Decoding the Myths of Asa Packer, 1805?-1879

Lehigh's Campus

A reserved man, Packer often relied on his close associates to speak for him and make decisions on behalf of himself.  Like with the Lehigh Valley Railroad, Packer gave his trustees influential roles in constructing his university.  In fact, “The entire railroad family participated in the work of the university, endowing, supervising, encouraging, supplying skills, attending functions – in short sustaining it in every way but those of admitting, disciplining, and teaching students”.  He made some important decisions himself, like not naming the school after himself, using stone instead of brick for Packer Hall, and, less significantly, directing the landscaping. Packer was also active after the opening of Lehigh University, expanding the school of general literature and refusing a proposal to make Lehigh an “all-technical” school.  

However, Packer left most decisions up to his trustees.  When he first approached Bishop Stevens with his plan, he confided, “I am not much acquainted with these matters, but you are, and I want you if you will to devise a plan which I can put into effective operation.”  From that point, Packer mostly acted as the financier for the enterprise and left decisions regarding the architecture, curriculum, etc. up to his Board.  Evidently, these men left their mark on campus and many of these original influences were recognized by having buildings dedicated to them.

To learn more about these buildings and the people who inspired them, click on them on the map.

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