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Asa Packer: Funny Name, Significant Impact

A Humble Start...

While Lehigh University has grown, it’s original and oldest campus is dedicated to founder Asa Packer. This smaller university boasts approximately 7,000 students and offers more than 2,000 courses and programs. A full-size statue of Asa Packer was donated in 2003 and stands on the campus grounds today. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at Asa Packer, the man behind the Bethlehem school which was founded back in 1865.

With a humble start, Asa Packer was first known for working with his hands. He practiced carpentry and was a farmer as well. Over time, he grew his expertise in other areas. It was his ability to take risks that led him to greater wealth and accolades.

The local canals opened opportunity to him, and by constructing boats for the canals, along with operating them, he found his stride. The canal boats helped carry coal to the Philadelphia region. But he wasn’t done by any means, and he saw another opening in the field of transportation. He invested in rails next, putting his money behind the Lehigh Valley Railroad. This took his wealth to new heights, which allowed him to expand his reach.

Packer Hall, Lehigh University

While he later went on to get involved in other areas, it was his growing wealth that allowed for him to purchase and donate a large area of land. Spanning almost 60 acres, he took the swath of acreage and gave it to an educational group, which helped fund what we know today as Lehigh University. 

Serving the Republic

Transportation was good to him, but he continued with other interests as well and ended up becoming a political figure. With a run as a judge, and then taking a spot in the U.S. House of Representative, Asa Packer established his ability to shine no matter what challenge he took on. 

The two terms he served from 1853 through 1857 showcased commitment to the public’s wellbeing. Prior to working with the U.S. House of Representatives, he’d also had a run in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in the 1840s. While he’d intended to go further in his political career, after a failed bid for a presidential nomination on the Democratic side, he put that dream to rest, and then also lost the bid to become Pennsylvania Governor.

Asa Packer made a big impact on Pennsylvania, though he was originally born and raised in Connecticut. He was married (wife, Sara) with a large family of seven children. Residing in the Pennsylvania region, his home, the Asa Packer Mansion was later opened as a museum in the 1950s and established itself as a National Historic Landmark almost thirty years later. 

A Jewel in Jim Thorpe

The Jim Thorpe area home was built in 1860. The mansion stands three stories tall, boasts 11,000 square feet of space, and is considered a Victorian Italianate, meaning styled in an Italian style and manner. While it was grandiose, imagine the difference in pricing when you hear what it cost to build at the time. It was built at a total cost of $14,000. You can barely buy a car for that today! Another neat fact is that the home was built on a cast iron frame. Also, one a side note, a time capsule was buried at the grounds of his mansion and will be opened in 2112.

Asa Packer Mansion in Jim Thorpe, PA

Having lived from 1805 to 1879, he packed a lot of punch into the years he served, both as a public servant and as a savvy businessman. In true philanthropist style, he gave away millions of dollars, with Mauch Chunk and Lehigh Valley being the greatest recipients. On his passing, he still had a value of over 50 million dollars. 

Now that you know more about Asa Packer, will you be visiting his home? If you’re looking for something fun to wear to show your Pennsylvania pride, don’t forget to pick up a shirt to shout out where you’re from. 

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