| Volunteers working on the restoration of the Kemmerer Carriage House are (left to right) Eagle Scout Bill Sterling, Frank Potoczak of Secure Technologies, Jack Sterling of the Mauch Chunk Historical Society, and John Drury of the Mauch Chunk Museum.
Restoration of the 1880s Carriage House of the Mahlon Kemmerer estate, now the Kemmerer Park in the historic district of Jim Thorpe, is nearing completion. A portion of the building will open as a rental apartment in the late fall, and in the spring of 2013 the remainder of the main floor will open as a museum.
Kemmerer Park covers most of Front Hill, an overlook of the Lehigh River coveted by the pioneers who founded and developed Mauch Chunk, now Jim Thorpe. Those early industrialists included Josiah White, founder of the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company; Edwin Douglas and John Leisenring, managers of LC&N, and Mahlon Kemmerer, a mining engineer and coal mine investor. The Carriage House was built by Leisenring and given to Kemmerer when he married Leisenring's daughter, Annie.
The Carriage House held the stables for the main house, a mansion containing more that 25 rooms, which no longer exists. . The site now accommodates a basketball court. After Kemmerer died in 1926, his daughter donated the property to the people of Mauch Chunk. It is now managed by the Kemmerer Memorial Park Association.
The Carriage House building, which was used for the Kemmerer's horses and carriages, was never designed for or used as a dwelling, but the adjacent foundation suggests a residence for the carriage driver. After the property was donated to Mauch Chunk, it was used for storage.
Over the years, the park property and pavilion have accommodated a day camp and other public uses. The property was maintained, and although the roof on the Carriage House was replaced in the 1990s, the new roof failed did not hold up, or perhaps it was vandalized. In any case, the roof leaked and water rotted the wooden structure. A portion of the roof frame collapsed, and what didn't immediately collapse was in danger of collapsing.
The Kemmerer Memorial Park Association decided that the building was hazardous and voted to tear it down. That was in 2008, the year the Kemmerer Carriage House restoration project began.
John Drury, president of the Mauch Chunk Museum and a town preservationist, felt the building should be, and could be, saved. He received permission from the Association to install a fence around the building to prevent injury and discourage vandalism during the proposed restoration.
Kemmerer Memorial Park Association members Bob Handwerk, Edie Lukasevich, Ben Walbert and Barbara Miller met with the attorney for the borough of Jim Thorpe and worked out an agreement to allow Drury's Mauch Chunk Museum to raise money for and oversee the restoration of the Kemmerer Carriage House.
Drury enlisted support from Jack Sterling of the Mauch Chunk Historical Society. Together they assessed the property, noting the two biggest problems were the collapsed roof and a large hole in one wall, presumably the work of vandals.
With the help of Bill Allison, also of the historical society, students from Jim Thorpe Area High School, students from St. Joseph's Academy, and a local Scout troop, they cleaned up the site and, in particular, removed numerous bags that had not been disposed of during the earlier roof replacement.
Drury raised money for the restoration by establishing a Victorian Ball for the town of Jim Thorpe. "We weren't going to make a lot of money from this ball, however we got lucky," he said, "because I invited the Kemmerer family and the Leisenring family, and they made significant contributions to get the project going."
With this kickstart funding, Drury sought bids for a new roof for the carriage house. Because of the harsh terrain, the first four roofers to inspect the property declined to bid. "Finally, we got Jeff Willcox," Drury said. "He did the roofing job, and because of that, we let him continue on as general contractor. The project was started by George Colaviti."