Date of Trip: September 2008
If you’re looking to leaf peep, shop for antiques, go on a ghost tour or see some historic and beautiful houses this fall, Bucks County, Pennsylvania is perfect. As a native Philadelphian who relocated to New Hope about a year ago, I’ve discovered that woody and eclectic Bucks County is more than just a suburb between New York and Philadelphia.
Below are some of my favorite places to visit in Bucks County. If, like me, you enjoy tourist-trap attractions as much as you enjoy rabid animals, then you’ll want to skip Peddler’s Village and the numerous faux “farmer’s markets” that proliferate in Bucks. Peddler’s Village is probably the most well-known shopping area in Bucks County — you will like it here if you appreciate giant shopping malls, brand names and big-box stores. And watch out for the fake farmer’s markers, which offer overpriced produce and kitschy “handmade” Halloween decorations in autumn. If something has a “Made in China” sticker attached, it is not “handmade.”
Golden Nugget Flea Market
Okay, so this isn’t technically in Bucks County. But it’s right over the bridge in Lambertville, New Jersey and it’s certainly worth a stop if you’re in the area. Here, you’ll find literally hundreds of stalls selling everything from produce to antique furniture. My favorite finds: lots of bins filled with beads (if you make your own jewelry, you must check out this flea market!), antique letters and photographs for as cheap as $1 each, fresh Jersey tomatoes, and bad art.
Watch out for the tricky salespeople! I’ve been on the wrong side of an attempted swindle at this flea market on more than one occasion. One man tried to sell me a smelly salad spinner that had a dead fly inside. I was told that the spinner was brand new and that it sold for $60 in stores (not true — I had seen it online for $29). Another time, a seller claimed that a painting he was hawking for $80 was worth $600, but when I asked him the name of the artist, he didn’t know.
Fonthill is a six-story castle located in Doylestown, PA. The castle is constructed of poured concrete, and was built by Henry Mercer in 1910. You must take a guided tour of this castle — visitors may not walk the halls independently. If you escape from your tour group to take a peek at another room, be prepared to get yelled at by your tour guide.
The castle is certainly worth a stop, but it’s more of a curiosity than an example of impressive architecture. Because of its random towers and lack of symmetry, the castle appears to have been built on a whim by a deluded visionary. The structure looks dangerous and architecturally unsound.
Inside, the tour, unfortunately,will only take you to a fraction of the castle’s many rooms. You’ll learn about Henry Mercer’s interesting life, which is the best part of the tour; the visit would be less interesting without the fascinating narrative of its creator, a man who suffered from a variety of physical and mental maladies, read thousands of books, and lived and died alone in his concrete castle. Mercer traveled all over the world and decorated his home with the pottery and tiles he acquired from his journeys. Look for antique books on the occult and the human skull that rests on a mantel in one of the rooms (these were not pointed out by my tour guide, but I found them remarkable).
Tickets are $9; you should call ahead to schedule a tour. You can also buy a “Mercer Experience” ticket for $12, which includes admissions for the nearby Mercer Museum (I have not been to the Mercer Musem yet, but I’m planning on it!).
Delaware Canal State Park
For a pleasant and scenic walk, stroll or bike along this 60-mile-long tow path in Bucks County. I visit the part that runs through New Hope in search of ghosts, as I’ve found thissite listed in more than one published compilation of haunted places in America. No, I haven’t spotted any ghosts yet. But I have spotted gaggles of geese, ducks and frogs in the canal’s lime green mossy waters. If you’re bringing the kids, pack some stale bread or crackers to feed the ducks.
I know I said I dislike tourist traps earlier,however New Hope is an exception; it’s crowded, but its culture and history are not to be missed. On weekends, the streets are literally mobbed with thousands of visitors. Traffic is routinely blocked by an annoying horse andcarriage that slowly carts tourists up and down Main Street, and by squads of leather-clad motorcyclists on growling bikes. Good luck finding parking — it’s nearly impossible after 11 a.m. on the weekend. I would recommend my secret spot for parking, but then it would no longer be a secret. My advice? Plan a weekday visit.
For antiques, visit Tear Drop Memories on Mechanic Street. New Hope is rife with antique shops, but this store is particularly fabulous — it’s filled with incredible Victorian bird cages (one of which resembles a large ship) and old memento moris. Ask the owner about any curious object and you’ll get to hear an informative and humorous story. Look for antique pictures crafted from human hair — they’re hard to spot. Apparently, it used to be customary for mourners to produce crafts from the hair of recently deceased loved ones. The shop sells human hair memorials that are up to 600 years old, plus medical devices, pictures and other unusual antiquities. The owner of Tear Drop Memories is witty and friendly, and he welcomes customers who are just there to browse.
Unfortunately, New Hope isn’t the best town for great cuisine. If you’re seeking tasty fare in New Hope, I recommend that you pick a place based on atmosphere first and quality of food second. Go to Karla’s on Mechanic Street for fancy martinis, flamboyantly fun bartenders, and pricey salads and meat-and-potatoes dishes (you can play a board game while you sip on your $10 martini). If you’re a lobster-and-steak kind of person, Marsha Brown’s on Main Street, which was converted from a church into a trendy restaurant, offers Creole cuisine for a pretty penny.
If you’re into ghost-hunting, book Room 6 at the Logan Inn. This room is famously haunted, and I stayed here a few years ago before I became a “Townie”. No, I didn’t see any ghosts. But while I was awake during the night, fearfully clutching the sheets in anticipation of an undead visitor, the lights went off in my room. I jumped up, turning the lamp switch over and over again hysterically to get some light, until I realized that the light in the hallway and the streetlamp outside the window had also gone out. It was just a power outage. But it was still scary!