The Pardee Mansion, built by Ario Pardee in 1859, was once the showpiece of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. It was home to Ario and Anna Maria Pardee and their 12 children including Bessie Pardee who was born there in 1860. The mansion, fondly named “The Old Home,” took up a whole block in the center of Hazleton, bordered by Broad, Green, Laurel, and Church Streets, and the estate was known for its magnificent gardens – particularly its collection of glorious trees. Bessie Pardee celebrated her wedding to Augustus Van Wickle there in 1882.
In 1923, long after Ario and Anna Maria had died, and the children all dispersed to homes of their own in Hazleton, it was decided that the property should be sold. The family offered to sell the entire estate to the city for a nominal $30,000 with the hopes that it would be turned it into a city park. The city rejected this offer, however, and the town voted to use the space for commercial development.
The following letter was sent to Bessie (who lived in Boston at the time) from her younger sister Gertrude who still lived in Hazleton.
February 25, 1923
My Dearest Bessie
You may be very thankful that you do not live in Hazleton, or that you are not here at the present time. I only wish that I might have been somewhere else when they began to cut down the dear old trees and shrubbery in the Old Home grounds, for it is simply heart-breaking, and I cannot bear to see the slaughter. The Kentucky coffee tree, the little weeping elm, the larches where the seat used to be, the white birches, the old sassafras tree – all gone, and the big white horse-chestnut! An enormous steam shovel was digging out the big roots, and the ground. I gave one look and could not look again. I did not know they had begun work, but when I came up town I saw the men sawing down the beautiful big maple and burning the branches, etc. I have gone to town once since then, and I go on the other side of the street and expect to when I have to go from now on until I get more used to it – if I ever do get used to it. I did not think the work would begin until spring, not in the dead of winter, and hoped to go out to the Farm early so as to be away when they began, but it seems to be impossible for me to escape. I cannot write all I think and feel about it, and must stop for it isn’t making it any easier.
It may have been as a direct result of this terrible loss that Bessie planted specimens of all these trees at Blithewold. The Kentucky Coffee Tree she planted still grows on the south side of the Great Lawn near Lovers Lane, and the original Chestnut trees still grow in the Nut Grove.