Call me morbid, but I have always been fascinated by cemeteries. Maybe it’s the writer in me who is intrigued by the stories that lies behind each of the names carved into the polished stone, or the history nerd in me who is drawn to the dates marking the lives of those who walked the Earth at a different time...I’ve visited cemeteries from Europe to Bermuda and throughout the U.S. (I said it was okay to call me morbid). However, their history and their stories still don’t stack up to those found in one of my favorite graveyards – the Doylestown Historic Cemetery.
Located on Court Street, a short walk from the borough of Doylestown, the historic cemetery is the final resting place for more than 17,000 local souls dating back to 1851 through today. You can basically smell the history just walking through it! The best part is, tours are offered regularly from late spring to late fall to help you learn about the property and the people who lie beneath it. (I like to grab breakfast before visiting and take a walk to Fonthill Castle afterwards – See the end of my post for these insider tips.)Ten acres of the cemetery were originally purchased in 1849 by William Rogers to pioneer the creation of an aesthetically beautiful place where people could warmly remember loved ones, contrasting the solemn, cold cemeteries that were the norm at that time. Since then, the cemetery has grown to a truly lovely 33-acres of natural beauty, art, architecture, history and culture. The grounds feature tranquil gardens and the works of sculptors and stone masons who have created some of the most beautiful memorial pieces to commemorate the lives of those who've passed away.On the day of our tour, I met tour guide Tammy Schane on the wrap-around porch of the cemetery office (the black and white Italianate house with ornate architectural features is a sight to see in itself). Tammy is one of eight guides at the cemetery who all specialize in various aspects of cemetery history. Their array of knowledge allows them to offer tours on Civil War veterans, borough VIPs, late 19th century tombstone interpretation and historic trees.Tammy’s been giving tours since 2012 and considers herself a public historian of Bucks County and Pennsylvania. She’s a self-taught 19th century mourning and cemetery customs specialist. I was absolutely mesmerized by her knowledge of the area, the people who have been buried here over the last 150 years and those who created the monuments to remember them.
Thomas Hargrave, a man of the granite and monument business, created many of the stunning memorials at the cemetery. You may recognize his name from his previous residence in town, known today as the Hargrave House, one of Doylestown Borough’s bed and breakfasts. His work can be found in cemeteries throughout Pennsylvania and on this tour, you’ll learn the meaning behind some of his most beautiful work.Tours depart every Saturday at 10:00 a.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. from the cemetery office at 21 E. Court Street, next to the cemetery. For more information, contact the Doylestown Cemetery at 215-348-3911 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you walk all the way out to the east side of the cemetery, across the street is a small opening in the trees marked on either side by a set of two stone pillars. Head up through these pillars and there's a quiet trail that weaves its way through the woods all the way to the grounds of Fonthill Castle (Henry C. Mercer's former home). It's a beautiful property to explore and once you're there, you can visit Mercer's Moravian Pottery and Tile Works or continue your day of history and take a guided tour of Henry's home.
Need a good spot to grab breakfast before your tour? One of my all-time favorite breakfast spots is Cross Keys Diner, located about five minutes away from the cemetery. The people are friendly, the atmosphere is homey, the food is superb and the portions are hearty. Is there really anything more you need at a breakfast joint? They have a fantastic menu of classic breakfast items and a regularly rotating board of THE BEST specials. I could drool just thinking about Stan's Omelette. My favorite touch is the unique coffee mug at each place setting - just like eating breakfast over a friend's house. Enjoy!