Make a Donation to the Kemmerer Carriage House

Info About Jim Thorpe, PA

The Kemmerer Carriage House Restoration Project Udpate

Plaque of all the Contributors to the Kemmerer House

The town of Jim Thorpe has been fortunate that so many have labored with love to restore many of the landmarks that lend to its character, charm and appeal. There is the Mauch Chunk Opera House (once slated for demolition to become a parking lot), The Inn at Jim Thorpe (formerly the New American Hotel), The Mauch Chunk Ballroom / Museum & Cultural Center (the first church in Jim Thorpe), Asa Packer Mansion, Harry Packer Mansion and the Dimmick Library to name just a few. Now, we can count another historic landmark saved from almost certain demise; The Kemmerer Carriage House.

The Kemmerer estate was abandoned in the early 1900’s when its owners left Jim Thorpe to explore other business ventures. The family, no longer in need of the estate, donated it to the public and The Kemmerer Memorial Park
Association was formed to care for it. In 1927 the mansion was leveled to make way for a local park and playground. The only building that remained was the Kemmerer Carriage House.

The carriage house sat at the back corner of the park for many years. Neglect had caused the building to become dilapidated and by 2008 the building was condemned, as it posed a safety hazard within the public space. However, John Drury, head of the Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center, saw potential in it and led the movement to save it from demolition.

In the 3 ½ years since the restoration project began, a lot of work has been accomplished. Although the work has been slow going, the pace has allowed many within the community to become involved with its restoration including : The Mauch Chunk Museum & Cultural Center, The Mauch Chunk Historical Society, Borough of Jim Thorpe, Kemmerer Memorial Park Association, Kemmerer Family Foundation, Carbon Career & Technical Institute, the Boy Scouts of America, the Leisenring Family, the Carbon County Correctional Facility, Jim Thorpe Area High School, Project 365 (Jim Thorpe National Night out), and, of course, the committee and performers (Mauch Chunk Players) that have organized and put on the Victorian Ball as a fundraiser for the Kemmerer Carriage House Restoration Project.

Kemmerer Carriage House Parking LotOnce complete, the Kemmerer Carriage house will have a one-bedroom apartment that will bring an income to the Kemmerer Memorial Park Association to help maintain the park. There will be a small library/museum that will provide visitors with information about the Front Hill Families as well as provide a history of the role it played in the Switchback Railroad. A short video will help interpret this aspect of local history to tourists. The photos  show the most recent work completed on the Carriage House and include the dug trench and installation of a sewer system for the bathroom in the apartment. The park has certainly benefited from the restoration project with the new stone driveway, additional parking lot, and the re-purposed gas lamps added. It is anticipated that the apartment will be complete and ready by late fall of 2012.

While we have come a long way in bringing our vision for the Kemmerer Carriage House to completion, we are not quite finished yet! There is still much work that needs to be done. As we do every year, a Victorian Ball will be held to help raise money for the project. This year’s them is a re-enactment of the Victorian wedding of Harry Packer to Mary Augusta Lockhart. Donations are accepted and appreciated and can be made on our donation page or by clicking the donate link on the left.

We’d like to thank all those that have been involved in this project. Without their skills, efforts and dedication the Kemmerer Carriage House Restoration would not be possible.

For more information about Kemmerer Carriage House you can contact John Drury  by calling the Mauch Chunk Museum & Cultural Center at (570) 325-9190.

Wine & Cheese Grand Opening

Following Blog was written by Ron Rabenold and from his blog Cultured Carbon County

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.

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.

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