The Asa Packer Mansion will celebrate 100 years of public ownership with a public commemoration program. The one-hour program will take place on the porch of the Asa Packer Mansion on Nov. 3 at 10 a.m.
"This year, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of the passing of Mary Packer Cummings, the last of the immediate children of Asa Packer," noted Ron Sheehan, executive director at the Asa Packer Mansion. "She willed the home to the people of Mauch Chunk as a memorial to her father."
From 1912 until 1954, when the Bear Mountain Lions Club petitioned the borough of Mauch Chunk for trusteeship, just before its becoming Jim Thorpe, the mansion remained sealed.
"It took them two years to clean it up, and they opened it on Memorial Day 1956," Sheehan said. Since then, the Lions Club, now the Jim Thorpe Lions Club, has managed the building and grounds for public tours. It has overseen a continuous program of maintenance on the facility, performing such tasks as installing a new roof, a new porch, new sidewalks and handrails, a geothermal heating and air-conditioning system, and reupholstery of the furnishings.
"Mary realized the importance of the role that her father played during the Industrial Revolution and had enough foresight to realize that the home would be something that the people would come to enjoy," Sheehan said. "Former Rep. Keith McCall called the Asa Packer mansion, 'the crown jewel of tourism in Carbon County,' noting that it was the earliest project to attract economic development in the county, preceding the Main Street project, river rafting, and railroad excursions."
The mansion draws about 20,000 visitors per year. It is open seven days a week from Memorial Day through October, and is open weekends only during April, May and November. During the winter months, the mansion is closed and "we clean the house from top to bottom," Sheehan explained.
"The 11-member staff here treats the mansion as if it was their own. They take great pride. They clean it. They give tours. They give freely of their own personal time to do research. They have their own meetings where they discuss the history and other aspects of the property. So really, we are blessed that we have a staff that takes the home to heart every bit as much as any of the Lions Club members."
The Jim Thorpe Borough Council signed a resolution to make Oct. 29 be known as Mary Packer Cummings Day in the borough of Jim Thorpe. "That was the day she passed away in 1912," noted Ava Bretzik, director and historian at the Asa Packer Mansion.
"The 100th anniversary to me is something very special. This house is been so close to me for so long that I think I know more about the Packer family than I know about my own," Bretzik added. She has been with the mansion for 36 years.
"We are not celebrating her death, we are celebrating the gifts that she left to this community. She left the Asa Packer Mansion, she built the Chapel of the Resurrection at the Mauch Chunk cemetery, and to St. Mark's church, which was founded with contributions from parents, Mary donated an elevator. Ironically, the first time the elevator was used was for her funeral."
"During her lifetime, she gave money to build four fire companies: Marion, Phoenix, Diligent and the Fairview," Sheehan said. "All four fire companies have the same exterior design of a large a window and two smaller engine bays, a side door of sorts. That was a common design because Mary had endowed the money for the building of each fire company."
Asa Packer hired Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan to design his Italianate villa on a hill overlooking the Lehigh River. After two years of construction, the Packer family moved in on Oct. 16, 1861.
"It's a Italianate villa," Sheehan explained. "It has a wraparound porch. The windows on the first floor open and rise and recess into the walls of the upper floor to allow you to walk out onto the porch. That makes it a villa style."
Samuel Sloan attracted a wealthy clientele by offering designs that took advantage of the tax laws at the time. "Closets were considered extra living space in this period, so the homes had few closets," Bretzik explained. "Exterior doors were considered taxable, so he designed full-pane windows on the first floor so you could leave the home through a window and not a door. Cape May has many Italianate villas designed by Samuel Sloan."
The Nov. 3 commemoration is open to the public. A limited-edition of 200 copies of a souvenir program will be printed for the occasion. They will be numbered and registered. During the ceremony, a time capsule will be buried in the ice house.
Following the commemoration program, cake and punch will be served on the porch and the mansion will be opened to the residents of Jim Thorpe. Borough residents can visit the home for no charge that day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. by showing that they live in the borough of Jim Thorpe.