The Feeney mansion sparkled and glowed Sunday during a holiday open house.
The landmark at 625 N. Fourth St. in the Centre Park Historic District has been home to the John P. Feeney Funeral Home since 1969.
"The mansion is too beautiful to just be a funeral home," owner Michael F. Feeney said, noting that he opens the doors for nonprofit and private events.
Feeney led visitors through the mansion, pointing out highlights during the three-hour tour, which drew about 450 people.
Guests marveled at the Christmas lights, ornaments, hand-carved Nativity scenes and other antiques as they toured the first floor.
What was once the formal dining room now showcases the pride of Feeney's collection, two Kraus family collectible Nativity scenes.
The 30 pieces in the older set were carved from soft lightweight pine by master carver Ludwig Kraus of Oberammergau, Germany. Although Kraus died in 1982, the family tradition is carried on by his nephew Ernst Kraus, a fourth-generation Bavarian woodcarver. The other Nativity set is an example of the younger Kraus' work.
The delicate scenes are displayed year-round, Feeney said.
"Look at the details," he urged guests, pointing out a miniature painted chest stored in the stable's loft, a cow scratching its ear and the intricately carved realism of the human figures' tiny fingernails.
Jean Cocuzza, 67, of Reading, was impressed.
"The detail of the Nativity scenes is stunning," she said, noting how the scene was interpreted from a Western European viewpoint.
For example, Cocuzza said, the figures are in traditional German costumes, the barnyard animals are typically European and there are miniature tulip-painted dower chests hidden in the loft of the stable carved by Ludwig Kraus.
In the adjacent room, once the mansion's former library, a 10-foot tall spruce dazzled with hundreds of miniature lights and gold-toned ornaments. The room features an ornate fireplace flanked by carved wood columns and topped with a hammered bronze triptych. The 350-year-old French artwork depicts the workings of a blacksmith shop in a series of three panels.
The triptych and other antiquities built into the mansion, such as the medieval stained glass windows, were brought from Europe by former owners, James Nolan and his wife, Katie Stewart Nolan, who built the house in 1902.
An Irish immigrant, James Nolan was trained as an engineer and mason. He built numerous bridges for the Schuylkill and Union canals and the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad.
His daughter, Mary, married Edward Dives, son of Josiah Dives, a founder of the Reading department store Dives, Pomeroy and Stewart. Mary lived in the mansion until her death in 1969 when it was sold.
The 115-year-old mansion features 419 panes of glass in its windows and doors, Feeney said, some of it leaded and stained glass.
"We call them 'pains' of glass," he said. "If you had to clean them, you would, too."
With 28 rooms on three floors and more than 9,200 square feet, the neo-classical mansion is an example of the wealth amassed by Reading's industrialists and entrepreneurs at the turn of the 20th century, he said.
"We have been here before, but every time we come there is something new to see," Susan Bernhardt said. "It is such a beautiful home."
Susan, 70, and her husband, Ron Bernhardt, moved to Reading from Lancaster five years ago. They love the architecture of the Centre Park neighborhood.
The mansion also will be open during the Centre Park Historic District's annual holiday tour on Dec. 10 and is open for private tours by appointment.
Source: Reading Eagle