skip to navigation

Special Deal on Local Flavor: $20 for 2 Adult Multi-Site Museum Passes. Click here for more information!

News

Visitor Center Hours

11:00 AM – 5:00 PM

All Site Hours

The Morning Call: Six-decade-old mystery of Bethlehem antique dining table solved

July 31st, 2016 |

Written by Nicole Radzievich for The Morning Call

BETHLEHEM — A photograph of an elegantly set oak table hangs on the wall of the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts in Bethlehem.

With ball-and-claw feet and rope edging, the 18-foot table had been a statement piece belonging to Annie S. Kemerer, a collector who bequeathed her antique furnishings to start the museum. After she died in 1951, the museum was formed but the whereabouts of the table were lost to history — until now.

The table was returned this year by the Ray Austin Jr. whose father bought the table at an estate auction.

Austin, now 83, recently downsized and moved into a retirement community in California and had no room for the table.

“I thought this table should really go home,” Austin said.

Austin brought his family last week to the area to see the table at the museum, 427 N. New St. With several leaves removed, the table now spans 12 feet and 4 inches. The fine woodwork is exposed on half the table. The other table is covered with a white cloth and set with Kemerer’s wedding china painted by Kemerer’s friend, Mae Erdman.

“The dining table is a gathering place. A place of sustenance, of style, and of companionship,” curator Lindsey Jancay said. “It is exciting to think of all the people who were guests at Annie’s table, and to realize that visitors to the museum will continue to add to that guest list.”

The museum traces the table to the late 19th century. The 12 leaves are stamped with numbers and the leaf case carries the label of Hunt, Wilkinson & Co., a Philadelphia manufacturer and importer of furniture and decorations.

Museum officials believe Kemerer acquired the table around 1880 when she married Albert Kemerer.

They were a good match. He was the son of a former state senator and well-known attorney. Her grandparents had first settled on what became the Saucon Valley Country Club, and her parents, Ellen and Jacob Grim, had been well off enough to send her to Hagerstown Seminary in Maryland.

Together, Annie and Albert Kemerer made their home, first on Main Street and then on Bethlehem’s Broad Street, near where the shuttered Boyd theater is.

An attorney, he took a lucrative job at a real estate firm owned by his father’s Kemerer & Wolle firm. Local lore has it that they had the first automobile in the city.

Their only son, Jacob, served in World War I and died in 1924. Her husband died three years later. Museum officials say she became a bit reclusive and turned to collecting porcelain, glassware and other finery. She had already amassed a beautiful collection of antiques her family passed down over five or six generations.

Kemerer made plans to donate the “valuable collection of antiques and Americana” for a museum and put this request in her will:

“I have long felt a desire to see established in the city of Bethlehem a museum building devoted to the housing and display of antiques and historical objects significant in and illustrative of the history of Bethlehem and its people.”

The museum was incorporated, and $350,000 of the estate transferred in 1957 to the museum.

Museum officials said the executor of Kemerer’s will and a few friends gathered at the oak table to discuss what should be kept for the future museum (which first opened in 1961 at a different location) and what should be sold. The table was sold for auction to Ray Austin Sr., co-founder of Austin Bros. electrical contractors in south Bethlehem, for $1, according to family stories.

Austin Sr. wanted the table for a 30-acre farm he purchased outside of Bath. A weekend getaway, the rustic farm had no telephone or indoor toilet. Friends and family gathered around the table to play cards and talk. His son inherited the table and it was taken to California where the family used it eat dinner, do homework and build gingerbread houses.

Austin Jr. said the table was appraised at $3,500 about 20 years ago, but the memories his family had around the table are more valuable. He wanted to make sure the object was preserved and sent it back in June.

LoriAnn Wukitsch, managing director at Historic Bethlehem Museum and Sites, said the table is a wonderful addition to the museum and she is happy know what happened to the table.

But, she said, there is one more mystery to solve.

“The table had chairs,” Wukitsch said. “If someone out knows anything about the chairs, we’d love to have them.”

IF YOU GO:

*What: Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts

*When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday through Sunday or by appointment

*Where: 427 N. New St., Bethlehem

*Information: 1-800-360-TOUR, www.historicbethlehem.org

Read More

Our Partners

Translate

Translate the Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites website into your language of choice!