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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.

Destination Doylestown

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

her hand.

"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

cones!"

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"

American cuisine.

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

special exhibits.

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,

and advertising.

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

welcome here.

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

the courthouse.

Old-Fashioned Fourth of July, Bucks County Historical

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

p.m.


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