's rich artistic tradition, and Abstract Expressionist paintings from the collection of Mari S. and James A. Michener. Michener's Bucks County Office, where he wrote "Tales of the South Pacific," has been re-created, and you can visit the Nakashima Reading Room, filled with classic furniture from the studio of the renowned woodworker George Nakashima. Repeat visitors will appreciate the many changing exhibitions, some of which are created by the museum itself.
Follow the map, by car or on foot, to the:
FONTHILL MUSEUM (3), East Court St., T: 215-348-9461, W: fonthillmuseum.org. Open Mon.-Sat. 10-5, Sun. noon-5. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's. Tours only, last one at 4. Reservations are strongly urged as space is limited and tour groups small. Adults $9.50, seniors $8.50, Youth (5-17) $4, under 5 free. Combination ticket with Mercer Museum $14. $1 discount for military and AAA members. Very limited accessibility, arrange in advance.
Henry Chapman Mercer designed Fonthill (photo, above), today a National Historic Landmark, as a home and showcase for his collection of tiles and prints from all over the world. The castle-like structure, begun in 1908, consists almost entirely of poured concrete and was conceived of as a "Castle for the New World." Each of the 40-odd rooms has a highly individual personality, with tiles sometimes depicting stories of historic events; and there are warrens, alcoves, and cubicles everywhere you turn on your fascinating tour of Fonthill.
Stroll over to the:
MORAVIAN POTTERY AND TILE WORKS (4), Swamp Rd. (PA-313), T: 215-345-6722, W: buckscounty.org/government/departments/tileworks. Open daily except some holidays, 10-4:45. Last tour at 4. Adults $4.50, seniors $3.50, youths 7-17 $2.50. 25% discount for AAA members. Tile shop. Partially accessible.
A National Historic Landmark adjacent to the Fonthill Museum, this concrete, Spaniah-Mission-style tile works was built by Henry Mercer to revive the dying Pennsylvania-German art of tile making. Today it operates much as it did in Mercer's time, using the original formulas and methods. Over the years the tile works has furnished decorations for such notable installations as the Pennsylvania State Capitol (see page 260), the Gardner Museum in Boston, and the John D. Rockefeller Estate in New York.
If you've come by car, you might want to take a short drive to the:
NATIONAL SHRINE OF OUR LADY OF CZESTOCHOWA (5), Ferry Rd., Beacon Hill, T: 215-345-0600, W: czestochowa.us. Take Swamp Rd. north a mile or so, then Ferry Rd. west about 2 miles. Shrine and grounds open daily all year. Free. Largely accessible.
A Polish spiritual and pilgrimage center, established in 1955 by the Pauline Fathers and dedicated to Our Lady of Czestochowa (pronounced "Chen-sto-ho-va") in America. The present structure was completed in 1966 to commemorate the Millennium of Poland's baptism as a Christian nation. It houses a faithful reproduction of the Miraculous Painting of the Holy Mother, which is traditionally attributed to St. Luke and hangs in the Shrine of Czestochowa in Poland. The copy was blessed by Pope John XXIII in 1962.
A 6½-mile side trip northwest of Doylestown on Route PA-113 (Swamp Rd.) takes you to the village of Dublin, where you can turn left on Maple Avenue to Green Hill Farms and the Pearl S. Buck House (6). This 1835 farmhouse, now a National Historic Landmark, was the home of the renowned author from 1935 until her death in 1973. Until 1993 the only woman to have won both the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes, Pearl S. Buck was raised in China and became famous for her classic novel The Good Earth in 1934. In 1964 she started a foundation to care for displaced children, which today operates the house and maintains its delightful blend of Asian and Western cultures. 520 Dublin Rd., Perkasie, PA 18944, T: 215-249-0100, W: psbi.org. Tours Tues.-Sat. at 11, 1, and 2; Sun. at 1 and 2. Closed Jan.-Feb., Mondays, most major holidays. Adults $7, seniors $6.
Another nearby attraction on the way back to Doylestown is the Peace Valley Winery (7), where you can taste country wines made from premium grapes grown on the 36-acre yineyard. 300 Old Limekiln Rd., 2 miles west of PA-313 on Stump Rd., then a bit south. T: 215-249-9058, W: peacevalleywinery.com. Open Wed.-Sun., noon-6, opening at 10 on Sat.Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, Easter. Free tastings.
Time permitting, you might also consider taking the:
BUCKS COUNTY COVERED BRIDGES TOUR, Bucks County Conference & Visitors Bureau, 3207 Street Rd., Bensalem PA 19020, T: 215-634-0300, W: visitbuckscounty.com.
Covered bridges are a nostalgic part of America's heritage, evoking images of old-fashioned rural tranquility. Several of these romantic old spans still survive along the back roads of Bucks County and can be examined at leisure by following the directions on the Visitors Bureau website. Seeing all 11 would take at least an entire day; fortunately the most picturesque have been grouped together into two self-guided tours.
Don't just drive over the bridges — be sure to stop and walk across them, examining their clever "lattice truss" construction of timbers organized in a series of triangles that distribute stress to achieve great strength from simple materials. Although often called "kissing bridges," the spans were actually roofed for the practical purpose of protecting the supporting beams from the ravages of weather, thus insuring a long life.
The bridge closest to Doylestown is the Pine Valley Bridge (9) of 1842, located on Old Iron Hill Road, just over a mile southwest of the Czestochowa Shrine.
In the mood for some unusual shopping? It's only a few miles west on US-202 to Byers' Choice (8), where it's Christmas all year round. Famous for their delightful figurines of carolers, Byers' is one of the largest producers of Christmas decorations in the United States. You can tour the factory and visit the elaborate gallery where over 400 figurines are displayed in winter settings. 4355 County Line Rd., Chalfont, PA, T: 215-822-6700. Take US-202 west beyond Chalfont and turn right on County Line Rd. for a half-mile. Open Mon.-Sat. 10-5, Sun. noon-5. Free.
Copyright © 2000 by Earl Steinbicker, updated to 2009
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