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A seven-story history museum of everyday life in America during the 18th & 19th centuries

David Goran

The Mercer Museum is a museum located in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, United States. Designed and built by archeologist Dr. Henry Chapman Mercer, the Mercer Museum is reminiscent of a castle, inside and out. It is built entirely of reinforced concrete and is one of the earliest and most impressive examples of this method of construction.

The Mercer Museum “resembles a medieval castle, with dovecotes, towers and turrets.” Source

The Mercer Museum resembles a medieval castle, with dovecotes, towers, and turrets. Source

The museum is one of the three poured-in-place concrete structures built by Mercer. The others include his home Fonthill and the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, both of which are located one mile from the museum.

The archaeologist and collector Henry Chapman Mercer designed and built this six-story reinforced concrete structure to house his collection of tools and other everyday artifacts from pre-industrial America. Source

 

The Mercer Museum’s collection is one of the more unique in the state

The Mercer Museum’s collection is one of the most unique in the state. Source

 

The museum is built entirely of reinforced concrete and is one of the earliest and most impressive examples of this method of construction. Source

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Mercer collected pre-industrial hand tools and other implements of the past. He believed that the story of human progress and accomplishments was told by the tools and objects that people used and saw these time-honored crafts slowly disappearing from memory. Mercer wanted to make sure that progress didn’t wipe out evidence of America’s early productivity. Interestingly enough, however, these items weren’t collected years after their use but were often picked up while they were still contemporary machinery.

It was completed in 1916. Source

 

This interior view portrays the grand scale of his unique building and collection: even the roof of this central chamber is used to store artifacts. Source

Mercer personally designed plans for a museum to house his collection. In addition to tools, it displays furnishings of early America, stove plates, a gallows, antique fire engines and the Lenape Stone. The towering central atrium of the Museum was used to hang the largest objects such as a whale boat, stagecoach, and Conestoga wagon.

The museum contains his vast collection of tools, machines, and implements--everything from grist mills to whaling ships are present in the museum.

The museum contains his vast collection of tools, machines, and implements–everything from grist mills to whaling ships are present in the museum. Source

 

19th Century cigar store figures. Source

19th Century cigar store figures. Source

Despite Mercer’s passion for common items, he also saved some oddities. There’s a shoe made for the foot of a giant slave. A collection of nightmarish cigar-store figures. A room filled with creepy stove plates and fireplace tiles. The gallows on which Bucks County last hanged a criminal in 1914.

Of the museum’s collection of 30,000 pieces, over 60% is on display

Of the museum’s collection of 30,000 pieces, over 60% is on display. Source

 

Many items are still in the same layout that Mercer himself placed them over 80 years ago.

Many items are still in the same layout that Mercer himself placed them over 80 years ago. Source

Mercer decided to build with concrete after the Great Boston Fire of 1872 destroyed his aunt’s prized collection of medieval armor, which had been stored in wooden structures. He did not want his own collections to suffer the same fate. Locals mocked his choice of building materials, but on completion of the museum, he lit a bonfire on its roof to prove that it was fireproof .

The Mercer Museum was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985.

The Mercer Museum was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985. Source

It was individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and was later included in a National Historic Landmark District. The Museum has made major advances in collections management and care, exhibitions, and interpretation bringing the Museum in line with contemporary standards while, at the same time, respecting the historical integrity of the site.