Historic Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania

Updated on October 3, 2018
The historic train depot now serves as a Visitor Center and terminal for the historic Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railroad.
The historic train depot now serves as a Visitor Center and terminal for the historic Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railroad. | Source

A Brief history of Jim Thorpe, PA

Few people outside the region know about this town. Certainly, it's not as famous as Williamsburg, Virginia, or Santa Fe, New Mexico. In fairness, Jim Thorpe's Anglo-American history dates to only about 1800, and its monoculture of anthracite coal mining made it marginal compared to the cosmopolitan qualities of other towns and cities during the 19th century. Still, few recognize that Jim Thorpe, PA—known by its Lenni Lenape Indian name of Mauch Chunk until 1953—was the second most visited tourist destination in the United States after Niagara Falls during most of the 19th century.

Anthracite coal is was started the town, now numbering just under 5,000 people, although today the town is well received as a regional tourist hotspot with its beautiful and ornate Victorian architecture, famous historical sites, and year-round art, music, and cultural scene. Still, it remains relatively quiet, sleepy, and clearly, off the beaten path when the festivals and events are not in session.

Only 2 hours from New York City and 1.5 hours from Philadelphia, Jim Thorpe is close enough but easy to miss as it's tucked in a deep valley with splendid views of the Lehigh River.

Why "Jim Thorpe"?

Most people instantly recognize the name Jim Thorpe as the famous Native American athlete who competed and won Olympic medals during the 1912 Stockholm games and played major league baseball as well as excelled in football. In reality, Jim Thorpe had no roots in the town or the region.

The closest he got, while alive, was his attendance at the Carlisle Indian School near Harrisburg, PA. Yet today his grave rests on the outskirts of the town named after him along Hwy 903. When Jim Thorpe died in 1953, his wife (for alleged financial reasons) decided to cut a deal with the struggling towns of Mauch Chunck and East Mauch Chunck. The two towns merged and were renamed Jim Thorpe. It's unclear who the bigger winner in this deal was but certainly, it was a fitting tribute to a great man and his legacy. In the meantime, the town has recovered and reinvented itself brilliantly as a tourist hub.

Looking down Broadway from Josiah White Park in Jim Thorpe, PA
Looking down Broadway from Josiah White Park in Jim Thorpe, PA | Source
Along Broadway, Jim Thorpe, PA
Along Broadway, Jim Thorpe, PA | Source

Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway

This scenic railway travels 8 miles up and back the Lehigh River Gorge, taking just over an hour to complete the journey. A standard gauge track, it parallels a popular rails-to-trails bike path and crosses at least two bridges before the return journey.

The journey starts and ends at the historic Central Railroad of New Jersey Station, which opened in 1888. The fare is $14 for adults and $9 for kids (as of August 2018). Parking is located for a nominal fee of $5/day in the county lot between US 209 and the Lehigh River just north of the train terminal.

Note: This is a nice activity, especially if you have kids in tow, but in this writer's opinion, most of the view in the summer was blocked by trees! Plan to go in the fall when the changing colors might make the trip more interesting, but be sure to plan ahead and avoid weekends during that time of year.

Rounding a bend along the Lehigh Gorge scenic railway.
Rounding a bend along the Lehigh Gorge scenic railway. | Source

Asa Packer Mansion

Built in 1861, this Italianate mansion was the crown jewel of the Packer family and home to Asa Packer. This 20-room mansion has an ornate interior with original furnishings. It stands elevated above Broadway and is a reminder of the wealth that the city had during the 19th century. During that time it is said 19 of the country's 26 millionaires had homes in Mauch Chunk.

Asa Packer founded the Lehigh Valley Railroad, and like many wealthy robber-barons of this age, went on to become a philanthropist. He also founded Lehigh University in 1865. Just a stone's throw from the Asa Packer mansion is the Harry Packer Mansion, a wedding gift from father to son built in 1874. Built of brick, Vermont sandstone, and New York blue stone, this Italianate mansion is now a guest house and hotel with original Mahogany interior. It was also rumored to be the inspiration for Disneyland's Haunted Mansion.

Asa Packer Mansion, c. 1861
Asa Packer Mansion, c. 1861 | Source

The Old Jail

This squat, hand-hewn stone building is a graphic reminder of the rigors of an inmate's life from the 19th century. Completed in 1871 the Carbon County Jail, as it was known, is most famous for its inmates, the Molly Maguires, who were imprisoned here between 1875–76. They were hanged here too in 1877. The jail is now a museum and holds 72 rooms with 27 cells and a dungeon.

It is an easy walk up Broadway, about 10 minutes from the Visitor Center, and a must-see for anyone spending time in Jim Thorpe. Guided tours last about 30 minutes.

The Old Jail (Carbon County Jail)—best known for incarceration and hanging of the Molly Maguires.
The Old Jail (Carbon County Jail)—best known for incarceration and hanging of the Molly Maguires. | Source

Historic Stone Row

Take the high street from the Visitor Center, known as Race Street, and just past St. Marks' Episcopal Church (c. 1869) is a charming row of stone townhouses that is reminiscent of something from England. Today, many still operate small niche business such as gift shops, hand-sewn crafts, sundries, and a pub, as well as doubling as residences.

Take some time to take in the history and architecture—some of the door frames and paneling are most intricate and ornate. Make an effort to stop in St. Mark's Episcopal Church which anchors Race Street on the east side: it contains an original Minton tile floor from England, a beautifully ornate baptismal font, and Tiffany windows.

Historic Stone Row, Jim Thorpe, PA
Historic Stone Row, Jim Thorpe, PA | Source
Door frames, Historic Stone Row, Jim Thorpe, PA
Door frames, Historic Stone Row, Jim Thorpe, PA | Source

Mauch Chunk Opera House

Still holding performances, this vintage building was completed in 1881 and has the capacity for just under 400 people. It sits adjacent to Millionaires Row and is within the Old Mauch Chunk Historic District which includes 28 buildings mostly revival architecture of the Victorian era. John A. Roebling, who completed the Brooklyn Bridge, laid out the original town in 1831. Among the buildings are beautiful doors, frames, balconies, and historic plaques that commemorate events and famous guests who visited. Today many buildings remain true to their original purpose as lodging, bed and breakfasts and gift shops.

The Mauch Chunk Opera House from across Opera House Square
The Mauch Chunk Opera House from across Opera House Square | Source
Historic plaque on the Albright Mansion, c. 1861
Historic plaque on the Albright Mansion, c. 1861 | Source

Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania

A
Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway:
1 Susquehanna St, Jim Thorpe, PA 18229, USA

get directions

B
Asa Packer Mansion:
Packer Hill Ave, Jim Thorpe, PA 18229, USA

get directions

C
Harry Packer Mansion:
19 Packer Hill Ave, Jim Thorpe, PA 18229, USA

get directions

D
Old County Jail, Carbon County, PA:
128 W Broadway, Jim Thorpe, PA 18229, USA

get directions

E
Historic Stone Row, Jim Thorpe, PA:
45 Race St, Jim Thorpe, PA 18229, USA

get directions

F
Mauch Chunk Opera House:
14 W Broadway, Jim Thorpe, PA 18229, USA

get directions

G
Jim Thorpe's grave:
Jim Thorpe's Grave, 1 Joe Boyle Cir, Jim Thorpe, PA 18229, USA

get directions

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        8 weeks ago from UK

        One day I hope to get over to the States.

      • Throgmorton profile imageAUTHOR

        Throgmorton 

        2 months ago

        Thank you! I hope you can put the hub to good use and visit this charming little town soon.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        2 months ago from UK

        This is a very useful article for anyone planning a visit to the area. I especially appreciated the good quality illustrations.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wanderwisdom.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://wanderwisdom.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)