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Tracing the roots of America’s industrial development leads one inevitably to the Anthracite Region of Pennsylvania. Originally transported from Mauch Chunk to eastern markets via the Lehigh River, the coal mined in these regions helped fuel a new country’s rapid ascent into the Industrial Age and insure its continued independence.
The race to develop the systems of transport that would move the coal to eastern industrial centers yielded inspired solutions to the many immense technical and geographical problems that lay in the path of progress. In early examples of American derring-do, the answers took many forms, including one of the nation’s first railroads that moved the coal from the Summit Hill mines 11 miles to Mauch Chunk. Yet the Switchback Railroad was only the first step in a journey that then traversed another engineering marvel, a system of canals, locks and dams that allowed transport to the Delaware River.
As is the case today, when all are content to assume the relentless march of technological progress, early 19th century engineers and entrepreneurs did not stop there. They searched for more effective solutions and ways to profitably implement emerging technologies. And in short order, the railroad began to put canals out of business, long before the Lehigh River floods did.
The rapid pace of change and development of that age mirrors the amazing generation of wealth and the many characters that came to symbolize the Internet boom of the 1990’s. In the early 19th century, entrepreneurs like Josiah White and Erskine Hazard saw the potential of anthracite to redirect the fortunes of an entire nation. Along with people like Asa Packer they realized that the systems of transport were where power and wealth lay, as the Internet barons of the 1990’s recognized the opportunities inherent in information networks.
Our 21st century vantage point helps put into perspective the efforts and lives of those who turned Mauch Chunk into a thriving, diversified town by the beginning of the 20th century. While we are all too familiar with the decline of the region and the flight of people to other states beginning in the 1930’s, it is still possible to imagine Mauch Chunk before that time, when it was a well-known center of industrial commerce, tourism and entertainment. Politicians, prominent businessmen, and celebrities, as well as an emerging American class of well-off city-dwellers all knew of Mauch Chunk and its lovely views, accommodations and charms.
Today, our community, of course now known as Jim Thorpe in memory of one of our nation’s greatest athletes, offers a remarkable diversity of experience to visitors and residents, much as it did a hundred years ago. Now as then, proximity to the population centers of the eastern seaboard makes many scenarios possible in Jim Thorpe. For visitors and weekend residents, there is always the knowledge that “you don’t have go far to feel far away,” especially reassuring at a time when energy prices march continually upward. And as the economy of the Lehigh Valley continues to develop, more employment and entrepreneurial opportunities are afforded Jim Thorpe’s fulltime residents.
In serving our members, the Jim Thorpe Chamber of Commerce is mindful of our town’s rich history and the interest we all have in understanding and preserving it. It also serves as a source of inspiration as we learn from our predecessors’ vision and sense of the possibilities, and their perseverance and steadfastness through difficult times. History and the future create possibility in Jim Thorpe today.