Tucked along a quiet back street lined with gorgeous Victorian houses in scenic Doylestown, PA stands an epic mansion made of poured concrete that looks like something out of a gothic romance novel. It’s the Mercer Museum, and if you think the outside is an impressive goad for the imagination, wait until you see the inside!
The Mercer Museum is the ultimate “stuff” collection. The interior is packed full, almost willy-nilly, of gadgets, devices, tools, and sundries from the 18th and 19th century, remnants of everyday life and work that have almost been forgotten. It is a warehouse of the way we used to do things and a way of life that has disappeared.
Henry C. Mercer (1856-1930) was highly conscious of the fact that the Industrial Revolution was sweeping away life as we had known it for centuries. He was a bit of a weird (but fascinating) guy, and brilliant enough to realize that if someone didn’t preserve the way we used to live, it would be lost to antiquity. So in 1897 he began collecting “junk” and saving it for what it was, a record of how we did things before the conveniences of modern life. He began constructing the castle in 1916 to house all of his stuff.
If you’re a writer of historical fiction or just a fan of the past, you must visit this place! If you’ve ever found yourself asking “I wonder how they made wallpaper in the 19th century” or “what did a 19th century fire truck look like?” or “what kind of stuff did the average 18th or 19th century kitchen have in it before modern appliances?” or “how did people light their houses before electricity?” or anything even remotely along those lines, the Mercer Museum has the material answers.
One of the best parts about the place is that all this stuff is just sort of crammed into one cavernous structure and shoved in corners. It is organized by craft, but you can get right up close to it, look at things from different angles, and really study the goods. Like I said, if you want to write about any kind of implement, tool, craft, carriage, or detail of 19th century life, you need to drop by and visit this place.
I could fill up this post with words about what you will see and why it’s so awesome, but I think the pictures I took of a tiny fraction of the 40,000 objects on display will say it better. So without further ado, here you go!