Fall in Love With Jim Thorpe

By fall 2014

Pennsylvania has no shortage of unique small towns, but Jim Thorpe takes it to another level. Autumn is my favorite time of year to visit this Victorian treasure in the Pocono Mountains region. In fact, during the first three weekends in October, the whole town celebrates the season with annual Fall Foliage Weekends. Every Saturday and Sunday from October 4 to 19, the streets are alive with crafters, artists and food vendors. Visitors are treated to outstanding free entertainment, not to mention the spectacular show put on by Mother Nature.

So why do I love Jim Thorpe?


Nestled between two mountains, Jim Thorpe is situated in a valley carved out by the Lehigh River. Area residents have always known that the quaint village was special but apparently the Swiss Tourist Board thinks so too, since they dubbed Jim Thorpe "America's Little Switzerland."

In addition to the beauty of the town's location, the proximity to major population centers makes it the envy of most destinations. Jim Thorpe is within a comfortable two-hour drive from both New York and Philadelphia


Jim Thorpe is more than just a pretty face; the town has some pretty significant history to add to its allure. Though the town bears the name of perhaps the greatest American athlete of all time - until Jim Thorpe's wife made the town her husband's final resting place, the town was called Mauch Chunk.

The Delaware Indians gave it the name, which means Bear Mountain. They believed the hill overlooking the town (when viewed from Flagstaff Mountain across the Lehigh River) resembled a crouching bear.

Jim Thorpe's real claim to fame is that it is considered by many to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in America. Located in the Anthracite Coal Region of Pennsylvania, the town quickly became the hub of commercial transportation. The Switchback Railroad was one of the nation's first railroads. Coal was moved by locomotive from the mines to Mauch Chunk, where a system of canals moved the coal to the Delaware River and points south. Asa Packer was a visionary who saw the role that transportation would play in the nation's growing dependence on coal for industry.  The success of Packer and others like him led to the success of the town. As politicians, entertainers and entrepreneurs were drawn there, the town became a destination for art and culture, and that remains the case today.


Asa Packer Mansion: The home of railroad magnate Asa Packer stands today as it did when the last of the family moved out. Visitors will marvel at its beautiful woodwork, gorgeous chandeliers and breathtaking stained glass windows. The amazing innovations in the home are an excellent example of the forward-thinking man who breathed life into a small town and built a beautiful home, a successful business, and a powerful industry. The mansion was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985.

St. Mark's Episcopal Church: The historic church located on Race Street is adjacent to a lovely row of stone houses and is nestled close to the mountain. In fact, part of the church is carved right out of the side of the mountain! As with much of Jim Thorpe, St. Mark's has a connection to the Packer family. Beautiful memorial gifts from the family such as million dollar Tiffany windows and an Italian marble altar can be seen on tours of the church.

Old Jail Museum: The old Carbon County Prison gained notoriety on June 21, 1877, when four members of the infamous Molly Maguires were executed for murdering two coal mine bosses. Three hundred people, including reporters from the New York Times and the Philadelphia Enquirer, watched as the four were led to the gallows to face their deaths.

Before leaving Cell #17, Alexander Campbell again proclaimed his innocence and placed his grimy hand on the wall, declaring, "There is proof of my words. That mark of mine will never be wiped out. It will remain forever to shame the county for hanging an innocent man."

After many coats of paint and a completely new wall, the handprint is said to remain as though it were still 1877. Skeptical? See for yourself, the Old Jail Museum is open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day (closed Wednesdays). It is also open on weekends in September and October.


Excursion Train Rides: The Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway offers the best way to view the gorgeous autumn colors. Whether it's the Bike Train to White Haven, where passengers board the train (with their bikes) to White Haven and peddle back through the scenic Lehigh Gorge or one of the leaf-peeping excursions offered in the fall.

Boating on the Lehigh: Whitewater rafting is on my bucket list and the Lehigh River is home to some of the best in the state. Jim Thorpe River Adventures and Pocono Whitewater both offer rafting for all skill levels.

Murder Mystery Weekends at the Harry Packer Mansion: If the mansion looks a little familiar it's probably because Walt Disney designed his famous Haunted Mansion after this Gothic mansion. Asa Packer built the home as a wedding present for his son Harry. Today the mansion is a luxurious B&B, which hosts Murder Mystery Weekends.

Mauch Chunk Opera House: Leaving Jim Thorpe without seeing a show in the historic opera house, where the likes of Al Jolson, May West, and John Philip Sousa performed frequently, would be a missed opportunity. The venue, which was a regular on the old Vaudeville circuit, is now one of the area's finest concert halls, known for its exceptional acoustics.

Roadies Restaurant and Bar and Penn's Peak: Jim Thorpe has many choice restaurants to grab a bite to eat, but none boast the breathtaking panoramic view of Roadies. The eatery has a definite rock 'n' roll vibe, which makes perfect sense since it's located inside Penn's Peak, northeast PA's premier entertainment venue.

Shopping Downtown: Quaint shops and restaurants line the downtown streets. While the area offers many great entertainment and outdoor recreational opportunities for the guys, Jim Thorpe is also a perfect destination for a Girlfriends' Getaway.

So, there you have it...just a few reasons why I love Jim Thorpe any time of year, but especially in fall.


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