People often call it Switzerland of America because of its proximity to the mountains and the architecture of many of the buildings located in Jim Thorpe, Pa.
In August 2013, my wife, Kathy, and I spent a great day at the “Gateway to the Poconos,” which is located only 80 miles east of Hershey and 120 miles west of New York City, but a century removed from today.
Formerly known as Mauch Chunk, it was a coal loading place on the Lehigh River. The Lehigh Valley Railroad started freight and passenger service in 1855. Many millionaire mansions are located in the community.
In 1954, the communities of East Mauch Chunk and Mauch Chunk were combined under the name of Jim Thorpe and the famous athlete’s remains were brought here from Oklahoma. Now it is a popular tourist attraction and the river is a great source of recreation.
Considered to be one of the most versatile athletes of of his time, Jim Thorpe won Olympic gold medals in the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon. He also played college and professional football, as well as professional baseball and basketball.
Although a native of Oklahoma, Thorpe attended college at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlise, Pa., where he was first coached by the legendary football coach “Pop” Warner.
After he died in 1953, he was buried in California. A short time later, according to Wikipedia, his hometown of Shawnee, Okla., raised money to move his body there. But, as fundraising was underway to build a memorial to the hometown hero, Thorpe’s third wife made a deal with officials at Mauch Chunk, who promised to rename the city in his honor. She stole the body and had it moved to Pennsylvania.
Today, Thorpe’s memorial and grave are located just northeast of the downtown area.
Learning about the storied, but controversial man, isn’t the only thing to do in Jim Thorpe, Pa. This kayaking activity is available on the river side of the municipal parking lot, which costs $5 per day. Or, for the more adventurous, try three hours of whitewater rafting for $32 for children ages 4 to 17, or $41 for adults. www.jtraft.com
The original train depot is now home to the Lehigh Gorge Railway, which makes one-hour trips up the very scenic gorge on weekends. The cost ranges between $9 for children ages 3 to 12 and $18 for adults. www.lgsry.com
If you enjoy Victorian buildings, there are many restored homes, businesses and government buildings scattered throughout town.
For such a small community, there is plenty of history here. A secret society of sometimes violent Irish-American activists called the “Molly Maguires” present in the area. After several people were murdered, the defendants were tried and sentenced to death by a private corporation.
The government only provided the buildings for the trial and erected the gallows for the executions. Several men were tried in 1876 and hanged at the Carbon County Jail in Jim Thorpe, Pa., a year later. www.theoldjailmuseum.com
We plan to return to Jim Thorpe to tour some other areas of town and one of the millionaire mansions. For more information to plan your trip, visit www.jimthorpe.org