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This article by Brenda Lange was prepared for the July 3, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Only a handful of counties across America can boast
a name that is recognized from coast to coast. Marin County, California, is one. Bucks County, Pennsylvania, is another, and it’s right in our backyard.
Bucks County stretches from the small towns and farm fields of its
northern tip to the more populated southern edge just minutes away
from Philadelphia. Residents of this 600-square-mile county, tucked
into the southeastern corner of the state, know they have a good thing
going and are willing to share with visitors from nearby or far away.
The little Borough of Doylestown, with a population of less than
10,000, sits almost squarely in the center of Buck County. The county
seat since 1813, this small town is said to rival many large cities
such as nearby Philadelphia with its world-class cultural facilities,
elegant Victorian architecture, and historic attractions. Last year,
the National Trust for Historic Preservation names Doylestown one
of its Dozen Distinctive Destinations.
One of the reasons cited for Doylestown’s "Top Dozen" designation
is because it’s a fun place for families and visitors of all ages.
Those lucky enough to live there already know that. And those who
visit quickly find out. It’s also a perfect destination for an "Old-Fashioned
Fourth of July," presented by the Bucks County Historical Society
at Doylestown’s Fonthill Museum.
For individuals and families, Doylestown can truly offer something
for everyone. Like to visit museums? Doylestown has four world-class
museums all within walking distance of downtown. How about movies?
The County Theater in the heart of town is a perfect example of a
restored Art Deco theater that shows top of the line independent films
as well as a children’s matinee series on Saturday afternoons in the
wintertime. Love to eat? Who wouldn’t love to taste test every one
of Doylestown’s many diverse restaurants.
Maybe you’ve been indoors all morning, and are headed for the matinee
at the County in a little while. Maybe it’s time to take a break for
a hamburger, a vegetarian wrap, a bowl of spaghetti, or slice of pizza
at one of Doylestown’s downtown eateries. After the movie, you can
stop in at Coffee & Cream, two doors down, for a rich ice cream cone
or cross the street to get a Starbucks double latte.
Maybe the kids need to let off a little steam. Hop in the car and
head out of town just a mile or so to Kids’ Castle, a wooden castle-like
structure — several stories high — full of nooks and crannies
and slides and swings that practically call out to children, enticing
them to come explore its secrets. The castle sits on 105 rolling and
wooded acres in Central Park, next to the Doylestown Township building
on Wells Road, a two-minute drive out of town on Lower State Road.
Sharing the park is a bike and hike path with fitness stations, basketball
and tennis courts, a putting green, and picnic pavilions.
Or drive a couple of miles north of Doylestown to discover the pristine
beauty of Peace Valley Park. Within its 1,500 acres the nature lover
can spend a peaceful afternoon observing birds from two bird blinds
or visiting the Peace Valley Nature Center. You can get more physical
and circle Lake Galena on its six miles of bike and hiking paths or
rent a paddleboat and join the ducks out on the lake.
The Nature Center was built in 1983 with additions and renovations,
completed in 1997, that include a children’s corner overflowing with
books and stuffed animals. Along an adjacent wall are real, formerly
living animals, now stuffed and mounted: a three-dimensional encyclopedia
of the area’s indigenous wildlife — owls, woodpeckers, possum,
skunk, and raccoon.
The Nature Center is the cornerstone of 14 miles of always-open walking
trails where birders with binoculars in hand stroll the waterfront,
while white-tailed deer pick their way across the stream, and a blue
heron perches on a log near three sunning turtles.
One of the bird blinds sits behind the center, where visitors —
if they’re quiet — can spot all types of songbirds and the waterfowl
that visit the pond there. Over the past 40 years, 276 species of
birds have been identified within the park’s boundaries. Park naturalists
are almost always on hand to answer questions.
"We teach 13,000 kids a year, mostly school groups, from Philadelphia
to Allentown," says Louise Lehman, office manager. "We have
a self-guided tour or you can arrange for a group to visit," she
adds pointing out the Lenni Lenape Indian artifacts, which were found
locally, and the research library.
Sellersville, Pennsylvania, residents Larry and Erika Wnukowski and
their daughters, 5-year-old Lukeja and 2-year-old Laura pay frequent
visits to the center.
"We like to come here and read," says Erika, as she opens
a book about turtles for Lukeja, and Laura fits a plush puppet on
"Come and try this," Lukeja suggests, sticking her small hand
into a box with a concealed opening. "You have to guess what’s
in there," she says, and then declares with a smile, "Pine
The Nature Center bills itself as "an outdoor living museum and
earth education center" and the touch-and-guess boxes help children
identify common items from the natural world around them. Peace Valley
Park offers special outings throughout the year, including a full-moon
walk one evening every month, singles walks, morning and evening bird
walks, and special nature walks and activities for children and families.
After some fresh air and exercise, head the car back into town for
a little shopping at one of the many craft, clothing, gift, or book
shops that line Court, State, and Main streets. By then it’s probably
time for dinner.
Fine examples of Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and American fare are
all within walking distance in Doylestown. Feeding the kids depends
on their ages and taste buds. B. Maxwell’s and Chambers are known
for good food at reasonable prices and family-friendly atmospheres.
Mesquito Grille offers an American barbecue menu and outdoor rooftop
seating. Assorted sandwich shops are tucked away on nearly every street.
Fast-food restaurants sit at the outskirts of town, lining north Main
Street; and Pizza Hut and Boston Market sit side-by-side at the south
end of town.
If you’ve left the children home, however, you may want
to opt for one of the more adult, upscale restaurants in town: Cafe
Arielle advertises gourmet fare. The Knight House, Domani Star, and
Paganini Trattoria, the latter offering European and Italian food,
sit nearly side by side along West State Street. Roosevelt’s Blue
Star, nestled at the end of Market Way, a cozy alley off East State
Street, serves vegetarian dishes and "creative" American meals.
After dinner, you can relax while listening to live jazz at Blue 52,
across the alley from Roosevelt’s, or drive about two miles north
on Route 611 (Main Street) to Cafe Classics. There you can enjoy live,
nationally-known blues musicians Wednesday through Saturday nights.
The Cafe Classics also serves Southern, Cajun, and "innovative"
The McCann family of Doylestown is proof that you don’t have to travel
far to be a tourist in Doylestown. The family of six holds a membership
to the James A. Michener Art Museum and visits there regularly. The
Michener Museum maintains a small permanent exhibit dedicated to its
namesake, the Pulitzer-prize winning author of "Hawaii" and
so many more. The exhibit includes his presidential Medal of Freedom
and the original manuscript of "The Novel." The Michener galleries
are filled with permanent exhibits of Pennsylvania Impressionists
including Daniel Garber and Edward Redfield, and noteworthy changing
The museum also offers "Creative Bucks County," an interactive
family exhibit celebrating the arts, and has a video viewing room
with clips from dozens of movies with a Bucks County connection. A
children’s corner offers puzzles, books, and dolls to entertain the
young ones while educating them about art and specific museum exhibits.
The recently completed Pfundt Sculpture Garden outdoors is also arranged
to reflect the natural Bucks County heritage.
"The Michener has a remarkable collection of local artists combined
with a great variety of changing exhibits," says Martha McCann.
"It’s small enough to be accessible and not overwhelming for kids.
We like to see our old favorites, like the Garber mural and the George
Nakashima Room, as well as the visiting collections."
Across Pine Street from the Michener Museum sits the imposing seven-story-high
Mercer Museum. Made of poured, reinforced concrete with lead pane
glass windows, this towering castle was completed in 1916 by Henry
Mercer to house his collection of early American objects — some
everyday articles like farm implements, folk art, and furnishings,
others more arcane, such as a whaling boat and an antique fire engine
that hangs from the rafters.
Mercer, a renowned anthropologist, archaeologist, historian, writer,
innovator, and collector was one of the founding members of the Bucks
County Historical Society in 1880. Dismayed to see common objects
used in early America being thrown away in favor of newer, more advanced
items, he began to frequent auctions called "Penny Lots" where
he bought up items of interest. Thus began his collection, which now
numbers more than 40,000 items. His museum is the Historical Society’s
storehouse and a public treasure. More than 60 early American trades
are represented there — including woodworking, metalworking, agriculture,
The Spruance Library, housed within the Mercer Museum, includes extensive
collections of Bucks County history and genealogy and the history
of early industry, trades, and crafts of the area. Researchers are
The Mercer Museum is also a hands-on spot for children, who can play
with Lincoln Logs, hold the reins of a carriage, try on vintage clothing,
and play with early American games and toys. If you’re looking for
something different and special to do during the summer, plan to attend
the "Under the Stars Movie Series" — an early-American
version of the drive-in — that takes place on the museum’s lawn
every Tuesday night throughout July and August. Vintage films, scary-funny
1950s science fiction, and Disney favorites like "Treasure Island"
are shown under the stars. Bring your lawn chairs, blankets, and snacks.
About two miles away is Fonthill, Henry Mercer’s home,
which also holds hidden corners full of treasures, such as the key
closet where large brass keys are hung on hooks to correspond with
doors for each of its 44 rooms. Fonthill — recently featured on
television on A&E’s "America’s Castles" series — was built
of hand-mixed concrete and completed in 1910. Mercer wrote that he
designed it "room by room, from the interior, the exterior not
being considered until all the rooms had been imagined and sketched."
It would be easy to get lost among the 32 stairwells while examining
Mercer’s original handcrafted tiles that adorn the walls, floors,
ceilings, and 18 fireplaces.
Popular tours at Fonthill include the "Behind the Scenes"
tour in which you get to climb up Fonthill’s tower and explore back
passageways. The kitchen, servant’s quarters, crypt, and terrace pavilion
are open as well for this special guided tour. The "Tower Tour"
for Families is much the same, but is geared toward younger children
and their parents. Preregister for these monthly tours.
The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works sits in a grassy field along Route
313, just a stone’s throw from Fonthill. The Tile Works is not just
a museum, it is a working factory, with ceramists on duty every day,
creating tiles and decorative items in the fashion of Henry Mercer.
Visitors can watch as artists press and glaze tiles using his techniques,
molds, kilns, and recipes. Mercer tiles and mosaics can be seen throughout
the country in highly visible spots such as Boston’s Gardner Museum
and the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg.
All three buildings are National Historic Landmarks and offer guided
tours daily. Combination tickets are available for the Mercer and
Fonthill, the Mercer and Michener museums, and the Michener and Pearl
Buck House. The Tile Works is run by the county park and recreation
department. Reservations for Fonthill are strongly recommended.
If you wear sturdy walking shoes and are so inclined, Doylestown’s
museums, shops, and downtown restaurants are all within walking distance.
The Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce has published a booklet outlining
three walking tours of historic Doylestown. From the site of the original
Doyle’s Tavern, where Route 611 (Main Street) and Route 202 (State
Street) intersect, visitors can make the rounds of the town to view
the lovely 19th-century Victorian architecture.
The self-guided tour includes a stop at Lenape Hall. Built in 1874,
the three-story building, made of half a million bricks, contains
storefronts, offices, apartments and the County Theater. Down the
street, the Doylestown Inn, originally a shoe store, hat shop, and
bookbinding business were joined in 1902 into a hostelry. Recently
renovated, the Inn now has 11 guest rooms, coffee shop, and offices.
More than 50 homes and structures are included on this three-part
tour of Doylestown’s unique and historic architectural achievements.
Call the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce at 215-348-3913 for a copy
of the brochure titled "A Healthy Walk Through Doylestown History".
As an alternative, the Doylestown DART service offers daily bus service
between outlying shopping areas and downtown sites. Fares are $1,
children under 11 are free. A brochure can be obtained by calling
1-866-862-7433. If you drive into Doylestown, a free parking garage
is located in the center of town, directly across Court Street from
Society , Fonthill Museum, Route 313 and East Court Street, Doylestown,
215-348-9461. Decorated bike parade, watermelon eating contest, patriotic
music and picnic foods are some of the highlights of the patriotic
celebration on the museum grounds. New this year "Phydeoux’s Fabulous
Flying Flea Circus of Fate" and the "Chief Wahoo Miracle Elixir
Medicine Show," plus a women’s suffrage rally, "I Hear America
Singing" program, pony rides, games, and foods. In case of rain,
event is canceled. $3; $1 children. Thursday, July 4, noon to 5
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