History of Mauch Chunk

Photo courtesy of Bernard Krebs
Photo courtesy of Bernard Krebs

Jim Thorpe, PA, formerly Mauch Chunk, is a small picturesque Pennsylvania town with a fascinating history.  Established in a wilderness on the banks of the Lehigh River in 1818, Mauch Chunk became a bustling coal transportation center, tourist Mecca, and the esteemed seat of Carbon County by the middle of the 19th century.

Riding the wave of prosperity along river, canal, Switchback Gravity Railroad and overland RR as “Black Diamonds” (anthracite coal) were transported by increasingly efficient means, famous as the “Switzerland of America” to 19th century rail excursionists, the town declined economically in the 20th century when petroleum replaced coal in home and industry and rail excursion tourism was replaced by the automobile.

In 1954,the economic revival took a strange course. Mauch Chunk traded its name for the body and name of 1912 Olympic hero Jim Thorpe. Although this bizarre exchange received nationwide attention, it did little to revitalize the town. Revitalization came to Jim Thorpe over several decades through promotion of the town’s historical and architectural legacy, and the natural beauty of its surroundings.

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