In my last blog entry I told you about the Michener Museum in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Today, we will see that I wandered across the street to take a look at the grounds of its neighbor, the Mercer Museum, a six-story reinforced concrete castle designed by Henry Mercer (1856-1930) and completed in 1916. Containing 50,000 pre-Industrial tools, the permanent collection offers visitors a unique window into pre-Industrial America through sixty different crafts and trades, and is one of the world’s most comprehensive portraits of pre-Industrial American material culture.
Having made a past visit to the Mercer, I knew the collection was quirky, with staircases pointing in all directions and no climate control above the first floor. Mercer collected the tools of dying professions such as hatmakers, glovemakers, tinsmiths, cheesemakers, and coopers. There is also a fine research library, which I used when writing my Master's thesis.
But outside, I found a romantic survivor of the Colonial Revival period--the Russell log house moved to Mercer's property in 1911, before the Museum was built. It sounds as if this romantic vision for the 18th Century house, typical for the early 19th C, overrode any attempt at an accurate reconstruction. Since the family that owned the house would not permit the foundation or chimney stones to be moved, a lot was lost. After a fire in 1994, it was found that much of the structure was composed of non-period details, including railroad ties and telephone poles. Mercer himself dedicated the log house by saying
The courtyard of the log house has a carriage shed housing parts of old machinery and vehicles, and leads to a path behind the log house where one can see a nice reconstruction of a beehive oven, in a separate structure from the log house. This would be convenient for teaching school groups how baking was done without endangering the house itself (many historic homes have stopped using interior ovens for fire safety reasons).