Saving a local treasure
TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO John Drury, Jack Sterling and Bill Allison, of the Mauch Chunk Historical Society and the the Mauch Chunk Museum put in a day of backbreaking "sweat equity" as they worked to clear away the rubble from years of neglect of the 129 year old Carriage House of Malon S. Kemmerer.
Two years ago, the Kemmerer Carriage House, located at the end of Kemmerer Park in Jim Thorpe, was on the verge of destruction.
Vandalism and the degradation of time had transformed the once beautiful structure into a health and safety hazard. The Jim Thorpe Borough Council was weeks away from demolishing the structure, when John Drury stepped in with a plan to save the building.
Drury, who is a local entrepreneur and preservationist, also sits on the board of the Kemmerer Memorial Park Association. When he learned of the borough's plans to raze the Carriage House, he told the Kemmer Park Board that he was willing to put his own money toward securing the building.
The park board then approached the borough council with the idea. The council was resistant at first, but accepted the idea once it became clear that they would not have to pay to secure the building.
The Carriage House rests on the park land. In 1995, the Kemmerer Park Board turned the lease for all the land over to the borough council because it made it easier to get grants for upkeep and maintenance. After the park board approached the borough council with their preservation plan, the borough council returned the lease for the Carriage House portion to them. This move limited the borough's legal liability in the event of an accident.
After the preservation plan was approved, Drury provided the money to put up fences and signs, which he says have been effective in keeping people out of the building.
Then the process of collecting funds for renovation began. Drury says this has been difficult.
"When we started the project it was very easy to get money from the state for programs, and then the economy collapsed and all that money went away," he said.
In order to raise the funds, the Kemmerer Park Board approached members of the Leisenring's and Kemmerer's, whose families used to own houses on the property. They provided a total of $100,000 which allowed reconstruction to begin.
Work on the house has been going on for over a year and a half. From the depths of its days as a wreck, the Carriage House has been stabilized.
"We're at a standstill right now because we are waiting for further funds and we are waiting on a final decision about what this building will be used for," said Drury.
"It's a strange situation," Drury said, "but it's going to get better. We're going to do it. It's already so much better than what it was."