Jim Thorpe Pennsylvania

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The Switzerland of America

Part One

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By Pam Teel

Many towns take their name from prominent citizens who helped make the town what it is, but this town, which was once called Mauch Chunk, was renamed after Native American Athlete Jim Thorpe, who died in 1953. Township officials took on the new name in an effort to boast the economy of a struggling town. Whether the name change was the reason for the success of the town or the ingenuity of the town to make good use of its natural resources, Jim Thorpe remains to be one of the most must see towns in Pennsylvania. Once just as popular as visiting Niagara Falls, Jim Thorpe is a pleasant experience with its quaint old Pennsylvania streets, Victorian and stone architecture and eclectic shops dotting the landscape of a town squeezed between two mountain ranges. Mauch Chunk, (Mountain of the Sleeping Bear) was changed to “Jim Thorpe” after Mr. Thorpe’s third wife made a bargain with the local governing bodies. In exchange for making his final resting place in their town, officials agreed to rename the town after the athlete. (Ironic since Thorpe never set foot in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.) Thorpe’s wife, angry that Oklahoma rejected a memorial to Thorpe, struck a deal to sell his remains to the towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk. In return the two municipalities merged under the new name and erected a monument to the athletic hero. The monument however does not contain his remains. His remains are in a mausoleum in the old Cemetery on top of the hill. There is much controversy over where Mr. Thorpe’s final resting place should be. The children of the late athlete want his remains brought back to his hometown in Oklahoma. It has been a decades old battle by his children to bring his remains home; one that is still going on in the courts today. The principal Chief of the Sac and Fox Nation says the tribe is also relaunching a campaign aimed at moving Jim Thorpe’s remains back to Indian land in Oklahoma. A two hour drive makes Jim Thorpe a great destination to spend a long weekend, but make sure you book early because the Inns and Bed and Breakfasts book quickly leaving your only choice a hotel by the highway in nearby Lehighton four miles away. It’s just not the same experience as finding a place in town. What a feeling when you walk out of your room onto the streets of Jim Thorpe. Surrounded on both sides by the Appalachian Mountains you get a sense of empowerment as you take in the heavenly view. With the Lehigh River running alongside the town, there is easy access to whitewater rafting, kayaking, and biking. The old train station once a part of the Jersey Central Railroad that ran up and down the east coast now serves as a visitor center and main platform for the Lehigh Valley Scenic Railways train rides that take both passengers and bikers through the nearby Lehigh Gorge State Park. Bikes can be rented directly across from the train depot. A large parking lot is convenient for the entire town with just five dollars a day parking behind the train depot. The fall foliage is spectacular and again lodging sells out early so make sure you book way ahead of time. The town gained notoriety in 1877 when they held executions at the old jail in town. They hung four Molly McGuire members, an alleged secret society of Irish mineworkers, for violent crimes against coal industry. Sixteen others were also executed in nearby towns. You can take a tour of the old jailhouse. Other tours in town include the Asa & Harry Packer Mansions, St. Marks Church, Mauch Chunk Opera House and Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center: all within walking distance. The town offers events for all seasons. Known as the Switzerland of America, church steeples stand amidst the full green mountains making it a spectacle not soon forgotten. Get familiar with Jim Thorpe. Go to: www.JimThorpe.org for a detailed guide. In the next issue we will talk about Asa Packer and all the wonderful things to do in and around Jim Thorpe, PA.