It’s been dubbed the Switzerland of America, and why not? Scenic landscapes embrace visitors from every angle. Rugged mountains, terraced gardens, breathtaking water views, historic railroad tracks and a lively downtown area offer a sweet escape for everyone. It’s a true black diamond, as its coal roots suggest.
Jim Thorpe, formerly known as Mauch Chunk, was founded in the early 1800s by the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company as a transportation hub for the booming coal industry during the Civil War and Industrial Revolution. As its Leni Lenape Native American name suggests, it was a true sleeping bear. Home to the second operational railroad in the United States, Mauch Chunk was an economic powerhouse and major supplier to larger industrial areas such as Philadelphia, New York and Bethlehem until the advent of oil and the Great Depression.
According to Mary’s Guesthouse, a local establishment in Jim Thorpe, “To get the mined coal from the open-pit area of Summit Hill down to the river at Mauch Chunk, engineers devised an ingenious Gravity Railroad that coasted tons of coal over eight miles down a slight grade to a point above town where it was chuted into barges or rail cars. Known as the Switchback, for the old mule trail that it replaced, this was the world’s first working railroad [Fact check: This is debatable depending upon the data source] and enabled Mauch Chunk to get more coal onto river or rail quicker than other transportation systems.” As demand increased, more advanced engineering capabilities were necessary to extract and transport the coal up to the Summit Hill loading area and down the switchback to the Lehigh Canal.
Mauch Chunk, once booming because of coal production, declined with the progression of the Great Depression. “Town leaders changed the name of the town to Jim Thorpe in 1954, in the hope of reviving the tourist trade, and interred the body of the Greatest Athlete in the World on the east side of town, where his mausoleum stands today,” according to the Inn at Jim Thorpe.
Today, tourism is the beating heart of this quaint town, attracting tens of thousands of visitors per year.
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, has earned numerous distinctions, including nods in National Geographic, the Travel Channel/USA Today and Philadelphia Magazine as being among the best places to live and play – a captivating, friendly and romantic spot to get away from all of the hustle and bustle. Stroll through the narrow streets and admire the Victorian architecture. Roam timeless antique and book stores where you’re sure to find a hidden treasure to showcase in your home. Enjoy some adventure by hiking or rafting the Lehigh gorge. Take your children for homemade ice cream and enjoy an old-fashioned candy shop. Stay at a charming bed and breakfast establishment or hang out in creatively-themed coffee houses, bars and restaurants.
How blessed am I that this gem is right in my backyard.