Wish You Were Here reflects the value of postcards as tools for learning about the past, with images drawn from Manuscript Group 213, Postcard Collection, Pennsylvania State Archives.

Henry Chapman Mercer (1856–1930), scion of a wealthy Doylestown, Bucks County, family was known for many characteristics and traits: well-bred, handsome, inquisitive, erudite, and — to townspeople — decidedly eccentric. He was known for his contributions as a master ceramicist, local historian, writer, archaeologist, ethnologist, museum curator, amateur architect, collector, horticulturist, artist, and fiddler. He was also an attorney but never practiced.

Founder and owner of Doylestown’s Moravian Pottery and Tiles Works, one of the foremost manufacturers of handcrafted architectural ceramics in the country, Mercer was a leading proponent of the Arts and Crafts movement in America. Between 1900 and 1930, he transformed the stature of the ceramic tile, elevating it from a prosaic form of decoration to an artistic medium expressing original and complex ideas. His richly textured handmade tiles represented an unprecedented approach to architectural decoration. Mercer tiles have been installed in thousands of private residences, libraries, clubhouses, churches, and hotels throughout the United States. His largest installation was the mosaic tile floor in Pennsylvania’s State Capitol in Harrisburg, completed in 1906.

His contributions to Doylestown remain among his most visible: three large concrete buildings erected during a span of six years, from 1910 to 1916, which include Fonthill, his residence, the adjacent Mercer Pottery and Tiles Works, and the Mercer Museum of the Bucks County Historical Society.

In 1908, at the age of fifty-two, Mercer launched the construction of Fonthill, of which the structural components were completed in 1910. Finishing work concluded in 1912. Built of poured-in-place concrete reinforced with iron rods, Fonthill was erected with no machinery, no conventional blueprints, and little restraint. Mercer selected concrete because it was easily molded, inexpensive, fireproof, and suited the tiles he both collected and created.

The castle-like building is instantly recognizable by its turrets, parapets, terraces, dovecotes, and large tower. It contains forty-four rooms, including a morning room, conservatory, map room, library, saloon, study, several galleries, even a crypt. Mercer planned Fonthill “room by room, entirely from the interior, the exterior not being considered until all the rooms had been imagined or sketched.” He encrusted its interior walls, flooring, vaulted ceilings, fireplace facings, window jambs, and stair risers with tiles and ceramic murals. Few spaces went unadorned.

By 1915, Fonthill — which its owner called a “concrete castle for the New World” — had begun attracting the curious from near and far. It lured Philadelphia department store owner John Wanamaker, automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, poet Mary Lowell, philanthropist Isabella Stewart Gardner, songwriter Victor Herbert, and artists Charles Sheeler, Daniel Garber, and Marcel Duchamp.

An individual known only as John wrote to his “dear cousin,” Miss Nellie Walker of Essex, New York, on August 15, 1941. “Saw this castle yesterday,” he wrote. “Full of all interesting things, tiles, pictures, books. All concrete. No two rooms on same floor.” Mercer’s design of Fonthill was evidently not lost on John. “The arrangement of rooms at different levels seen over the gallery in the Saloon is a memory of a Turkish house seen by me from a rear garden in Salonica in 1886,” Mercer wrote.

Managed by the Bucks County Historical Society (which also administers the Mercer Museum), Fonthill welcomes visitors to discover its elaborately tiled rooms and suites, passageways, and terraces, no two of which are similar.