Allow me to introduce you to Jim Thorpe
the town named after the man.
High up in the Poconos Mountains in Pennsylvania is a town named Jim Thorpe that it seems is magical. The town that was founded as Mauch Chunk in the early 1800's and at one time claimed that 19 of the 26 wealthiest millionaires in America called it home.
This picturesque town is steeped in history and it is a fascinating story of struggle, survival, boom times and bust and now revival. I will not overwhelm in you in this post of all of it's history but hopefully Jim Thorpe will capture your imagination as well as your heart. Because I have written a recap of the key parts of it's history and you may not be interested to read it, I will present the slide show first with some of the views around the town and I will include the history after I present that slide show. One of the things I was taken with there was the amount of color found throughout the town. Buildings or trim on doorways of every imaginable color. Something for everyone. I also noticed that this town loves it's celebrations and everyone comes out to greet all the visitors. It certainly impressed me as one of the friendliest places I have visited.
It all started back in the early 1800's when Mauch Chunk was first settled. The Town would become known as the "Switzerland of America" by the 19th century rail enthusiasts. You see it was home to Americas first Switchback Gravity Railroad and only the second railroad in the entire US. It was used primarily to transport coal down from the coal mines in Summit Hill. When it was no longer needed to transport coal some 30 years later, the 18 mile round trip up and back to Mauch Chunk became the second most visited tourist attraction in the country, second only to Niagara Falls. The early promoters of tourism dubbed it the "Switzerland Of America" because it was nestled deep in the valley of the Lehigh River on a grand curve that gave the illusion of an Alpine Mountain Village like what you might encounter in Switzerland.
By the Mid 1850's, the Lehigh Valley Railroad was founded by Asa Parker who become it's most well known and beloved citizen, well at least until the late 1950's when they changed the name of the town. This railroad would be used to move freight and passengers. Some seven years later, a disastrous flood washed out the Lehigh Canal, the main waterway to move it's coal to other parts of the state. The upper portion of the canal would be replaced by the Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad but the lower portion of the canal used for moving coal, lumber and freight was never replaced. The town never lost enthusiasm and would once again be thriving and it's burgeoning economy and growing population could now even support it's own Mauch Chunk Opera House and the need for a county jail.
At the Beginning of the 1900's Mauch Chunk's trolley would begin service to Flagstaff Mountain and it became yet another important tourist attraction. In 1911 a major fire would destroy a resort hotel that served the many visitors to Mauch Chunk. By 1930 the last shipment of coal was sent down from Summit Hill and for the next seven years the Switchback Gravity Railroad would serve as an attraction for tourists. But even that by 1937, would be torn apart and sold for scrap.
In 1957 the remains of Jim Thorpe, considered at that time the greatest athlete in the world would be brought by his wife to Mauch Chunk from Colorado to be his final resting place. Thorpe’s family wanted to bury him in Oklahoma and have a memorial built for him there. Unfortunately, state officials refused. Thorpe’s widow heard about a small town in Pennsylvania called Mauch Chunk that was seeking a different name to increase town tourism. She struck a deal with the town and brought Thorpe’s remains Mauch Chunk. The community built a special private mausoleum for Jim Thorpe's remains. The town's people decreed by referendum that the town should from that day forth be know as Jim Thorpe. There, a monument has been erected in his honor with the sentence, “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world,” etched in the stone.
The rest of the story as they say " Is History" and through the years to the present day the town of Jim Thorpe became known for it's tourism and especially the hospitality and it's very special location in the Poconos. Today, Jim Thorpe draws crowds of tourists to the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway for excursions that covers much of the history in this area.
Jim Thorpe is also located near the Appalachian Trail and attracts thousands yearly to its hiking trails and the Lehigh River for riding it's white water rapids. Asa Parker's Mansion sits high up on the hill overlooking his famous town and is one of the finest examples Queen-Ann Victorian architecture in the US. His son's home is an even more grand mansion and now serves as a Bed and Breakfast for the town's many visitors. I visited Jim Thorpe on a Saturday during it's Fall Foliage Weekend and I waited one hour in a line of cars with only a few at time allowed in because there were so many cars already filling up all the streets. No Matter, it was worth the wait.
Seeing a line of cars for as far as the eye could see of the road leading into Jim Thorpe reminded me of the movie "Field of Dreams" . "Build it and they will come" was the message and on this Saturday, they surely did.
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