Asa Packer (1805-1879) was born into humble circumstances to Elisha and Desire Packer on December 29, 1805 in Mystic, Connecticut. He left home when he was seventeen and set out on foot to Brooklyn, Pennsylvania where be apprenticed as a carpenter to his cousin, Edward Packer.
In 1827, Asa traveled to New York seeking employment, but to no avail. He returned to Susquehanna County within a year.
On January 23, 1828, Asa married Sarah Minerva Blakslee (1807-1882). Asa and Sarah rented and tilled a farm that belonged to Sarah’s father. The crops where poor, and the markets distant, and by the end of four years, they were just as poor as when they had first started.
"The other day, Asa Packer died, the richest man in the Commonwealth, and second to none in grandeur of achievement and measure of influence. His whole career is another example of what young men in this country may accomplish through keen intelligence, dauntless energy and unyielding integrity."
Harper's Weekly, June 4, 1879, Volume XXIII
In the winter of 1832, hearing that men were needed to captain coal barges on the Lehigh Canal, Asa traveled to Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania. Once there, he made an engagement to hire out for the summer, and later, returned home to settle his affairs. In the spring of 1833, the Packer family set out for Mauch Chunk.
The canal system had its drawbacks and a faster method of transportation was needed. In October of 1851, risking financial ruin, Asa purchased nearly all the controlling stock and interest for the unfinished Delaware, Lehigh, Schuylkill and Susquehanna Railroad. By November, 1852, he expended the railroad from Mauch Chunk to Easton, Pennsylvania, in exchange for the company’s stocks and bonds.
On October 16, 1861, the Packers settled in their Italianate Villa in Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania. In October 2011, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of completion of their new home. This May we will be celebrating the 140th anniversary of Asa Packer passing and remembering his accomplishments.
On January 23, 1878, Asa and Sarah celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary. The Packers were married for fifty-one and a half years before Mr. Packer passed to the other side, but their life together was marked by tragedy. Daughters, Catharine, Malvina and Gertrude all passed away before the age of three. Lucy Eveline (1832-1873), Robert Asa (1842-1883) both passed away from pneumonia. Harry Eldred (1850-1884) passed away from cirrhosis of the liver and Mary Hannah (1839-1912) passed away peacefully in her sleep.
Asa never fully forgot his humble beginnings, his generous deeds spoke for him. A philanthropist throughout his lifetime, Asa gave 33 million dollars to the town of Mauch Chunk and the Lehigh Valley. At the time of his passing, Asa retained an estate valued at 54 and a half million dollars.
In 1912, Mary Packer Cummings, who held the same philanthropic ideals as her father, willed her family’s home and all of its contents to the Borough of Mauch Chunk where it would remain as a memorial to her father and his accomplishments. In 1954, the Bear Mountain Lions Club (now Jim Thorpe Lions Club) was interested in sponsoring a community project, and approached the Borough about opening the Mansion’s doors. The Mansion has been open to the public since Memorial Day 1956.
A Golden Wedding Anniversary
Below: Centennial Celebration time capsule buried to be opened on November 3, 2112.
Below: My name is Herbie, I protect the grounds at the Mansion - come see my many outfits!
Above: Buried by John Bretzik - Maintenance and Security Supervisor