It all started with a farmer's generosity. In 1924, a civic-minded citizen handed over 16 acres of lush farmland and a small group of critters to the Borough of Norristown. Today, the Elmwood Park Zoo and the Norristown Zoological Society welcomes guests in hopes of creating a future stock of wildlife lovers and conservation advocates. A menagerie of around 300 beasts indigenous to the Americas—including jaguars, howler monkeys, timberwolves, and bald and gold eagles—peer back at visitors. Even though they're from Africa, giraffes get in on the fun too during certain seasons, grazing on foliage and the toupees of particularly tall patrons. Guests can also spy on more than 15 species that are threatened or endangered. All the while, smaller animals mosey around at the petting barn, tots climb aboard gentle ponies, and winged beauties sail through the air at the butterfly preserve.
Since its founding in 1893, the Chester County Historical Society has painstakingly cataloged nearly every facet of local life—from government records to fashionable dresses of the day. It's no wonder, then, that its 300-year-old collection of artifacts, photographs, and reference volumes takes up an entire 56,000-square-foot downtown History Center. Inside, visitors can find rotating exhibits on topics such as Civil War history and historic paper and textile crafts. Additionally, the permanent galleries are home to handcrafted grandfather clocks and furniture and fashion from the early 1700s to the 20th century. When museum staff aren't organizing the collections or leading educational workshops, they can help unearth a person's family history in the library and photo archives, which feature more than 80,000 historical and modern prints.
The winner of seven consecutive Best Custom Framing awards from CityVoter users, Masterpieces Fine Art & Custom Framing stocks more than 2,300 frames, including work by industry mainstay Larson-Juhl. Its skilled framers meld function and aesthetic form to secure works of art in everything from American hardwood to 22-karat-gold-leafing frames to metal handcuffs. Aside from framing, the staff also restores faded or creased photos to their original vivid states and brings photos to life by converting them into imitation oil paintings or watercolors that look like they were born from hours of meticulous brushstrokes.
Designated as a national historic landmark in 1985, Fonthill Castle connects visitors to artifact collector, archeologist, and architectural visionary Henry Mercer, who built the home nearly 100 years ago. During one-hour castle tours, insightful guides weave groups through the completely concrete estate, stopping to explore 18 of the mansion's 44 history-packed rooms along the way. A fusion of Gothic and Byzantine architectural styles, the castle's compilation of mysterious and shadowy nooks accompanies more than 200 uniquely shaped windows, original furnishings, and 18 different fireplaces, where Mercer's guests would warm up and ward off Hessian bands of headless snowmen. Tour-takers traverse the palace's corridors, ambling past Mercer's handcrafted tiles that provide century-old eye candy, elaborately lining interior walls, floors, and ceilings. Outside, the castle is surrounded by equally stunning sights, including rolling woodlands, open fields, and a well maintained mashed-potato moat.
High on a hill in Bryn Athyn, a vision of old Europe towers over the surrounding greenery. Built as a private residence between 1928 and 1939, the 20th-century castle was constructed in the medieval style, using symbolism that reflects the faith of the community's earliest inhabitants. The building now serves as a museum that houses religious art and relics dating from Babylonian times up to the present. The museum's permanent and temporary exhibits range from a medieval collection of stained glass that spans the years 1100–1300 to an Egyptian collection that includes an ornate granite libation bowl, which Egyptian priests are said to have used to dump Gatorade on their football coach.
For many galleries, art is something that resides behind a velvet rope, separated and unaccessible to its viewers. For the curators of Abington Art Center, it is something to be experienced, enjoyed, and, above all, created oneself. Located on the 27-acre expanse of Alverthorpe Manor, the center hosts classes and workshops for students of all ages and exhibitions of community artists. The outdoor Sculpture Park captures the center's sense of playful creation, inviting sculptors to craft their own temporary installations each year—this also helps erase the temptation to carve a mustache into a nearby town's statue of its mayor. The guest artists are encouraged to have their creations respond to the nature around them, such as massive faces carved from tree trunks. Inside the mansion, one can find galleries of young creators and solo exhibitions by professional artists.