Decoding the Myths of Asa Packer, 1805?-1879

Victorian Displays of Wealth: The Mansion and the Golden Wedding

"It is worth traveling many miles to see the house of [Asa Packer]; it is a tribute to the morally sublime; and indeed it is a beautiful house, owing much to its unparalleled situation...The intruding, crowding mountains have left very little space for the level  ground required to by an extensive house. But this has been excavated from the side-hill...The result is a most picturesque effect. Trees and shrubs, a rare growths, flowers in great variety, fountains, statues, crowd up in lovely confusion, as one stands on the vine-hung veranda looking down"

Asa Packer's home was built in 1861 in Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe) Pennsylvania.  It is situated on a hill,  echoing Asa Packer's prominence over all other residents. The mansion is symbolic of his wealth and success, and was used as a display of his social class.

During the Victorian Era, home designs changed drastically to match the ideals of domesticity and classism. During the colonial era, only the very wealthy would divide their houses into three or more rooms. Individual rooms serving unique and singular purposes were not common. This started to change with the manufacturing of household appliances, making furniture and living necessities more available to lower classes. Housing reform started in Victorian Europe and spread to the United States.

As household goods became less expensive and more people owned their homes, multiple rooms became more common, and indicated wealth and taste. Interior spaces were divided into specialized rooms. For the average worker, the common living space would be modeled into a living room, bedroom, and a kitchen. As one rose in social class, these rooms were more specialized and plentiful. The living room may be divided into a parlor, formal and informal sitting rooms, a dining room, a kitchen and a serving room. This is true of Packer's 18 roomed home. For Packer and other wealthy families rooms separated servants from family members and guests. Butlers, housekeepers, and cooks often had isolated bedrooms in attics or basements. Wealthy Victorian house models also reflected the "Cult of Domesticity." There were often separate sitting rooms for men and women, decorated with gendered color schemes and designs.

Asa Packer's fiftieth wedding anniversary was an important social affair, as the couple celebrated their marriage, but also their prosperity and social prominence. Before the event, the public rooms of the Packer mansion were updated to further impress the guests. The event was planned by an anniversary committee made up of Packer's sons and business associates. The committee claimed that the couple was unaware of the party until invitations were sent out. Although this was highly unlikely, newspapers still printed the story of the "surprise" anniversary party, crediting the couples' humility.

Asa Packer provided transportation for the traveling guests through the Lehigh Valley Railroad. This made attendance more likely. Guests included fellow businessmen, extended family, faithful workers, and even Lehigh alumni. At the start of the celebration, the committee organized a presentation to honor the couple. Speeches were given by Sarah's brother, James Blakslee and Henry Coppee, a close friend of Asa's and a business partner. It is evident here that the event helped solidify the perceived moral superiority of the Victorian family.


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