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A Collector's Passion
by Bob Brooke


Many people collect one type of object, whether it be enameled pins from the Olympics, postage stamps, glassware, tea cups, or travel souvenirs. Not so with Edith Kelly Fetherston of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. She had a passion for collecting and not much got past her keen collecting eye. The result is a houseful of collections—a testament to her passion.

Standing on a corner of Market Street across from the Susquehanna River Bridge is the Packwood House Museum. It stands out from the other buildings on the street only because of its size. Other than that, it looks like a charming townhouse. The building is one of the oldest and most historic in town, its clapboard siding hiding its original log cabin structure.

Originally constructed as a two-story log cabin between 1796 and 1799, it served as a tavern and in for travelers along the Susquehanna River. The Erie Canal opened in 1855. It was the main canal up the Susquehanna River while the West Branch of the Pennsylvania Canal flowed a mile west of town. But with the completion of the crosscut canal connecting the two at Lewisburg, the tavern grew into the American House Hotel. The hotel eventually expanded into an impressive three-story 27-room structure.

The Pennsylvania Railroad arrived in Lewisburg’s downtown in 1869, followed by the Reading Railroad in 1883, signaling the end to river travel and a decline in guests for the hotel. By the late 1880s, the American House Hotel had to close for lack of business. It’s owners converted it into three townhouses.

Edith Fetherston Begins Her Collection
Edith Fetherston inherited two of the townhouses. The third had been converted into the Kelly House Apartments. She and her husband purchased the Kelly House Apartments to make the 27-room structure into a place where they could retire. She met John, a successful New York civil engineer, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, while teaching in Baltimore in 1916, After living in various locations along the East Coast, they decided to return to Lewisburg where Edith was born. They named their new home “Packwood” after a Fetherston family ancestral home in England.

Besides holding a Bachelor of Philosophy and a Master’s degree in education from Bucknell University, Edith, who was also an artist, garden designer, and collector, acquired the majority of the works on display in this small museum. She subsequently traveled to Europe to perfect her skills in French and German, returning to the United States to teach in various schools until her marriage to John in 1917. Later in life she also traveled to Japan, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

Today, visitors can tour through room after room filled with antique glass, ceramics, textiles, furniture, paintings, Pennsylvania German decorative arts, and Oriental art. Edith’s 1930’s Oriental/Pennsylvania woodland garden also boasts the area’s only collection of century-old cryptomeria trees, also known as Japanese cedars.

The Packwood House collection is result of Edith’s travels and her eclectic and cosmopolitan taste. It includes antique furniture, decorative objects, and works of art that added delight to the Fetherstons’ daily life. Displayed throughout the house are Edith’s own paintings, souvenirs from her travels, such as a bronze camel from Mongolia and an icon from Jerusalem, early Pennsylvania furniture, tramp art, Tiffany glass, Anatolian and Persian rugs, and numerous examples of Japanese and Chinese decorative arts. The museum also retains Edith’s wardrobe of designer clothes, shoes, and handmade hats. The arrangement of the rooms remains faithful to the appearance of her home at the time of her death.

Touring Packwood Museum
Tours of the museum begin in the Garden Room, just off the garden. Wooden chairs, signed Pennsylvania House, stand around a small table. The room displays part of Edith’s collection of redware. Her discovery of a redware plate in her garden inspired her to begin collecting it.

From the garden room it’s a short walk into the dining room, with its decorative mirrors and large folding screen that Edith used to block drafts.

Some of Edith’s paintings hang in her former reception room. Each has a water stain motif. The room also contains her collection of Asian art, including carved wooden elephants once owned by the King of Siam. A Han vase from China stands in the adjacent main entrance hall.

Climbing the stairs to the second floor reveals the sleeping porch with windows on three sides which Edith used as a summer bedroom. One of the 250 antique quilts in the collection, dating from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, lies on the bed.

The reading room gallery features several revolving bookcases, as well as a collection of wooden side chairs. Edith knew multiple languages. Her study contains a desk owned by Bruce Klimpt, a local Revolutionary War hero.

She kept a separate bedroom from her husband on the third floor. In it stands a red dressing table she purchased from the owner of a hat shop on Market Street. A drop-front secretary desk in the American Empire Revival style stands along the outside wall. The quilt on the bed of painted chintz dates from the 1840s.The back bedroom features a quilt from 1813, a chips and wet stone design, the oldest in the collection.

Another room on the second floor displays weaving looms from the 1840s to the 1870s, most built for woolen mills.

Edith was a passionate artist. Her studio contains her sketches and palette, as well as an undertaker’s closet on which she tested her rouge on the door. Over in the corner stands her private dental chair. Because of her bad hips, she couldn’t walk to the dentist, so she bought her own chair and had her dentist come to her home to service her teeth.

Her former sewing room now displays more quilts from the collection. Edith called it her trunk room.

John’s office is off the main entrance on Market Street. Displayed in the waiting room are four paintings of Edith’s rooster, which she called Alfie. The first is the “Tomato Cockwain,” followed by “The Bridgeroom Cometh,” “Repository—Little Hitler With Ruffled Feathers,” and finally “The Cocktail Party.” All show Edith’s wry sense of humor.

Edith’s kitchen has been turned into a turn-of-the-century kitchen with a stenciled floor and deluxe commercial ice box. A camelback tray, used by desert nomads to eat on the ground, could be easily carried on the back of a camel.

The American House Hotel’s original tavern room now houses a collection of storage cabinets, including armoirs and kases, as well as stoneware and redware pieces. Two of the carved wardrobes were made in Lewisburg. There’s also a Pennsylvania Dutch bridal dowry chest, high German and Swiss Alsacian painted furniture, portraits, crocks, an apple butter churn, ladels, and milk-painted corner cupboards from the 1820s.

Among all the items in her collection, Edith’s high-fashion wardrobe from the 1920s and 1930s stands out. Dresses and accessories appear in glass-enclosed nooks through the house. One of the most unusual items is a conical hat box used to store hats worn by workers in Chinese rice patties.

More photos from the Packwood House Museum

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