Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mahlon S. Kemmerer Carriage House Open House - July 17, 2010



Back Row: Keith Bellhorn, Member of the Board of the MCMCC, Jeff & Adrian Wilcox, Phase II contractor, George Colaviti, Phase I Contractor, Jack Sterling, Bill Allison, Board Members of the MCMCC and John Drury, Board President of the MCMCC. 
Front Row: Carol Walbert & Edith Lukasevich of the Kemmerer Memorial Park Association.

This past Saturday, the public got its first glimpse at a rehabilitated eyesore on Packer Hill in Jim Thorpe. Ask John Drury, and he will tell you a treasure was saved. Drury, founder of the Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center, spearheaded the effort to raise the $120,000 to save the Mahlon S. Kemmerer Carriage House. The bulk of which was provided through the generosity of Jay and Peter Kemmerer and the Kemmerer Family Foundation.  Also donating was Ted Leisenring, John Leisenring's great grandson. 

Drury also served as project manager by building an alliance of many local groups and seeing that the crumbling structure was preserved.  The key fundraiser for the Carriage House has been the MCMCC's "Victorian Ball" held each November.

The property has a history of revitalization. In 1872 the people of Mauch Chunk, particularly the ladies in their fine Victorian garb, demanded something be done with the dusty coal chutes that descended the 200 feet from the Switchback Railroad and on down to the tracks and river. Piles and piles of accumulated coal dust from the millions of tons of anthracite which were sized and distributed here.  When passersby passed beneath the chutes along Lehigh Street, particularly in the rain, dirty sooty rain water would drip and stain their clothes.  The chutes and the piles of dust had to go.

John Leisenring, manager of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company for many years, felt responsible. And being the owner of the property next door, he too had a vested interest in this hillside in front of Packer Hill, also known as Front Hill. And as his reward for his deft handling of the 1862 Flood Crisis, the LCNC gave the lands to Mr. Leisenring as a token of their gratitude.

By February of 1879, the unveiling of the transformation was complete, a Swiss-styled mansion was given to his daughter Annie, who had wed Mahlon S. Kemmerer. Kemmerer worked his way through the ranks of the Mauch Chunk industrialists into ownership of the Carbon County Iron Company of Parryville. The couple, with their new estate, were part of the established families of Mauch Chunk.

The Kemmerers would later re-locate to Wyoming and the mansion and property fell into disrepair, being dismantled in October of 1927. A playground association was formed and a basketball court marks the location of the once grand mansion. All that remains of the Kemmerer estate is the carriage house.

From the 1970s and into the 1990s, the grounds of Kemmerer Memorial Park had fallen into disuse and disrepair.  But luckily the Association stood ready and determined to save it.  About ten years ago, when Leisenring's grandson got the ball rolling with a $75,000 bequest.  Then, the borough of Jim Thorpe took ownership in order to qualify for a major state grant.

And now with the stabilization of the Carriage House, many feel the final gem has been set into the crown of a beautiful park, waiting to be used by the community.  Much of the early effort goes to long time park association members like Edie Lukasevich, Ben Walbert and in particular, Bob Handwerk, owner of the Harry Packer Mansion.  Bob has spent considerable time and effort picking up trash and trimming the brush and grass for the past 15 or so years.

But what is next for this house now that it has been saved? Precisely the reason Mr. Drury held this wine and cheese open house. It is for the Association and the community leaders to find an economically sustainable use for the structure: Perhaps a cultural center or a bed and breakfast. Or perhaps it could be a small apartment for a caretaker to oversee the maintenance of Kemmerer Park while the remaining space could be used by civic groups as a community hall, or some combination of these.

John Drury and the park association hope to find an answer for this recently polished gem, to make it a vital piece of Jim Thorpe’s current resurrection toward its former days of grandeur.

Another Victorian Festival and Ball is scheduled for November 6th and 7th, 2010. For more information you can contact John Drury at (570) 325-4436.



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