Page 704


Asa Packer was born in Mystic, Conn., on the 29th of December, 1805.  His early education was very limited, being only such as was taught in the primitive district schools of those early days.  On attaining the age of seventeen, he packed all his worldly possessions, consisting of a few simple articles of clothing, shouldered his small bundle, and started on foot to seek his fortune in the great world.  Trudging along the rugged roads of that early time, the plucky boy walked the entire distance in the land of “blue laws and wooden nutmegs” to Brooklyn, Susquehanna Co., Pa.  That achievement was a fair index of Mr. Packer’s future.  The boy was father to the man.  Once determined upon a course of action, no obstacles deterred him, no discouragements shook his purpose, no work was too great to be undertaken.  After weeks of weary searching, climbing rocky hills and toiling through dusty valleys, through sunshine and rain, hungry, tired, footsore, the lad arrived at the house of his cousin, Mr. Edward Packer, in Brooklyn.  He was a house carpenter, and under his tutelage young Asa determined to learn that trade.  He began work with a will, and with his characteristic thoroughness he became a first-class workman.  No man in the country round about could shove a plane truer, or hit a nail on the head with more precision, than young Asa Packer.  When the years of his apprenticeship had expired he went to New York and worked a year at his trade.  But the life of the city was distasteful to him, and returning to Susquehanna County, he settled in Springville township.  There he pursued his trade, and was married on the 23rd of January, 1828, to Miss Sarah M. Blakslee, to whom were born children, - Lucy Evelyn, Mary H., Robert Asa, and Harry Eldred.  The couple soon after settled on a farm, where the young wife proved herself a helpmate indeed.  While the husband plowed his field, gathered his crops, or plied his trade at such desultory work as the neighbors needed, the wife administered her household affairs with cheerfulness, energy, neatness, and economy, and made their home a model of comfort and happiness.  But nature yielded her crops scantily, markets were distant, and the returns small.  At the end of four years they found themselves nearly as poor as when they began.  Hearing that men were wanted to run coal-boats on the Lehigh Canal, which had just been opened, in the winter of 1833, Mr. Packer hitched his horse to a primitive sled and drove to Mauch Chunk, with a view to making arrangements to engage in that work.  After effecting a satisfactory engagement he drove home, and remained, closing up his affairs until the opening of navigation.  He then returned, walking to Tunkhannock, on the Susquehanna River.  There he boarded a raft, rode to Berwick, walked the remaining distance to Mauch Chunk, and became the commander of a canal-boat.  Not long after he contracted for an additional boat, and placed it in charge of his brother-in-law.  The boating business paid, so much so, that at the end of two years he was able to retire with some capital from the active participation therein, though retaining an interest.  He purchased a store, situated on the banks of the Lehigh, and made his brother-in-law its manager, while he himself established a boatyard for the construction of canal-boats, his early training as a carpenter standing him in good stead.  Prosperity still attended him.  In a few years he placed in his stores a stock of goods which cost him twenty-five thousand dollars.  He also took extensive contracts for building on the Upper Lehigh, which he finished in 1836, coming out with handsome profits.  Mr. Packer was then a rich man for those days.  The following year, with his brother, Robert, he took large contracts to build boats at Pottsville, Schuylkill Co., for the direct shipping of coal to New York.  He continued in business at this point for three years, at the end of which time the partnership was dissolved, Asa returning to Mauch Chunk, and Robert remaining in Reading.  He next engaged in the mining and shipping of coal from the Nesquehoning and other mines.  Thenceforward Mr. Packer’s career was marked by an unbroken chain of prosperity, the result of his own endeavors.  In 1852, unaided and alone, he began the gigantic undertaking of building the Lehigh Valley Railroad.  With rare foresight he foresaw the grand results that would accrue therefrom, and with unflinching courage he undertook the great work.  He completed the road in 1855, meanwhile jeopardizing his entire fortune, but eventually overcoming all embarrassments.  While Mr. Packer accumulated vast wealth, he administered it with a liberal and enlightened judgment.  While benefiting his own family, he…



PAGE 705


                                                                                                                            … has benefited his race, and been a power in the development of his State and the advancement of civilization.  Mr. Packer, while promoting the material interests of society, found it his pleasure to erect during his lifetime a monument which ceaselessly dispenses in the present and will through the long future the various kinds of learning which tend to make men most useful to their fellow-men and centres of respect and affection in their families and in society.  He anticipated the provisions of his will in founding the Lehigh University, and so liberally endowed it on his death as to make it permanent and self-sustaining.  St. Luke’s Hospital, Muhlenberg College, St. Mark’s Church, and other institutions were also the recipients of his judicious munificence.  Mr. Packer was in politics an ardent Democrat, and received at various times conspicuous honors from his party.  He was elected for the sessions of 1841-42 and 1842-43 to the State Legislature, was associate judge of Carbon County in 1843 and 1844, and from 1853 to 1857 representative in Congress from his district.  He was a candidate for gubernatorial honors in 1869, and the year previous prominently mentioned in connection with the Presidency.  His death occurred May 17, 1879.

















The History of the Counties of Lehigh & Carbon, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,


Alfred Mathews & Austin N. Hungerford

Published in Philadelphia, Pa., in 1884


Transcribed from the original in May 2003


Susan Gilkeson Sterling



Web page by

Jack Sterling

May 2003