The History of Old Mauch Chunk

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 railroads 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.

Switchback Gravity Railroad Model

View the 30 ft. working model of the Switchback Gravity Railroad. Watch as a passenger car ascends Mounts Pisgah and Jefferson en route to Summit Hill. See it hurtle down the mountainside past re-created landmarks on its thrilling ride back to Mauch Chunk.

Switchback Model built in 1996 by: Walter H. Niehoff II, Photographs © Walter H. Niehoff II.

In 1954, 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.