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Adam Cherubini volunteers in the Pennsbury Manor Joyner’s Shop, demonstrating 18th-century hand tool techniques. (photo by Kari Hultman)

Set aside a little time before or after the Woodworking in America: Hand Tools and Techniques conference (Oct 2-4 in Valley Forge, Pa.)  , …?cause really cool stuff is just an hours’ drive away.

Mercer and Fonthill Museums

The Mercer Museum, operated by the Bucks County Historical Society, is an unparalleled collection of objects from of everyday life in 18th- and 19th-century America , more than 40,000 tools and artifacts representing more than 60 early American trades including woodworking, shingle-making, printing and metalworking, plus numerous examples of early American furniture and folk art. At the Mercer, you’ll find one of the world’s best hand tool collections. Almost all of the 55 exhibit areas display the tools and products of early American craft, and life in the pre-industrial age.

The collection was amassed by Henry Mercer (1856-1930) and his house is also a museum on the same site. Fonthill Museum is a 44-room concrete castle with more than 200 windows, and an interior elaborately decorated with handcrafted tiles. Many of Mercer’s original furnishings and effects remain in the museum, which stands as a testament to Mercer’s vision.
Information (including directions from Valley Forge) about the Mercer Museum and Fonthill Museum can be found on the web.

Winterthur was the country estate of Henry Francis DuPont (1880-1969), which DuPont and his father designed in the style of 18th- and 19th-century English country estates. DuPont was an avid horticulturalist and antiques collector, and the gardens and furniture collection at the museum are spectacular. But perhaps the most incredible attraction of Winterthur (for woodworkers, anyway) is the Dominy family woodworking shop , a reconstruction of the shop used by four generations of craftsmen who worked in East Hampton, N.Y., from the mid 1700s to the mid 1800s. It’s an astounding array of tools (more than 800) in an original environment, which gives a glimpse at what it was like to be an American rural woodworker more than two centuries ago. For more information on Winterthur, visit its web site.

The Wharton Esherick Museum
This national historic landmark is an incredible architectural gem built from traditional materials in new forms, with curved stone walls, a multi-colored tower and a patchwork floor of wood scraps. Esherick built his studio during four decades, and his evolving artistic styles are reflected in the building’s design and details, all of which he crafted. Just before his death in 1970, Esherick spoke of his studio as an autobiography executed in wood. A guided tour through the museum reveals more than 200 pieces of the artist’s work, including sculptural wood furnishings. And on display from Sept. 13-Dec. 31, 2009 are selections from the museum’s 16th annual woodworking competition. This year’s exhibit, “Step Right Up,” features nine library ladders. For more information, visit the museum’s web site.

Pennsbury Manor
Pennsbury manor is the recreated home of William Penn (1644-1781), one of the founders and “Absolute Proprietors” of the Province of Pennsylvania. A member of the Quaker religion, Penn was an early champion of democracy and religious freedom who came to North America in 1682 as governor of Pennsylvania, and shortly thereafter began building his country home. After Penn’s death, the estate fell into disrepair and all visible traces of the original plantation has vanished.

From 1933 to 1942, the Pennsylvania Historical Commission reconstructed the site, including the Manor House, the outbuildings and the landscape, working from Penn’s original instructions and archeological evidence. Today, the home is open as a museum; and every Sunday, volunteer interpreters (including Popular Woodworking‘s “Arts & Mysteries” author Adam Cherubini) dress in period clothing and present aspects of 17th-century life. You can often find Adam in the Joyner’s Shop. Visit the manor’s web site for more information.

Photo courtesy of, Pennsbury Manor, administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

In addition to these and myriad other museums and historic sites in and around Valley Forge, there’s a wealth of shopping from the King of Prussia mall (the world’s largest retail mall) to chic Mainline Philadelphia boutiques, fall foliage tours, gourmet food (more on the food in a later post), music and more.

For comprehensive information on Valley Forge and the surrounding area, visit the Valley Forge Convention & Visitors’ Bureau web site and the Buck’s County web site.

And if you live in the Valley Forge area , or just know a little something about it , please leave additional suggestions in our comments, below.

– Megan Fitzpatrick

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Showing 4 comments
  • Mike Siemsen

    If your interested in impressionist art the Barnes Foundation in Merion Pa is an interesting place.

  • dave jeske

    Not far from Valley Forge, in the Town of West Chester, is the Chester County Historical Museum. It has fabulous examples of early American furniture and an especially good collection of Chester county Furniture. If you like line-and-berry inlay this is a must see. It also has a great collection of tall clocks.

  • the Village Carpenter

    The other three places you mentioned are, of course, also fantastic. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

  • the Village Carpenter

    I highly recommend the Wharton Esherick Museum, but you do need to call ahead to arrange a time for your tour. Parking is very limited, and they can only take about 8 people at a time through the building. And even though they do not allow photos, it is worth the experience.

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