The town of Jim Thorpe in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania is a town named after a famous U.S. Olympian. Originally founded as Mauch Chunk, it was named after the athlete in 1954. The town sits in a valley of the Lehigh River with the mountains rising above it. It is in the center of the coal mining region, and it was where a revolt against the mine owners lead by a group known as the ‘Molly Maguires’ took place and where their execution also happened. (The site of their execution, the Mauch Chunk Jail, is now a museum.) The town also became the home of Asa Packer. Who is Asa Packer? He was a politician, and he was also the founder of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Saint Luke’s Hospital. He also owned a boat company where he used boats to transport coal to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by way of the Lehigh Canal. Today, you can visit the home of Asa Packer in Jim Thorpe.
Some of you are saying, “This is amazing. They name a town after an athlete. As for Asa Packer, he appears to be a great man. However, he is not a railroad man. Therefore, I do not think I will visit his home.”
As mentioned, Asa Packer was the owner of a boat company that shipped coal by way of a canal. He approached the company about using a railroad to transport the coal. The company did not like his idea. Did that stop Asa Packer? No. He became a stockholder in a railroad and was the founder of the Lehigh Valley Railroad where he became the president. He built railroads to connecting town in the region.
Today, when you visit the town of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, one of the first sites you will see is the Central Railroad of New Jersey Station that once was a train station for passenger train service, but it is now a station for the Reading, Blue Mountain and Northern excursion train and the Lehigh Valley Scenic Railroad, and it is also the town visitor center and houses a small museum telling the history of the town. The Reading, Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad also has a freight yard here, and freight trains still pass through here. The Norfolk Southern Railway also comes close to the town. You can see much of the original railroad bed of the Lehigh Valley Railroad which is across the river from the town center, and you can visit the Jim Thorpe Market which was built on the site of the old Lehigh Valley Railroad station. You can also hike and bike the Delaware and Lehigh Rail Trail. All of this was made possible by a man whose home sits on a hill overlooking the train station.
The Asa Packer Mansion is a National Historic Landmark. It is open from April to October and a few weekends in December. You can more information at http://www.asapackermansion.com/. Please note that you must climb stairs and a steep hill to get to the mansion and that the mansion is not wheelchair accessible. There is no parking at the mansion. The nearest parking is at the town lot next to the train station and is accessible from U.S. Route 209.
Next time you are thinking about Jim Thorpe, you can think about a great athlete, and you can think about the man, Asa Packer who made Jim Thorpe a railroad town.