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10.27.2015

Jim Thorpe, PA

When it comes to cool towns across the state of Pennsylvania, Jim Thorpe, PA is one of the most eclectic towns across the entire state. I visited on one of the first warm days in the spring and the town was hopping with people hanging out in restaurants, riding the scenic railway, biking, motorcycling, and walking around. Known as "the Gateway to the Poconos," this town is also the crown jewel of the region. The only other town I can think of that has this similar feel in atmosphere and architecture is Durango, Colorado. This is a beautiful and quirky little mountain town that just feels alive. 

The town started out named as Mauch Chunk, which in Munsee-Lenape Delaware Native American languages translates to Bear Place. The town flourished upon the completion of the gravity fed Switchback Railroad, the second American railroad, that carried coal down to the Lehigh River where it was taken by the Lehigh Canal and by rail to market. The Switchback Railroad served a dual purpose, when people discovered that riding downhill in the railcars was very thrilling, which in turn led to the creation of roller coasters. Once the railroad stopped being used for coal, it stayed open exclusively as a roller coaster that people traveled from all over the place to ride. The Switchback Railroad is considered by many to be the first roller coaster. 

All of this industry led towards the creation of a boomtown, that remains almost completely intact. Not only have the buildings in this beautiful town remain intact, they are also utilized. Unlike many of the other boomtowns across the state, all of the buildings are in use for one purpose or another. This is a must see town with so many great boutiques, restaurants, and more. 

That is not to say that this town has one of the quirkiest/strangest histories of any town in the state. The town was home to some of the famed Molly Maguires, an Irish American group that, amongst other goals in the Irish homeland in the midst of the unrest during the potato famine and problems with England, advocated for better treatment of coal miners in the anthracite coal mining region in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The conditions for workers were absolutely atrocious, and the American economy was in shambles at that point. The Molly Maguires stood up against the owners of the coal mines, but their method of doing so often involved violence. Several of their trials on criminal charges were held in the town that eventually led towards hangings. The trials were often said to be unfair, and understandably so, because much of the testimony came from the Pinkerton guards, the same organization that killed nine people a few decades later on the other side of the state during protests at the Homestead Steel Works. 

The second famous strange situation occurred in 1953 when the famed Jim Thorpe, one of the best athletes of all time, passed away and his home state of Oklahoma refused to create a memorial for him. His family was in the midst of a fundraising effort to create a monument, since the state of Oklahoma refused to appropriate funding to create a memorial in his hometown of Shawnee. Thorpe's third wife went behind the backs of the rest of his family and sold his remains to the towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, where they buried him and built this memorial. The two towns were joined into one, and the town of Jim Thorpe was created and named after this great athlete that never took even took a step in this town when he was alive. Southeast of the town is Carlisle, PA, the former home of Carlisle Indian School, a college where Jim studied and became an All-American with his athletic feats.
It is neat being able to give tribute to this great man, but the circumstances behind this are extremely strange. Here is a great read on the feelings of Thorpe's family.
The main road in the eastern part of Jim Thorpe, aka the former town of East Mauch Chunk
Now entering the downtown area of Jim Thorpe. Here is the beautiful train station. It is still utilized by the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, which offers a beautiful ride deep into the Lehigh Gorge, including going by Glen Onoko Falls, one of the coolest mountain waterfalls around. 
The buildings in the downtown area are exquisite.
Throughout the downtown area there are a number of restaurants, boutique stores, and more.
This is the stunning Mauch Chunk Opera House that dates back to 1882. This concert venue offers a wide range of concerts in all genres of music. A Canadian folk band named the Wallin' Jennies even recorded an entire album in this venue. 
Here you can see the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway in action. 
I highly recommend checking out this quirky little town in the middle of a beautiful mountain gorge.

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