The Luther Mansion at 5th and Mahantongo
J. R. Zane
I took my Pinto “Esquire” wagon out on the road again. You know…the car that goes the furthest but not the farthest…my personal time travel road warrior. I am not sure exactly why. The car was purchased many years ago at Seitzinger Ford on Route 61. It was not advertised with any time travel capability and it did not do so right away. I had the car worked on several times at Norm Kull’s garage in Mill Creek. Maybe he had something to do with it? If you had known Norman, then you’d understand. Cremia’s in Minersville installed my cassette player, the cassettes generally purchased at Renninger’s Market. Marvel Mystery Oil was the supplement my father-in-law recommended. Maybe it was the combination of all these.
My most recent trip was once again down Mahantongo Street in Pottsville. Time-themed classic cassettes seem to work best, but not always. You would think that playing “If I Could Turn Back Time” by Cher would transport me back to when John Pott first settled here. No way. On this day, I played the Styx’s Paradise Theatre cassette and the song “Too Much Time On My Hands” worked. In a flash I was back in the year1904.
I was heading down Mahantongo Street when I got to the corner of Mahantongo and Fifth Street. I looked to my right expecting to see the St. Patrick Church’s Soup Kitchen at 508 Mahantongo Street. It wasn’t there. It was the stately much larger brick home of Theresa Y. Luther, the third oldest of the children of David G., the founder of the brewery and his wife, Theresa Yuengling. Their daughter, Theresa, had been educated at Chegaray Institute for Young Ladies in Philadelphia, a school started by Madame Eloise Chegaray, a refugee of the French Revolution. Many fashionable young ladies attended the school to be educated in foreign languages and music. Theresa later attended a finishing school on Fifth Avenue in New York City. As a young girl, Theresa travelled in 1863 with her father to Gettysburg two days after the horrendous civil war battle. Talk about taking your child to visit the Gettysburg Battlefield! Now as an adult Theresa would host cultured parties. Back in 1896 she was the hostess of a grand Valentine’s Day party with Professor George Seltzer’s Orchestra providing entertainment.
Theresa’s husband Roland was a direct descendant of Reformation leader Martin Luther. The couple married in 1874 and immediately made the prestigious Mahantongo Street their home. What a magnificent showplace the house was. The Port Carbon native was the second vice president and general manager the Philadelphia Coal & Iron Company. He was honored at a banquet held at the Pottsville Club just up the street when he got that promotion. His own father was a mine operator, so it was not unexpected that he would follow suit. As a young man, his first job was as a railroad conductor; railroads always fascinated him. His reputation was nationally respected. For seven years he was the chief engineer of construction for the Eureka & Colorado River Railroad Company before returning to Pottsville and taking employment with the P&R C&I. In 1888 he became that company’s general superintendent. He was one of the best-known mining engineers in the country and had been selected by coal operators as one of their representatives on the Anthracite Board of Conciliation formed by Theodore Roosevelt after the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902. The Board was created for the purpose of settling grievances between coal operators and employees and was composed of three representatives from each side. They weren’t to be seen when I drove by in the Pinto.
I looked at amazement at the glorious home for about ten minutes before turning around to go home. I carefully inspected the top floor that was later removed, My, what time has done to the block! That was an era when Pottsville was in bloom, not in wilt. That house was transformed after World War II, when it became the Jewish Community Center. Later St. Patrick’s Church purchased the property and it is now the community soup kitchen. Pottsville is unique in having it soup kitchen right next to the its largest tourist attraction. I can’t think of any other community that does this. I am not sure if it’s because it wants to proclaim its generousity and kindness to the world or whether it wants to hide its privileged past. Maybe its both. I continued my journey up Mahantongo, past other distressed houses that once were homes, including the house that has been draped for years in plastic wrap. All of these will soon be welcoming distant visitors for the Lager Jogger Race who will run along the gritty street unaware of its vanished charm and glamour. Maybe if they get tired running, I could give them a lift in my Pinto and let them see old Victorian Pottsville while they listen to Styx…
any wonder I’ve got too much time on my hands?
It’s ticking away with my sanity
(I’ve got) too much time on my hands; It’s hard to believe such a calamity
(I’ve got) too much time on my hands
And it’s ticking away
Ticking away from me…”