Doylestown is unique among prominent Pennsylvania towns. There is no water here to power industries; not even a mill. There is not a wealth of natural resources nearby. The railroad never rolled through town with the promise of progress. No important school was founded here to attract new residents. There were no great personal fortunes made here to spur economic growth.
The reason Doylestown is here today is because it was the exact spot where the Colonial road from the Schuylkill River at Swede’s Ford to the Delaware River at Coryell’s Ferry crossed the main road linking Philadelphia to Easton. In 20th century automobile-speak, it is where Route 202 crosses Route 611. To Delaware Valley traveler of the early 1700s, it was simply “the crossroads.” They met here to arrange transport of their goods; while they waited for the ferrymen they slept in their wagons and hoped for good weather.
In 1745 William Doyle obtained a license to build a tavern on the crossroads. Now weary road warriors could at least share a hot meal and a pint or two with other tradesmen and merchants before settling into their wagons for the night. Doyle’s Tavern was situated at what is presently the northwest corner of Main and State Streets and the second Doyle’s Tavern still stands at the crossroads.
A friendly tavern does not a town make. While a smattering of establishments grew up around the crossroads the village’s success was assured in 1813 when discontent with the location of the Bucks County seat in Newtown led to the selection of the more centrally located Doylestown as the county seat. Inns, public houses and shops followed and Doylestown evolved into the professional and residential character it retains today. The lawyers set up shop in existing houses or built new houses that doubled as offices. Even the buildings erected in downtown Doylestown as office buildings often don’t look like office buildings.
In the early 20th century, Doylestown became best known to the outside world through the museum of the Bucks County Historical Society, following Henry Mercer’s construction of the unusual reinforced concrete building in 1916 to house his collection of mechanical tools and utensils. Upon his death in 1930, Mercer also left his home, Fonthill, to be operated as a tile museum, which reinforced the community as a center for cultural attractions. Our walking tour will start at one, head for the other and take in Doylestown in between...
Moravian Tile Works
East Court Street and Swamp Road
Henry Chapman Mercer came from a privileged American background, growing up on a Bucks County estate. After a trip to Europe in 1870 at the age of 14, Mercer attended a military boarding school in New York, and then went on to Harvard from 1875 to 1879, graduating with an A. B. Most of his elective courses were in History. After his return home he helped found the Bucks County Historical Society in January of 1880, and then studied law during the 1880-1881 at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, though he never took the bar exam or practiced law. Instead he spent much of the next decade on houseboats sailing around Europe. During his travels Mercer continued his historical studies, published several books, and collected artifacts and art works for his private collection. After a stint as a manager of the newly created Museum of Science and Art at the University of Pennsylvania Mercer set out to revive the native Bucks County craft of pottery-making in the late 1800s. His attempts failed, but he turned his attention to hand-crafted tiles instead and became a leader of the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century. The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, completed in 1912, produced tiles and mosaics for floors, walls and ceilings. Mercer’s artistry and abilities produced floor tiles for the rotunda and halls of the Pennsylvania State Capitol, depicting 400 scenes in the Commonwealth’s history. His tiles adorn buildings throughout the United States and the world.
East Court Street and Swamp Road
In 1907 Henry Mercer inherited a large amount of money and bought 70 acres of land in Bucks County. He spent the next three years building Fonthill, an eccentric masterpiece. He used concrete, but in an unusual fashion. He and his workmen formed the structure a room at a time, building an interior frame from earth and wood. Decorative tiles, furniture, and other architectural elements were then placed on the surface, and concrete poured around and over them. Once the concrete hardened, the supporting earth was dug out, leaving a solid structure with inset decorations. Mercer eventually encased an adjacent farmhouse (original to the property) with concrete as well. Built entirely of hand mixed concrete, Fonthill has 44 rooms, 18 fireplaces, 32 stairwells and more than 200 windows of varying size and shape. The National Historic Landmark contains more than 900 prints and other objects that Mercer gathered throughout the world, creating an intensely personal statement of his genius. The lavishly embellished interior surfaces show an incredible array of Mercer’s original decorative tiles.
EXIT FONTHILL ONTO COURT STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Salem United Church of Christ
186 East Court Street
Salem congregation was formally organized in March, 1861 with a membership of twenty. Services, first held in the public school building and later in the Masonic Hall, were in both English and German. A lot was purchased in 1863, located on the south side of East Court Street between Broad and Church Streets; a brick church building was erected there and dedicated in July of 1865. By this time there were thirty three members and a Sunday school of eighty. In 1868 Salem was separated from the Hilltown congregation, Pastor Yearick remaining with the Hilltown Church, and during the 1870’s Salem became a self-sustaining congregation. The year 1897 marked the completion of the new church building (the front portion of the present church) which took care of the congregation’s needs until 1928, when a large addition was begun, completed in 1929, greatly expanding the seating capacity and the Sunday School and kitchen facilities. In the chancel of the newly remodeled church were placed the Biblical tiles presented to the church by Dr. Henry Chapman Mercer, founder of the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, who personally supervised their installation. Copied from old German stove plate, they are great interest to visitors, who are welcome to view them after services or by special request.
Doylestown Presbyterian Church
127 East Court Street
The Presbyterian Congregation of Doylestown started when the Reverend Uriah DuBois came to Doylestown to found Union Academy in 1804, at what is now the corner of East Court and Broad Streets. The building was razed in 1889 to make way for the Doylestown Borough School which was destroyed by fire in 1973. In 1813, the year after Doylestown was made the county seat, the Presbyterians built their first church building on a lot purchased from John Shaw for $400. The new building was dedicated on August 13, 1815. It was constructed of stone, cost about $4200 to build, and stood on the site of the present church building. In 1871, the old church building was torn down and a new edifice was constructed facing East Court Street.
TURN LEFT ON CHURCH STREET AND TURN RIGHT ON EAST OAKLAND STREET.
Doylestown Friends Meeting
95 East Oakland Avenue
Friends met regularly in Doylestown by 1806, and the present meetinghouse was built in 1836. The meeting was indulged under Buckingham until 1951, when Doylestown Monthly Meeting was established. The basement expansion was done largely by the members in 1955.
Saint Paul’s Church
84 East Oakland Avenue
Saint Paul’s owes its birth to one woman - Elizabeth Pawling Ross - who in the 1840s was the only Episcopalian in Doylestown and who rode by horseback to Germantown once each month to receive Holy Communion. Perhaps at her encouragement, the Reverend George P. Hopkins journeyed to Doylestown from Philadelphia to see if he could stir any interest in founding a congregation here. The first service was held at Beneficial Hall (now the Masonic Hall) on State Street on May 18, 1845. For two years Mr. Hopkins “commuted” by stagecoach from Philadelphia to conduct a weekly service. In April, 1846, the parish was formally organized and shortly thereafter land purchased and money raised to build a church building. The first services in the church were held on April 23, 1848.
TURN LEFT ON PINE STREET.
James A. Michener Art Museum
138 South Pine Street
In 1988, with the support of many dedicated citizens, the James A. Michener Art Museum opened as an independent, non-profit cultural institution dedicated to preserving, interpreting and exhibiting the art and cultural heritage of the Bucks County region. The Museum is named for Doylestown’s most famous son, the Pulitzer-Prize winning writer and supporter of the arts who had first dreamed of a regional art museum in the early 1960’s. The massive stone walls and warden’s house that make up the core of the Michener Art Museum today began as the Bucks County prison in 1884. After a century of use, the abandoned and antiquated buildings were being torn down when the County Commissioners agreed to preserve the historic landmark and lease the land and buildings to house the museum.
84 South Pine Street
In 1916, Henry Mercer erected this utterly unique 6-story concrete castle to house his collection of some 40,000 objects that document the lives of everyday Americans through the Industrial Revolution, or about 1850. The towering central atrium of the Museum was used to hang the largest objects such as a whale boat, stage coach and Conestoga wagon. On each level surrounding the court, smaller exhibits were installed in a warren of alcoves, niches and rooms according to Mercer’s classifications -- healing arts, tinsmithing, dairying, illumination and so on.
RETURN TO THE CORNER OF PINE STREET AND ASHLAND STREET AND TURN LEFT. TURN RIGHT ON DONALDSON STREET AND FOLLOW IT TO THE END. TURN LEFT ON STATE STREET.
55 East State Street
Beneficial Hall, as it was known in the early 1800s, is now known as the Masonic Temple and has been occupied continuously by the Doylestown Freemasons since 1857. The Doylestown Free and Accepted Masons, York Rite, and Order of Eastern Star meet here. There have been a few renovations and additions, but the building would be recognizable to those first, long-ago congregants.
20 East State Street
Moving pictures in Doylestown began in 1907 when Hellyer’s Movie House opened on South Main Street in the back of what is now County Linen. In 1909 Hellyer’s moved across the street to Lenape Hall where it operated until 1925. That year the Strand Theatre became Doylestown’s first “real” movie theater. In 1938 the Strand was replaced by the Art Deco County Theater, which rose up in its place. The County featured that most modern of conveniences - air-conditioning. Designed by the Philadelphia architectural firm of Silverman and Levy the theater had seating for 715 patrons. After several successful decades the County staggered to its 50th birthday before closing in 1992. It re-opened a year later as a non-profit house for art films, which it remains today.
1 South Main Street and East State Street
Philadelphia architect Addison Hutton collaborated with architect Thomas Cernea to create this picturesque pile of over half a million bricks; storefronts, offices and an 800-seat theatre were all housed behind a trio of unified Victorian facades. The round Romanesque Revival arch is repeated in the tall windows and accented by belt courses. Classic Greek overtones are present in the roof pediments and the suggestion of supporting columns.
18 West State Street
The Inn began life as three separate commercial buildings: a shoe store, a hat shop, and a bookbinding business. All three were incorporated in a hostelry beginning in 1902. In the early-mid 20th century, the Doylestown Inn was a favorite stopover for stage and literary celebrities on their frequent visits to Doylestown.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO MAIN STREET AND TURN LEFT.
West State and North Main streets
This building occupies the approximate site of William Doyl’s second colonial roadhouse circa 1758; it marks the wilderness crossroads from which Doylestown grew. The inn and stagecoach stop was advertised in 1817 as being close to its present dimensions. The building was redesigned in the Second Empire style with a prominent mansard roof. The namesake fountain made its appearance in 1872 and thereafter the Doylestown Hotel, as it was called from 1770 to 1873, was renamed The Fountain House Hotel. Over the years the hotel was used as a furniture store, then a bank; it is presently a coffeehouse.
22-24 North Main Street
This 1900 building occupy is one of the town’s earliest office buildings. The emphasis on massed and massive round arches, hallmarks of the Romanesque Revival, as well as the vertical pilasters banded by belt courses link these buildings to Lenape Hall, a predecessor in both form and function.
BEAR LEFT ON SHEWELL STREET.
Doylestown Fire House
68 Shewell Avenue
Doylestown Fire Company No. 1 was organized on August 4, 1879 with 25 charter members. The land for the firehouse on Shewell was purchased in 1900, only two years after the street opened. Oscar Martin, a Doylestown architect, drew the plans. The cornerstone was laid on Aug. 20, 1902. The project cost just over $8000 including plumbing, heating, gaslights, and a fire bell, which is still in serviceable condition. The three new engine bays on the right and the single bay on the left were added in 2001.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO THE INTERSECTION ON COURT STREET AND MAIN STREET.
Civil War Monument
Courthouse Lawn at Court and Main streets
Bucks County’s own 104th Volunteer Regiment. The story of funding the monument is unique in its own right: the surviving members of the 104th raised $1600 of the $2500 cost through a bakery they inherited from another regiment during the Civil War; the bread they baked was sold to the Union Army.
The monument is constructed of White American marble and is between 32 and 35 feet high above the base; it was designed to be as high as the three story buildings surrounding it. It was completed in time to be dedicated on the first official Memorial Day in 1868. In addition to memorials to veterans of foreign wars and conflicts, the lawn of the courthouse contains a memorial honoring those residents of Bucks County who lost their lives during the performance of their duty while serving the people here at home.
WALK A FEW STEPS UP EAST COURT STREET.
10 East Court Street
The Second Empire design of this building by architect Thomas Cernea was the fanciful former office of Bucks County’s oldest existing newspaper, dating to 1876. It was built at head of Printers Alley and features carved keystones, balconies, and elaborate ornamentation.
RETURN TO MAIN STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Josiah Hart Bank
21 North Main Street
This is one of Doylestown Borough’s only definitive Greek Revival buildings. It was probably designed by Thomas Cernea, however, the documentation is confusing and so no one is certain. It was built for Josiah Hart and Company Bankers in 1858. The Greek Revival style is obvious in the projecting pediment and large supporting columns. This building resembles the temples of ancient Greece which is what gives it the designation of Greek Revival.
Nathan James House
110 North Main Street
Nathan James was district attorney of Bucks County from 1853 to 1859 and a one-time President of the Bucks County Bar Association who spent his spare time an apprentice under a clockmaker in Doylestown. This massive stone house was completed in 1888 and show influences of the Queen Anne style (corner turret and tall, corbelled chimneys) and the Shingle Style with its broad gambrel roof and the shingled upper floor exterior. Like many of the Victorian homes around Doylestown it was modeled after the second courthouse that was built in 1877 and razed in 1960.
The James-Lorah House
132 Main Street
This plot of land was the original site of the Zerick Titus Harness and Saddle Shop which was demolished in 1844 by Judge Henry Chapman, the grandfather of the Henry Mercer. After 25 years he sold it to Oliver James for $10,000, a town doctor who then lived here until he and his wife died in 1894. After that, his daughter, Sarah, who had married the Reverend Doctor George Lorah, and her sister Martha used the home as a summer vacation house. The house exhibits three main architectural styles: Federal, Greek, and Italianate. The earlier Federal style can be found in the flat front elevation, symmetrical shape of the main structure, the connected double chimneys, and the fanlight found atop the side entrance door. The Greek Revival style is seen in the small third floor “eyebrow” windows (named this for their positioning above the other windows as an eyebrow is to an eye). The Italianate style is evident in the window hood moldings found over top of the first, second, and third floor windows.
TURN RIGHT ON NORTH BROAD STREET.
W.H. Kirk House
87-89 North Broad Street
This house was built in 1888 with a combination of two Victorian styles, the Shingle style and the Queen Anne style. It was designed as a duplex home with one side for William Kirk and his wife and the other side for William’s mother. The Shingle style can be seen in the shingled upper floor where shingles are used as siding. The Queen Anne style is evident in the tall decorative chimneys, gingerbread on the porch columns, and other decorative detail such as the elaborate cornice treatment. The pediment over the front entrance is a feature of the Greek Revival style. Over 100,000 bricks were used to construct this home which is now used as law offices.
TURN RIGHT ON EAST COURT STREET.
Home of Civil War General W.W.H. Davis
60 East Court Street
William Watts Hart Davis was 41 when the Civil War erupted. He was wounded in the left elbow in Richmond and lost a finger on his right hand in Charleston during a rise to the rank of general. After the war he served as acting governor of the Territory of New Mexico. In a life that spanned 90 years, Davis was also a lawyer and historian, author of ten books and founder of the Bucks County Historical Society in 1880. He lived in this house, built in the 1830s, from 1859 until his death in 1910.
TURN AND WALK EAST ON COURT STREET, AWAY FROM THE COURTHOUSE.
East Court Street from Broad Street to Church Street
It was common for law offices to cluster in the immediate vicinity of a county courthouse and in Doylestown this block functioned historically as Lawyers Row. Though most of these buildings show evidence of later Victorian remodeling, this block of stately brick structures with decorative fanlights and double connecting chimneys epitomizes the conservative late Federal style architecture of the county seat’s first buildings.
CONTINUE WALKING ON EAST COURT STREET, PAST THE CEMETERY, TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT FONTHILL.