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Women’s History Month

HISTORY LIVES: The Nature Club and the Little Stone House


In 1907, Mrs. Irvin M. James, of Doylestown, invited a few lady friends to tea and broached the subject of starting a club to learn more about nature. By the end of that year they numbered 25.

These women were ahead of their time; in the early part of the 20th century, interest in the preservation of nature was at a low ebb. It was looked upon with skepticism and amused tolerance. In contrast, the new club discussed topics that included moths and butterflies, wildflowers, avian neighbors and American wildlife. They also addressed civic concerns i.e. state game protections, preservation of trees, town beautification and abandoned lots.

Henry Mercer was a strong supporter of the Doylestown Nature Club and, in 1912, he renovated an 18th century stone farmhouse on his Fonthill estate for the club’s use. For many years it was their museum housing natural history collections, but it was eventually abandoned be-cause of vandalism. Metal bars now cover its windows, patches of stone have been filled in with cement, and Mercer himself encased the roof in concrete.

However, in February 2023, the Bucks County Historical Society unveiled a “new vision” for the grounds at Fonthill. The conceptual plan “seeks to realize Henry Mercer’s vision to foster education and enjoyment of both the arts and nature,” the BCHS said in a statement.

Included in the plan is revitalization of the “Little House in the Woods” as a new space for environmental and ecological education. Mercer inscribed a poem in the eaves using his iconic tiles: Who learns will love, and not destroy, the creature’s life, the flower’s joy.

The founders of the Doylestown Nature Club would wholeheartedly agree with this new initiative.

Sources: Doylestown Nature Club — Its First Sixty Years, 1967.

Bucks County Courier Times, Feb. 12, 2023.

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