An eclectic escape: Moravian Pottery offers an interesting window to the past

From our perch on College Hill, we as a campus community can often feel isolated, a world unto itself. But there is a world outside campus. There are many opportunities for excursions off the hill, to get out into the Lehigh Valley and beyond, to experience all this region has to offer.

Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown, Penn. is a must see for anyone with interest in ceramics and ceramic arts. Located 31 miles away, the tile works currently serve as a historic museum to demonstrate the techniques and tools that were used to make the tiles used a hundred years ago in buildings across the region, according to the museum’s official website. It was built in 1912, and to this day over a century later it still produces tiles. These tiles are made using founder Henry Chapman Mercer’s original molds, as well as clay of similar properties to that which he used a hundred years ago. This historic site stands as a monument to the history of ceramic tiling in the region and is a fascinating peek back through the last century into how the ubiquitous ceramic tile was created.

Henry Mercer was not only a master tiler, however, as he built a large and elaborate house next door to the pottery. The Fonthill Castle, as it is called, is a poured concrete mansion decorated with spectacular tiling. With 44 rooms, over 200 windows, 18 fireplaces and 10 bathrooms, the mansion was built for beauty and luxury. In the present day, this luxury survives as a window into the life of one of the region’s wealthiest and most eccentric men, and his sense of beauty and design make Fonthill a beautiful place to visit once you are done with the pottery.

Mercer also was quite the collector, and at the Mercer Museum down the road, one can view the over 40,000 objects that Mercer collected representing and cataloging everyday life in the 18th and 19th centuries. Those with interests in history, anthropology or just curiosity would do well to visit this showcase of pre-industrial American life. Over 55 exhibits in the museum display the tools or products of pre-industrial craft and trade, as well as lighting devices and architectural hardware that aided everyday life in the pre-industrial world.

And for anyone interested in research on the subject, the museum’s research library holds over 20,000 books, 2500 feet of county archives and over 12,000 images.

So next time you have a day off, take a day trip to Doylestown and immerse yourself in the history of Moravian Pottery and Tile Works and its founder, Henry Mercer.

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