Main Streets 2016: Pennsylvania
Nestled in the Lehigh Valley in the eastern part of Pennsylvania is the picturesque town of Jim Thorpe, known as the “Gateway to the Poconos.” One of America’s most photogenic communities, Jim Thorpe has drawn a number of accolades — including a top 10 spot on Budget Travel magazine’s “America’s Coolest Small Towns” list, and recognition by the Rand McNally/USA Today Road Rally series as one of the most beautiful towns in the United States.
Jim Thorpe, the celebrated Native American athlete and Olympian, never actually lived in or even visited this town — but in an odd twist of history, he is buried here. Two boroughs here, originally founded as Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, merged and renamed the town Jim Thorpe after Thorpe’s widow made a deal with officials to erect a monument in the athlete’s honor. She then brought his body here from his native Oklahoma. (The athlete did attend the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, about 100 miles away.) The monument includes Thorpe’s tomb and two statues of him.
Despite the controversy around the name, there is something special about this town. Broadway, the heart and soul of Jim Thorpe, is lined with 19th century architecture, gorgeous Victorians and quaint storefronts. Among its treasures is the Mauch Chunk Opera House, built in 1881 and one of the oldest operating opera houses in the eastern U.S.
Also on the street are the Mauch Chunk Historical Society, the Anita Shapolsky Art Foundation, Dimmick Memorial Library, Old Jail Museum, shops and eateries — even a very sweet candy store. Overlooking it all is the 1849 Inn at Jim Thorpe, with its New Orleans-style balcony.
Beautiful scenery, mountain recreation, stunning architecture and an outdoorsy culture are just some of the reasons why Jim Thorpe has also been deemed the “Switzerland of America” by the Swiss Tourist Board. To take it all in, hike up Flagstaff Mountain for an incredible view of one of America’s landmark small towns.
Fall Foliage Festival photos courtesy of Mary Ann Drury and Sharon Exner