Fonthill Castle in Doylestown: 8 Things to Know Before You Go

Tucked away in a Doylestown neighborhood, the 44-room Fonthill Castle is one of the most unique architectural works in Pennsylvania. Thanks to its construction and detailed interior, the enormous building is as much a curiosity today as when it was built over 110 years ago.  

Tours at Fonthill are packed with information about the castle and its creative owner and builder, Henry Chapman Mercer. It’s one of our favorite sites in Bucks County, and we have visited the distinctive property several times to soak in all its artistry in different seasons.   

Here are a few useful things to know about the castle and visiting Fonthill.

Exterior of a large concrete building with lots of windows.
The 44-room Fonthill Castle

Fonthill is inspired by the grand manors and castles of Europe

Wealthy and curious, Mercer traveled the world for personal enjoyment and in his work as a collector, museum curator, and archaeologist. From England to Italy and beyond, his travels inspired the floor plan and details of Fonthill.

A video in the visitor’s center explains how Mercer drew inspiration from castles along the Rhine River, and the tour gives even more detail. Whether it was incorporating ideas about wood paneling that he loved in a 12th-century English manor house or copying elements of Gothic and Byzantine architecture, Mercer brought a little bit of Europe to then-rural Bucks County.

The castle’s construction was an experiment

The most distinguishing aspect of Fonthill is that it is made entirely of hand-poured, reinforced concrete. From the vaulted ceilings to the polished floors, Mercer designed and oversaw it all himself in an experiment he wasn’t sure would work. He even told people that an architect who cared about his reputation would never make such risky choices.

Mercer believed in his vision and the material he thought was best—concrete was cheap, fireproof, and easily molded. Since a visit here is still one of the top things to do in Doylestown a century later, the risk paid off.

Two-story room with a large staircase and tiled ceiling.
The multi-story library of Henry Mercer

The massive house is filled with handmade and historic tiles

With 44 rooms, 32 stairwells, 18 fireplaces, and 21 chimneys, this home was built to stand out. Many of those spaces are covered in tiles that Mercer designed and made himself or collected from around the world.

Mercer’s distinctive tiles are handmade from clay using the skills he learned from a Pennsylvania-German master potter. They show scenes from daily life and have unique designs. Many tell stories from history and literature, and they are everywhere throughout the castle from stairs to fireplaces.

On a tour, you may see the brightly colored tiles depicting the life of Christopher Columbus or the maps of explorers from centuries ago. We particularly liked the decorative tiles at the tops of columns and crisscrossing the ceiling vaults.

In addition to the tiles Mercer made, you’ll see lots of examples from around the world. There are distinctive Delft blue tiles from the Netherlands, Chinese roof tiles, and Persian tiles. There are even 2000-year-old cuneiform tablets from Babylon incorporated in one of the columns.

Large fireplace decorated with tiles.
Fireplace with Moravian tiles depicting The Pickwick Papers

Consider time of day and weather for your tour

A 110-year-old home made of solid concrete presents an unusual visiting environment. While it has 200 windows, other lighting is minimal. Coupled with some low ceilings, a visit on an overcast day could mean a relatively low amount of light inside. Additionally, the first floor has air conditioning, but other spaces only have a fan, so it can get warm on a summer afternoon. Consider the overall conditions and what you’re comfortable with when planning a visit.

Arrive early for your visit

The welcome center, which was once the property’s garage, is just a few steps from the parking area. It’s best to arrive about 10-15 minutes before the scheduled start of your tour to leave time to check in.

There is also a short video to watch that provides an overview about Mercer and the castle. Several displays showcase documents and photos of Fonthill’s construction, which are interesting if you want to know more details about the building.

This is also the place to use the restroom.

Ornate bedroom
The Yellow Room bedroom

No two tours are the same

Both of our guides at Fonthill were knowledgeable and shared similar types of information about the castle and Mercer. However, guides have some latitude in what they focus on as they move through the property because there are so many different things to highlight.

Our first guide was fascinated by Mercer and his career, and she added lots of information about his travels and family background to her story. Our second guide was a lover of the architecture and tiles, pointing out many details that we might have otherwise overlooked. If there is an aspect of the site and history that particularly interests you, there is plenty of time for questions throughout the tour.

Christmas is an ideal time to visit  

Illuminated Christmas tree beside a staircase.
One of the castle’s many Christmas trees at the holidays

Fonthill is beautiful in every season, but the holidays are particularly special. At Christmas, the mansion features 15 themed Christmas trees and lots of decorations. They combine to make the space cozy and festive.

During the holidays, there are daytime and evening tours, so you can appreciate the castle in different ways. We opted to take the last of the daytime tours, so there was still some light but we could fully appreciate the illuminated trees at the same time just before sunset.

Large concrete building with a sign "Mercer Museum and Library" and a 3-D sign for "Bucks County."
Outside Mercer Museum near Fonthill

Fonthill is just one of three institutions Mercer built in Doylestown

In addition to the castle, two other buildings complete what is known as the Mercer Mile. Among the most popular Doylestown attractions, the Moravian Pottery & Tile Works and the Mercer Museum are well worth a visit.

Adjacent to Fonthill, the Tile Works still produces the Moravian tiles seen throughout the house. You can take a tour to see artisans at work and even make your own tile.

The third structure is Mercer Museum, which houses Henry Mercer’s spectacular collection. The museum is overflowing with pre-Industrial tools and items from around America. There are more than 15,000 items on display with some even hanging from the ceiling. It is a truly incredible collection.

3 thoughts on “Fonthill Castle in Doylestown: 8 Things to Know Before You Go”

  1. I am on the Board of the Delaware County Camera Club, I was interested have the club do a hoot shoot of the Castle. Are the tours limited to guided tours only.

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