After 200 Years Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania Reaches Tourism Pinnacle

There’s a little village in the heart of the Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains that has seen more than its share of booms and busts during the course of its 200-year history. We recently visited the charming town for a second time. This time during its annual autumnal celebration.

Fall Foliage Festival

When we called the Innkeeper of the Inn at Jim Thorpe, Dave Drury, and told him we planned to do a sequel to our story about the town of Jim Thorpe and needed a one night room on a Friday night in October he was silent.

We hadn’t thought about the fact that it was leaf peeper time in the Poconos. The weather was forecasted to be splendid AND we were asking for space on a Friday night when thousands of visitors descend on the borough to enjoy the fun and festivities of the Fall Foliage Festival. Ergo, SOLD OUT – everywhere.

Disappointment

We were resigned to forgo the pleasure of sharing new images and writing more about how centuries-old Mauch Chunk prospered by providing anthracite coal for the industrial revolution and subsequently suffered when oil replaced coal as the chosen fuel of industry.

However, like the fortunes of the town, our luck took a turn for the better. Dave Drury emailed that one room had come available at his building at 44 West Broadway, just a few blocks from his famous Inn at Jim Thorpe. He said it was a very small room, but we gratefully assured him it would do fine. We actually found both the Victorian building and the room absolutely delightful.  Thank you, David! On with the story.

Strange name

Mauch (pronounced “mock”) Chunk means “Sleeping Bear” in local Native American parlance and is named so because the town rests alongside Bear Mountain and next to the Lehigh River. The resultant topographical gorge makes for outstanding scenery and abundant outdoor activities.

Evolution of Mauch Chunk

In the early days of settlement, Mauch Chunk was a prosperous town indeed. In fact, during the good times of the 19th century, when there were only 26 millionaires in the entire United States, an astonishing 19 of them had homes in Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania.

Even as the town lumbered in the sooty coal and railroad businesses, early thrill-seeking tourists started to come to Mauch Chunk to ride the gravity railroad named the “Switchback.” The railroad ran coal cars from the mines at the top of Summit Hill to waiting coal barges in the Lehigh River far below. Converted coal cars provided an early roller coaster experience for adventurous 19th-century passengers – for a price.

Unfortunately, the Switchback ended during one of the town’s economic struggles. Today, the roadway remains a popular hiking and biking venue for the hale and hearty.

Another setback

Notwithstanding earlier booms and busts, the Great Depression took the heaviest toll on Mauch Chunk and many of the town’s old buildings fell into disrepair.

It is the world’s good fortune that during these struggling times the town was too poor to demolish dilapidated structures. Today, some of those buildings make up Jim Thorpe’s quaint restaurants, shops, and lodgings.

An inspirational story of survival and revival

The people of Mauch Chunk have always been survivors. Coal miners are a hardy lot, and not to be deterred from feeding their families when times get tough.

It was in just such an economic atmosphere that the people of Mauch Chunk decided to boot-strap a resurgence of their town.

Becoming Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe was an extraordinary athlete. You can read about his many achievements in our original story, A Town and Hotel Remember the Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century.

When Jim Thorpe died in 1953, two small towns in Pennsylvania – located 100 miles from his old Carlyle school – wanted to capitalize on his fame for tourism and commercial purposes. They made an agreement with Thorpe’s widow and in 1954, the neighboring boroughs of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, merged to become Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

The new municipality entombed Thorpe’s remains, and erected a stately monument with two statues in his memory. The monument sits on soils from his native Oklahoma, and from the Stockholm Olympic Stadium where he won his gold medals.

Did the Jim Thorpe maneuver attract tourists?

Not really. The fame of the Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century faded quickly after his death and by the 1960s and 1970s many in the new generation had never heard of Jim Thorpe.

However, more importantly, the name change had excited and motivated the leaders and people of the borough, and the proud little town became noticed for its architectural revival, restaurants, trendy shops, abundant scenery, history, planned events, and excellent outdoor activities. By the 1980s Jim Thorpe was on a tourism roll and has never looked back.

If you go

Jim Thorpe is a two-hour drive from New York City. Google maps can plot your course from wherever you begin your journey.

For tourist information about the town of Jim Thorpe and its many activities and events, check out the dropdown menu tabs at www.jimthorpe.org and read our previous story *here*

Our favorite place to stay in Jim Thorpe is the historic Inn at Jim Thorpe. You can also read more about the Inn in our previous story.

A note of caution: If you plan to spend any part of a weekend in Jim Thorpe, book well in advance to avoid disappointment. Do as we say, not as we do.

Happy travels!

*************************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by AllianzTravel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists alone and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2019 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos Copyright © 2019 Judy Bayliff. Vintage photos Borough of Jim Thorpe.

A Town and Hotel Remember the Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century

The name “Jim Thorpe” may no longer be a household name in America, but in the early 1900s there was nary a child or sports fan that did not know of his legendary sports achievements.

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Enrolled in the Carlyle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania in 1904, the Sac and Fox Native American from Oklahoma, was destined to become one of the most celebrated athletes of the 20th Century.

Pop Warner and company 

Coached by the famed Pop Warner, a team led by Jim Thorpe from the little known Carlyle school became a national football powerhouse in 1907. The “Indians” regularly competed and won against eastern Ivy League colleges like Brown, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and also Army and Navy. In 1911, the little Indian school posted an impressive 11-1 gridiron record against much better-known colleges.

In 1912 the Indians won a highly publicized football game against a nationally ranked Army team and its celebrated linebacker – Dwight D. Eisenhower.  The future general – and president-to-be was injured in the contest and never played football again.

The world’s greatest athlete

After reviewing his extraordinary sports achievements, Jim Thorpe was awarded the title of “The Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century” by an Associated Press poll in 1950, and again by ABC’s Wild World of Sports in 2000.

For starters, Jim Thorpe had won both the grueling five-event pentathlon and ten-event decathlon in the 1912 Olympics. Further, he excelled in all track and field events, as well as boxing, golf, hockey, rowing, and swimming.

As a professional, Jim Thorpe dominated the early days of pro-football (he was also the first President of the NFL), and additionally played professional baseball and basketball during his phenomenal career.

The town of Jim Thorpe

Thorpe was a true sports legend, and when he died in 1953, two small towns in Pennsylvania – located 100 miles from his old Carlyle school – wanted to capitalize on his fame for tourism and commercial purposes. They made an agreement with Thorpe’s widow, and in 1954, the neighboring boroughs of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, merged to become Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

The new municipality entombed Thorpe’s remains, and erected a stately monument with two statues in his memory. The monument sits on soils from his native Oklahoma, and from the Stockholm Olympic Stadium where he won his gold medals.

Worth a visit

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We planned to visit the borough of Jim Thorpe primarily because of the sports legend, but also because we heard the town was charming – and offered a unique perspective on Pennsylvania coal-country Americana. We decided to spend a few days there, and hoped it might turn out to be a worthy destination to write about. It was.

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The now quiet hamlet is teeming with exciting stories about big coal throughout the 19th century, early tourism in Pennsylvania, and the famous hangings of the Molly Maguires in 1877.

The town stats

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Jim Thorpe has a population of approximately 4,700, and is peacefully situated in a valley under craggy Mount Pisgah with its many hiking and biking trails.

Nestled in the Lehigh Valley Gorge, and alongside the Lehigh River, the little town is a photographer’s potpourri of interesting landscapes and 1800s architecture. There is much to discover about Jim Thorpe that is not immediately obvious.

Where we stayed

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A subscriber to our travel stories, had recommended a local hotel because of its well-preserved architecture and period charm. We found the hotel a gentle step back in time and quite delightful.

The Inn at Jim Thorpe

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As we climbed the outside entry stairs and passed through the old wooden doors, we knew we had chosen the right place to compliment the classic character of the town.

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We checked in and ascended the long-serving staircase to our second floor room.

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Like the hotel entrance, our room and furnishings were a perfect extension of the town’s yesteryear aura. We quickly became immersed in the subject of our work.

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Sitting on the hotel’s veranda on Broadway was an enjoyable way to take in the activity of the town below.

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The Inn was re-built in the commercial center of town after a fire in 1849. Like most 19th century lodgings the Inn at Jim Thorpe has had several names, seen good and bad times, and had many opportunities for rebirths. The latest took place in 1988 when the Drury family purchased the Inn and faithfully restored it to its early glory.

If you enjoy the unassuming ambiance of small historic hotels with a very different vibe from your run-of-the-mill lodging establishments, this one is for you. 

Don’t forget to eat

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The Broadway Grill and Pub is owned by, and adjacent to the Inn at Jim Thorpe. It is a friendly bar serving both local brews and top-shelf spirits. The tempting menu includes some local favorites.

For dinner we indulged in a traditional Pennsylvania dish. Haluski, which consisted of fried cabbage and kielbasa, sautéed with onions and a touch of sauerkraut. The entrée included a glass of smooth Yuengling Lager. Close your eyes and you could be dining in a bistro in Central or Eastern Europe!

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Our daily breakfast, the “Broadway Breakfast,” consisted of two farm-fresh eggs, bacon (but available with sausage, ham, corned beef hash or scrapple), served with fresh garden potatoes, toast, coffee and juice. At the time, just $10. Yummy!

If you go

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Jim Thorpe has been called the “Switzerland of Pennsylvania,” as well as the “Gateway to the Poconos.” That should give the reader some idea about the scenic value of a visit.

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There is plenty of cultural and outdoor activity in and around Jim Thorpe. Check out the Jim Thorpe Visitors Guide, and the town website for an up to date review of things-to-do.

For more information about the Inn at Jim Thorpe click on their website *here*.

If you have an interest in differing styles of Pennsylvania and Pocono Mountain lodgings, we invite you to read our other articles on the subject:

The Fabulous Lodge at Woodloch

Rustic Luxury at the Bear Mountain Lodge in Wellsboro

The Main Street Boutique Hotel in Kutztown

PA Jim Thorpe PosterIf you have an interest in the man and athlete that became a 20th century sport’s icon, you will enjoy the 1951 movie classic “Jim Thorpe – All-American.” The film stars Burt Lancaster in the starring role and features some archival footage of Thorpe’s Olympic feats. Charles Bickford is excellent as Glenn “Pop” Warner, who was Thorpe’s lifelong friend and mentor.  

Happy travels!

*************************************

“Get out there, but be prepared.” ​

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance. You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

Copyright © 2016 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos Copyright © 2016 Judy Bayliff