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Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe has gone through a series of name changes throughout the town's history. As the first settlement along the Lehigh River in 1815, it was originally called Coaltown. It was later changed to Mauch Chunk which translates to "Bear Mountain" in the Lenni Lenape language. Black bear are still said to roam the Mauch Chunk mountains. Today, the town is known as Jim Thorpe. This renaming occurred when Mauch Chunk, Upper Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk decided to merge. The name comes from the athlete, Jim Thorpe, who died in California at that time. In 1954, the town was renamed Jim Thorpe in the hope that some of his family's money would help fund a research institute and a hospital in the town. This, however, never occurred. It is interesting to note that Jim Thorpe never actually set foot in the town which was named after him (Zagolfsky, 1997).

Mauch Chunk was one of the earliest industrial towns in America. It was actually owned by the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company from 1818 to 1831. Both Josiah White and Erksine Hazard had houses in the town of Mauch Chunk even when it was first beginning to develop in the 1820’s. Various new buildings such as mills, factories, and a hotel began to spring up in Mauch Chunk and the town began to slowly develop. In 1823 plans for Mauch Chunk’s first school building were underway and the town’s population was rapidly increasing. The town slowly gained more and more economic prosperity, allowing for more independence. Because of this, the LC&N began to sell plots of the land in 1831 (Campion, 1997).

If anthracite coal had not been found, the town of Mauch Chunk would have been much different. But in 1791, Philip Ginter discovered coal on Sharp Mountain where Summit Hill now stands. Although this discovery was purely accidental, it lead the way for the industrialization of the area (Brenckman, 1912). Mauch Chunk began to develop in 1818 when White and Hazard began to use the area as a center of anthracite coal transportation along the Lehigh River (Campion, 1997).

Initially, a road was built from the Summit mine to the Lehigh River at Mauch Chunk. This provided a means for wagons to bring coal to the river. In 1827, the wagon road was transformed into a gravity railroad known as the Switchback Gravity Railroad. The coal could then travel down the mountain by means of this railroad system utilizing gravity. The empty cars were then hauled up the mountain by mules (Campion, 1997). It was also eventually used for recreational purposes and lead to the future development of roller coasters (Chris Kocker, personal communication, 7/6/00).

The Switchback Gravity Railroad provided a good way to get the coal to the Lehigh River. The Lehigh River was then used for further transportation of the coal, but the river was not incredibly reliable. In 1829, the Lehigh Navigation was completed. This provided a means of transporting the coal from Mauch Chunk to Easton. From Easton, the coal could travel down the Delaware Division Canal to Philadelphia (Campion, 1997)

Asa Packer came to Mauch Chunk in 1833 and was an important man in the development of Mauch Chunk. When he died in 1879, Packer was one of the richest men of the century. Packer was an entrepreneur who was involved in numerous business projects throughout his life. He was involved in the Mauch Chunk Water Company as well as with the law. He served five years as an associate judge in Carbon County and two terms in the House of Representatives. He is also well known for being the founder of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA (Campion, 1997).
Asa Packer also saw a prominent future for railroads in the area. In 1852, he put all the money that he had acquired into the development of a railroad. In 1855, Robert Sayre and Asa Packer finished the construction of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, resulting in the quick transport of coal from Mauch Chunk to Easton. This other means of transporting coal to Easton dealt a major blow to the canal system (Campion, 1997).


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