Less than an hour’s drive from Chestnut Hill lies Doylestown Borough, a beguiling blend of history, art and architecture.
Less than an hour’s drive from Chestnut Hill lies Doylestown Borough, a beguiling blend of carefully preserved American history, inspiring art and imposing architecture…
Mix in bites of diverse dining, a quirky collection of shops selling wares that you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, and rollicking nightlife that keeps night owls dancing to the wee hours, and you’ll find that Doylestown packs a pretty punch into its compact two-square miles.
“We are best known for a vibrant downtown and museum district,’’ said Kris Boger, who serves as the volunteer president of Discover Doylestown. “We have three concrete castles, which not many small towns can claim. We have a world-renowned museum in a former prison, again not something most can claim.’’
“Doylestown is the county seat and one of the towns we promote because there’s so much to do,’’ added Paul Bencivengo, president, Visit Bucks County. “A lot of that is anchored around Mercer Mile.’’
He is referring to the famous historic enclave that draws visitors from near and far and includes Tileworks, Fonthill Castle and Mercer Museum, all built by the celebrated archaeologist, philanthropist and leader of the Arts and Crafts movement, Henry Chapman Mercer.
A working history museum, Tileworks still produces handmade tiles in the same way that Mercer perfected more than 100 years ago, preserving his dual passions for art and architecture. Designed after Spanish monasteries that Mercer had visited, the towering Tileworks looks like it would be more at home in Europe than in a bucolic Bucks County borough.
“You can tour the tileworks to see how they made the tiles back when Henry was alive, tiles that are in the Pennsylvania state capitol,’’ Bencivengo said. “It’s a unique experience to meet the tile makers and you can also buy tiles in the same templates.’’
Next to the tileworks is Fonthill. Once Mercer’s home, this fantastical mix of Gothic, Medieval and Byzantine architecture, constructed in the early 1900s, is made entirely of concrete. The imposing castle sports 44 rooms, more than 200 windows and 18 fireplaces. Many of the castle’s walls and floors are constructed from Mercer’s elaborately decorative hand-made tiles, along with tiles he collected from around the world.
Rounding out the mile is the Mercer Museum, another concrete gem that houses Mercer’s collection of more than 40,000 artifacts from the American Industrial Revolution, where 60 different crafts and trades are represented. It is considered one of the world’s most comprehensive portraits of pre-Industrial American material culture. View everything from cigar store statues to a Conestoga wagon to a collection of chairs suspended from the ceiling.
“You can spend hours in there, walking around and looking through different objects,’’ Bencivengo said. “They also have special exhibits that rotate throughout the year.’’
Just across the street is the nationally renowned Michener museum, housed in what used to be the Bucks County jail. Home to an alluring collection of Pennsylvania Impressionist paintings, the museum hosts rotating exhibits, as well as permanent displays like the Nakashima Room, dedicated to the work of Bucks County woodworker George Nakashima.
Doylestown preserves another piece of history at the Bucks County Civil War Museum, located adjacent to the downtown district. Explore the artifacts collection, which includes uniform pieces, flags, weapons and a rare collection of items related to both Abraham Lincoln as president and the Lincoln family estate.
For a different perspective on Bucks County’s rich history, take the Doylestown Cemetery Walking Tour. Learn about the historical artists, writers, political leaders, scientists and industrialists who lived in the county. Explore the 19th-century tombstones or walk through the arboretum and gardens with a local arborist. Guided walking tours are held Saturdays at 10 a.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. Reservations are required. Private tours can also be arranged. Call 215-348-3911 or visit doylestowncemetery.com.
All of this art and history is just a stone’s throw to downtown Doylestown, alive with restaurants, shops, a vintage movie theater and nightlife.
“Visitors can enjoy a great afternoon of seeing art and experiencing history and then walk over to State Street and have a wonderful meal and hand-crafted cocktails,’’ Bencivengo said.
Foodies will find much to delight – from casual eateries like The Hattery Stove & Still, a great breakfast spot, to 86 West, a chic downtown nightclub serving up sushi, sashimi and small plates where famous socialites have been spotted.
Chambers 19 is another popular spot that, after dinner, transforms into a nightclub with a DJ and crowds dancing the night away. Honey is the perfect place for small plates, while Villa Capri serves up live music, along with pizza and Italian specialties.
Enjoy craft beer, live entertainment and American fare with a pinch of the south at Maxwell's on Main. The Water Wheel Tavern, just outside of downtown, is a favorite American style grill. And don’t forget to scoop up Nina’s Waffles and Sweets for delicious homemade waffles and ice cream for dessert.
From May through October, the borough rotates street closings on Fridays and Saturdays to make room for outdoor dinner, live music and activities for the whole family, like mini-golf and face painting.
“It’s a very different way to take in the dining scene,’’ Boger said. “Families can enjoy the outdoor dining and entertainment in the early evening hours and it goes well into the night.’’
Many of the shops along Doylestown streets are locally owned and creatively curated. Head to Main Street Marketplace where distinctive streetscape storefronts are nestled along an indoor promenade, sporting a hometown ambiance, selling food, local wine, cocktails, home goods and so much more.
If it’s vintage Philly sportswear you’re after, check out Monkey’s Uncle, a retro-vintage t-shirt and sports boutique where the motto is “Much more than just a store – It’s a Philly thing.’’
For book aficionados, a must-browse is the Doylestown Bookshop, a perfect place to find everything from the latest releases to one-of-a-kind works. Other shopping notables are Bella’s Boutique, billed as a “funky little clothing store,’’ and Dress To The 9’s consignment boutique, where you can snag designer clothes, shoes and accessories at bargain prices.
And don’t forget to catch a movie at the County Theater, a historic art deco movie house that dates back to the 1930s, showing both first-run movies and vintage films.
Doylestown hosts a full slate of festivals and events throughout the year. One of the most popular is the Doylestown Arts Festival, held in the fall in conjunction with the Bucks County Classic, an internationally recognized bike race that draws competitors from across the country and the world.
In April, the borough welcomes Easter with a week-long egg hunt that takes place in the downtown shops, restaurants and businesses from April 2 to April 8, when the Easter Bunny makes his appearance, arriving in a classic car at the Discover Doylestown offices on East State Street. He will be available for photo ops from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Founded in 1745, Doylestown boasts the country’s oldest Memorial Day parade, which will turn 155 this year, according to Boger. Last year, roughly 1,700 people participated in the parade, representing more than 100 separate organizations, including eight local school bands, with an estimated 15,000 spectators looking on. This year’s parade is set for May 29.
While an easy day trip from Philly, Doylestown and its environs offer so much to do, it’s worth spending the weekend. Check out the Hargrave House or Doylestown Inn, both located in the downtown area. Nearby, the Hampton Inn & Suites Warrington offers a hot breakfast included in your stay.
For Boger, witnessing the borough’s growth over the years and helping thousands of tourists to immerse themselves in Doylestown’s history and charm continues to be a source of pleasure for the Doylestown native.
“I’m one of the fortunate ones who grew up here,’’ said Boger, who met her husband, Paul, while volunteering at the Doylestown Arts Fest, picking up trash together. “It’s been a wonderful experience to see others experience all that we have to offer. It really is heart-warming.’’
Learn more at visitbuckscounty.com and discoverdoylestown.com. Visitors can call 215-639-0300 to speak to knowledgeable trip planners who can assist with every aspect of your visit.