The doors will be open to the public at the newly-restored historic Kemmerer Carriage House on Thursday, Dec. 27 from noon to 8 p.m. The carriage house is located in Kemmerer Park on Packer Hill Road in Jim Thorpe. Parking is available at the Carbon County parking lot, and weather permitting, the new unpaved path provides access to Kemmerer Park from Route 209.
The open house is free and complementary wine and cheese will be served.
Four years ago, the Kemmerer Carriage House, having been in disrepair and vandalized to the point that the roof had subsided and water had rotted the joists, was in danger of collapsing. The Kemmerer Park Association and the borough of Jim Thorpe were making plans to raze the building.
In a quirk of synchronicity, two weeks before the building was slated for demolition, Kemmerer Park Association member Ben Walbert mentioned to John Drury of the Mauch Chunk Museum, that they were planning to tear down the carriage house.
Drury, a lifelong preservationist, felt the building should and could be preserved, and even though he had no standing with either the borough or the association, stepped forward to create a project to stabilize, finance and reconstruct the building.
"The first step was to put a fence around the property to prevent people from visiting the building while it was being renovated," Drury said. "We got an agreement with the borough and the Kemmerer Park Association."
Next, Drury got support from Jack Sterling, a local historian and a member of the Mauch Chunk Museum board of directors. Soon, they both became members of the Kemmerer Park Association. From that vantage, they were able to use the resources of the museum and get the support of the association to move the project forward.
Drury held a series of Victorian Balls to raise money for the restoration of the Kemmerer Carriage House. To add historic relevance, he invited members of the Kemmerer and Leisenring families relatives of the two families that occupied the Front Hill site that is now Kemmerer Park. Both families fell in love with the town of Jim Thorpe and were so taken with the project that memorializes their families, they made significant contributions to underwrite the project.
With the building stabilized, approvals from the borough and the association, and financing from the Kemmerer and Leisenring families, Drury assembled a crew of members of his museum board, Eagle Scouts, member of the Jim Thorpe Area High School honors society, volunteers and tradesmen to remove debris from the abandoned building. The borough of Jim Thorpe provided a truck to haul away 12 truckloads of debris that was collected.
The project continued with rebuilding the roof, repairing a major breach in one wall, replacing the rotted framing lumber, redesigning the structure, reframing the structure to form a welcome center and residential apartment, and completing the apartment. To provide plumbing, a 400-foot deep well was drilled, and a grinder pump was installed to feed a 300-foot lateral to the nearest sewer line.
The open house will be held in the completed private residence section of the carriage house. On exhibit will be a series of photographs providing a timeline from the early days of the site when Mauch Chunk was evolving into a wealthy county seat for industrialists and coal barons, to the beginning of the project when the carriage house was nearly demolished, to the steps that it went through in its reconstruction.
The other side of the carriage house, which will be open to the public in mid-2013, will serve as a welcome center. The center will host an exhibit of the Kemmerer and Leisenring family heritage, including a video presentation.
It is anticipated that the public section will become an extension of the Asa Packer Mansion tour, giving visitors a chance to walk past the Harry Packer mansion and visit Kemmerer Park. During the hours that it will be open, the Kemmerer Carriage House will have a public restroom.
Kemmerer Park was the home of the Kemmerer and Leisenring families during the second half of the 19th century. In 1879, Mahlon S. Kemmerer built his mansion on the site which is now the basketball court in the park. Soon afterward, he built the carriage house to stable his horses and wagons. Mahlon Kemmerer lived in the main house with his wife Anna, the daughter of John Leisenring. Mr. Kemmerer lived in the house intermittently until 1925. His daughter deeded the property over the people of Mauch Chunk, creating Kemmerer Park at which time the main house was demolished.
Kemmerer Park became a playground for the community's children, and the carriage house served as its field house into the 1970s. Ten years ago, the building, having been abandoned, began to deteriorate from lack of maintenance and vandalism.