Jim Thorpe was originally called Mauch Chunk and founded in the early 1800s as a mining and coal town, which slowly grew over the years. In 1953, Olympic Athlete, Jim Thorpe, died. He was an Oklahoma native and they were not going to erect any sort of memorial to him. So, his wife, Patricia, heard that Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk were desperate to attract other types of business. She made a deal with them to unite the boroughs of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk into one town and name it Jim Thorpe. They constructed a memorial for him on the edge of town. His remains were moved here and the grave rests on top of soil from Oklahoma and from the Stockholm Olympic Stadium where he won his medals.
We did not know any of this until we went to the town. So, why did we go? Well, the town of Jim Thorpe is located at the southern end of the Lehigh Gorge State Park. And, there is an old train that runs next to the Lehigh River and through the gorge. That was the attraction we came to see.
We arrived at Jim Thorpe and parked adjacent to the train station. The parking costs but is very reasonable. It is 25 cents per 30 minutes with a 2 hour time limit. You can stay longer than 2 hours, you simply need to feed the meter. We bought our tickets for the next train and had time to kill. So, we explored up and down the Main Street shops. There were eateries, a Five and Dime, local clothing outlets, toy stores, sweet shops and even a beef jerky shop. Mama Nomad picked up a real great deal on a sweater at a local boutique and I scored some tasty beef jerky with no sugar and no MSG!
After exploring the main street, we headed back to the train station. There are two different kinds of seats. There are coach seats and open air car seats. The coach seats are more expensive at $18 per person. They were long benches that ran down the center of the train car. You sat facing one side or the other. The open air seats, at $13 each, were like bus seating where you sit on one side of the train car or the other.
We opted for the open air car seats. I wanted to be able to face forward and look to the left and right side. In the coach seats, you are facing one side of the train or the other. If you wanted to see a side you were not facing, you had to turn completely around. We really enjoyed the open air car seats. Here is one tip for you, the back of the seat actually will shift from one side to the other. All you have to do is pull on it. This is very handy as the train follows the river for a while but never turns around. The engine disconnects, goes to the back of the train and pulls you back to the train station. Instead of riding backwards, you just flip the back around and ride forwards.
When you are riding the first direction, a conductor recites facts about the area both past and present. You will pass people on rafts and kayaks in the river, old train cars, a car turning station and even a small waterfall. Mama Nomad and I thought it was going to traverse down the Lehigh Gorge further than it did. If I remember correctly, we went about 20 to 30 minutes down the river and back. All in all the tour was relaxing and quite enjoyable.
When we got back to the train station, I fed the meter and we decided to walk up the road behind the main street shops. Apparently it was a historic area. It was lined with old row houses that were converted into bed and breakfasts, eateries, pubs and shops. It was really cool to walk along and soak in all of that history. About half way down you can look back towards the river, up on the ridge and see the Asa Packer Mansion. It is a beautiful looking mansion built with old Italian architectural features. When you walk back down Race Street, make sure to stop off in the square by the train station and check out the 15,000 pound anthracite (coal) boulder!
Jim Thorpe is a cool and quaint little town. It seems to have an interesting mix of old world history and new age art in one spot. If you are near The Gateway to the Poconos, stop in and take a few hours to explore the Town of Jim Thorpe. Safe Travels.