Sunday, September 25, 2011

The 2011 Jim Thorpe Victorian House Tour - A Success Story...

The Jim Thorpe Victorian House Tour was an outstanding success. A joint effort of the Mauch Chunk Historical Society, the Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center and the Mauch Chunk Mentors Inc, the tour consisted of 19 downtown historic buildings (check out for pictures of all.)

55 Broadway as it looks from the front of the Dimmick Memorial Library.

Front door of 55 Broadway.

Attendance exceeded expectations. Most of today’s foot traffic on Broadway was comprised of collectors-edition, guide-book toting folks, all interested in learning more about the history and Victorian era architecture of our county seat. I spoke to many satisfied and enthusiastic patrons throughout the 5-hour day. One family from Kentucky caught sight of the websight and planned their first-ever visit here solely to attend this event. As many as 350 visitors took advantage of today’s tour.

The property I hosted today was 55 Broadway, currently owned by John and David Drury of Jim Thorpe. This property holds the distinction of being the oldest of the surviving mansions in Jim Thorpe. It was most likely built by John Fatzinger in the 1840s. However, another early industrial pioneer of the town, Mr. Issac Salkheld may have built it in the 1830s.

Issac Salkeld came to Mauch Chunk in 1823 and worked for Josiah White and Erskine Hazard at the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company’s Iron Works, in the vicinity of the Old Jail on West Broadway. Issac also took charge of the building of the famous Mansion House Hotel in 1826. He was known to have built the first brick home in Mauch Chunk, but where this building existed is anyone’s guess. This building at 55 Broadway could be his homestead.
The side view shows the addition out the back, including an
original doorway converted to a window and a bay window
to the right is of the same brick and mortar as the updated
facade, possibly remodeled when James Blakslee took
ownership.  The parking lot was a side yard with an ornate fountain.

Several hundred of these tour
brochures were carried about
town today.

Another competing theory is the Great Fire of 1849 started here, when a servant girl carelessly tossed still smoldering cinders of the kitchen cook stove beneath the wooden porch stairs, and this brick building was built in its place. Other historians believe the fire started a bit further down the street near today’s Antonio’s Pizza.

If the mansion was not the one built by Issac Salkeld, it was then most likely built by his son-in-law John Fatzinger sometime in the 1840s. John Fatzinger married one of Issac’s daughters and also entered a business partnership with Issac’s son Jacob, forming ‘Fatzinger and Salkeld Iron Co.’ This business took over the iron operations of the LC &N on West Broadway.

However John did not live there long and both the residence and the iron works went to Jacob and his wife. Jacob and John by the way were “double brothers-in-law” with Jacob marrying John’s sister Catherine. The Fatzinger family moved to family land of the Seneca Valley in New York state.

Jacob and his family lived at 55 Broadway until 1880. At that time Jacob retired, selling both his home and the iron works. James Irwin Blakslee purchased the home and which point it is conjectured that much of the present day dentil and gingerbread work were applied, including the bay window and a new brick fa├žade. The home was also said to have impeccable gardens and an ornate cast-iron fountain in what is today the parking lot.
A detail view of the front door.

The front of the residence near the end of the Victorian era.

James Blakslee, though he was Asa Packer’s brother-in-law (James was a brother to Sarah Blakslee Packer), was a successful businessman in his own right. He created and owned many important businesses in the coal fields as well as the Mauch Chunk Gas Works.

Sometime near the time of the construction of the Dimmick Memorial Library in 1889, James commissioned the building of 56 and 58 Broadway for his son, Asa Packer Blakslee, and for Asa’s father in law, Francis Sayre. Imagine Asa Blakeslee’s predicament: His father-in-law in the other side of his duplex, with his father immediately facing him across the street.

Following the death of both James and Caroline Blakslee in 1901, their youngest son Charles lived at 55 Broadway until his death in 1924. The home left the hands of the Blakslee family upon the death of Charles’ wife Jean’s death in 1936.

John and David Drury, owners and operators of the Inn at Jim Thorpe, also operate the second and third floors as single, suite and apartment rentals as an extension of the Inn. The downstairs main living space operates as a favorite coffee shop that also sells homemade ice cream and real Italian ice.
Modern day Victorian visitors - Lilly and her wonderful sister Maya Hutton
enjoyed the tour.  This family was one of more than a few
who took in Kyle's carriage service today.

Most of the above research was provided by the talented Mauch Chunk historian, Jack Sterling, who once again chaired this year’s house tour. But Jack was quick to thank three other instrumental people: Richard DeFeo of Mentor’s Inc as well as a board member of the MCMCC; Bill Allison, board member of both the MCHS and the MCMCC; and Abby Beerman, a most apt and hard-working Allegheny College student intern.