Get Outta Town Jim Thorpe, PA.

by Joe Meny

The town of Jim Thorpe, nestled in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania, is a Victorian town that was once referred to as the “Switzerland of America”, with its steep hillsides, narrow streets, and terraced gardens. Prior to being named after the former Olympian, Jim Thorpe went by the name of Mauch Chunk, which is Lanape for the Mountain of the Sleeping Bear. It was once second only to Niagara Falls as a tourist destination. The early growth of Pennsylvania’s railroads was closely intertwined with the mining of anthracite coal. The town got its start as a canal center, and later a railroad center. In the 1840’s, stationary steam engines hauled empty cars up two inclines, at Mount Pisgah, directly above Mauch Chunk, and at nearby Mount Jefferson. In the 1870’s, after ending its service for moving coal, the railroad came back to life as a popular scenic railway, allowing visitors to marvel at this early version of a roller coaster as it carried them along a high overlook with a view of the Lehigh River gorge. From late 1875 to mid-1877, tales of murder and violence, combined with the arrests, trials, and executions for murder of members of the secret Irish “Mollie Maguire” organization, kept tourists away. A railroad strike, the coming of automobiles, the paving of roads, and the Great Depression all combined to deal the final blow to the Switchback railroad. The line was sold for scrap in 1937. Today, the town is a mixture of curious history, Victorian architecture and unique businesses…a graceful, and eclectic blend of yesterday with today.

Once there, you’ll take a step back in time as you stroll up Race Street, making your way to Opera House Square, and back down Broadway. passing quaint shops, period architecture, numerous restaurants, and of course, friendly shopkeepers, residents and tourists.

Many of Jim Thorpe’s B&B’s are housed in historical millionaire mansions. Two of the most notable are the Times House Bed & Breakfast (www.timeshouse.com.), and the Inn at Jim Thorpe (www.InnJT.com), a landmark hotel that has been hosting visitors overnight since 1849. And with over a dozen bars, restaurants, and cafes, you can relax and enjoy good food and ambience to make your visit to Jim Thorpe all that more memorable.

Before heading back hime, be sure to stop in Big Creek Vineyard (41 Susquehanna St., 570-325-8138) where resident wine expert Marissa will impress you with her knowledge of the diversity of wines offered for tasting, a very reasonable 5 tastings for $5. A warm and friendly ambience, don’t be surprised if the tasters at the next table strike up a conversation with you. We strongly recommend not leaving without buying a bottle to enjoy at home!

If seeing incomparable fall foliage is what you enjoy, be sure to make a visit during the Jim Thorpe Fall Foliage festival. For information on this, and all the goings-on in Jim Thorpe, be sure to check out www.jimthorpe.com. and www.jimthorpe.org.

With over 70 places to visit, experience and marvel, Jim Thorpe is well worth the 90 or so minute drive from NYC.

Jim Thorpe Station

The Central Railroad Station of New Jersey, also known as the Jersey Central Station and Jim Thorpe Station, was deigned by Wilson Brothers & Co. of Philadelphia, and was built in 1888. It is a 1 1/2 story, five bay, red brick building in the Queen Ann style. It is easily recognized for its 3 1/2-story, cylindrical corner tower with a cylindrical roof. On January 1,1976 the station was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Jim Thorpe Station is also home to the Pocono Mountains Visitor’s Bureau, your one-stop spot for any and all Pocono Mountain tourist information and guides.

The Mauch Chunk Museum & Cultural Center

The Mauch Chunk Museum’s colorful exhibits will lead you through the history of Mauch Chunk beginning with the prehistoric formation of coal to the present day Jim Thorpe. Beginning with the Lenape Indians, the once-thriving coal industry, to the settlement of Mauch Chunk. There’s even a scale model of the Switchback Railroad. You’ll see what life was like in this unique Victorian-era town, the impact of the Industrial Revolution, and an exhibit featuring the great Native American Olympian, Jim Thorpe. The Mauch Chunk Museum also has a bookstore and a Victorian ballroom, which is available for special events and occasions. The Museum’s Cultural Center works to save and restore Jim Thorpe’s past. For more information, visit: www.mauchchunkmuseum.com.

The Asa Packer Mansion

Born in 1805, Asa Packer grew up in Connecticut, owning interests in canal operations by the time he was a young man. In 1851, Packer had control of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, which soon extended from Mauch Chunk to Easton, PA. Shortly thereafter, Packer became a major player in the New York City to Buffalo market. Packer served as a judge, was in both the Pennsylvania and U.S. House of Representatives, and also founded Lehigh University. Asa built his mansion along the hillside next to the Carbon County Courthouse. Upon his death, his daughter Mary Packer Cummings inherited the property. It opened for tours in 1956, and in 1985 was named a National Historic Landmark. The Victorian-style mansion, with its meticulously preserved 18 rooms, is open 7 days-a- week from Memorial Day to October 31. It continues to be one of the must-see attractions in Jim Thorpe today.

The Old Jail

Built in 1871 and occupied until 1995 as the Carbon County Prison, the Old Jail contains 28 original cells, the warden’s living quarters, and 16 rather eerie dungeon cells. Be sure to check out the handprint visible on the wall of Cell 171. It was left by an accused murderer of the Mollie Maguire organization prior to his hanging. Upon leaving his handprint, the man stated it would remain forever as a sign of his innocence. Located at 128 West Broadway, the Old Jail is an excellent example of 19th century prison architecture, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. For more information, visit: www.TheOldJailMuseum.com

The town of Jim Thorpe, nestled in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania, is a Victorian town that was once referred to as the “Switzerland of America”, with its steep hillsides, narrow streets, and terraced gardens. Prior to being named after the former Olympian, Jim Thorpe went by the name of Mauch Chunk, which is Lanape for the Mountain of the Sleeping Bear. It was once second only to Niagara Falls as a tourist destination. The early growth of Pennsylvania’s railroads was closely intertwined with the mining of anthracite coal. The town got its start as a canal center, and later a railroad center. In the 1840’s, stationary steam engines hauled empty cars up two inclines, at Mount Pisgah, directly above Mauch Chunk, and at nearby Mount Jefferson. In the 1870’s, after ending its service for moving coal, the railroad came back to life as a popular scenic railway, allowing visitors to marvel at this early version of a roller coaster as it carried them along a high overlook with a view of the Lehigh River gorge. From late 1875 to mid-1877, tales of murder and violence, combined with the arrests, trials, and executions for murder of members of the secret Irish “Mollie Maguire” organization, kept tourists away. A railroad strike, the coming of automobiles, the paving of roads, and the Great Depression all combined to deal the final blow to the Switchback railroad. The line was sold for scrap in 1937. Today, the town is a mixture of curious history, Victorian architecture and unique businesses…a graceful, and eclectic blend of yesterday with today.

Once there, you’ll take a step back in time as you stroll up Race Street, making your way to Opera House Square, and back down Broadway. passing quaint shops, period architecture, numerous restaurants, and of course, friendly shopkeepers, residents and tourists.

Many of Jim Thorpe’s B&B’s are housed in historical millionaire mansions. Two of the most notable are the Times House Bed & Breakfast (www.timeshouse.com.), and the Inn at Jim Thorpe (www.InnJT.com), a landmark hotel that has been hosting visitors overnight since 1849. And with over a dozen bars, restaurants, and cafes, you can relax and enjoy good food and ambience to make your visit to Jim Thorpe all that more memorable.

Before heading back hime, be sure to stop in Big Creek Vineyard (41 Susquehanna St., 570-325-8138) where resident wine expert Marissa will impress you with her knowledge of the diversity of wines offered for tasting, a very reasonable 5 tastings for $5. A warm and friendly ambience, don’t be surprised if the tasters at the next table strike up a conversation with you. We strongly recommend not leaving without buying a bottle to enjoy at home!

If seeing incomparable fall foliage is what you enjoy, be sure to make a visit during the Jim Thorpe Fall Foliage festival. For information on this, and all the goings-on in Jim Thorpe, be sure to check out www.jimthorpe.com. and www.jimthorpe.org.

With over 70 places to visit, experience and marvel, Jim Thorpe is well worth the 90 or so minute drive from NYC.

About Jim Thorpe, Olympian

Born on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma in 1887, Jim Thorpe was one of 11 children, who became a legend as both a football player and track & field athlete. He is widely considered the greatest American football player pre-World War I. Competing in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, he participated in the Decathlon, in that year a 3-day event. His performance set a world record. The King of Sweden gave Jim his gold medals and told him, “You sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.”

Jim Thorpe also played professional baseball. After the 1912 Olympics, he was signed by the NY Giants, beginning a 7-year major league career which included playing for the Giants, Cincinnati Reds and Boston Braves. His career major league average was 252. Jim Thorpe also played professional football, but by that time he was in the twilight of his athletic career. In an end-of-century special edition in 1999, Sports Illustrated ranked Thorpe as the 17th top football player of all time. In 1920, Thorpe was named the first president of the National Football League.

About Jim Thorpe, Olympian