In 1791 Philip Ginder went digging at Summit Hill to cut a millstone and found himself picking through underlying black rock. He took some of it to a local blacksmith to see if it would burn. When it did he also gave a sample to Colonel Jacob Weiss who took it to Philadelphia for analysis. The rock was anthracite and Weiss formed the Lehigh Coal Mine Company in 1792 to purchase some 10,000 acres of land in around Summit Hill. It’s one thing to own a mountain of coal, it is, however, quite another to do anything with it. At the time it was difficult to find a good road from city to city, let alone from the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. And even if there was easy transportation, people were only using soft coal - there was no market for hard coal.
That changed during the war of 1812 and once there was a market for hard coal there had to be a supply. Josiah White devised a canal system that released needed freshets of water to float barges on the shallow parts of the Lehigh River and Mauch Chunk, an Indian word roughly translating to “Bear Mountain,” was founded in 1820. In 1828 coal excavated from the mines on Summit Hill began starting their ingenious journey to Philadelphia markets on America’s first gravity railroad. Gravity took unpowered wooden coal cars down a switchbacking rail into the town to meet barges on the Lehigh. Meanwhile, mules hauled the empty cars back up the mountain on a parallel track for the next load.
Steam power eventually replaced the mules but the gravity railroad lasted until 1933 - its final years spent as one of America’s first rollercoasters and a popular tourist destination for thrill seekers. Today it is a recreational hiker-biker trail.
Even though it was a coal town, Mauch Chunk entrepreneurs saw the value of their breathtaking mountain setting from an early date. In 1824, when there were only 19 log buildings in town, construction began on the Mansion House on Susquehanna Street, touted as America’s largest hotel. Within a decade the Broadway House and White Swan hotels would open and soon Mauch Chunk was billing itself as “America’s Switzerland.”
A fire swept through town in 1849, destroying most of the vernacular building stock. Mauch Chunk, by now flush with coal cash, went on a rebuilding spree that would last through the rest of the century. And that would be it for building in Mauch Chunk. The coal industry collapsed in the early 1900s and the coming of the automobile brought other, more fashionable, mountain resorts into easy reach. The town’s fortunes spiraled downhill - fast. An odd bargain to house the remains of Jim Thorpe, the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century, in exchange for renaming the town united Mauch Chunk with East Mauch Chunk in 1954 but never attracted the anticipated tourists.
It would be another generation before those tourists rediscovered the charms of Mauch Chunk and our walking tour will follow the narrow streets that have seen scarcely a modern intrusion since the coal boom days ended so many years ago...
FROM THE PARKING LOT ALONG THE RIVER, WALK TO THE STOP LIGHT AT BROADWAY AND SUSQUEHANNA STREET. TURN RIGHT AND WALK UP THE STEPS TO THE LEFT OF THE CIVIL WAR STATUE.
Asa Packer Mansion
Packer Hill Road
The mansion of Asa Packer, built in 1860, sits high above the town of Jim Thorpe. Packer came to town in 1822 as a 17-year old apprentice boatbuilder. He died 57 years later as a millionaire, after founding boatyards, construction and mining companies, the Lehigh Valley Railroad, and Lehigh University. His three-story Victorian Italianate building has a center hall plan, though at each end of the house is a one-room extension with a bowed end. Designed in 1861 by architect Samuel Sloan of Philadelphia, the home was built over a cast iron frame at the cost of $14,000 and renovated twenty years later with another $85,000. Several stylistic details ornament mark the exterior, including an Italianate roof and elaborate wooden brackets, Gothic window arches, and Gothic gingerbread trefoil motifs trimming the verandah. Interior detailing and furnishings reflect the wealth and influence of the owners. The Main Hallway features fine woodcarvings by European artisans. The Gothic motif is used throughout, and is particularly dramatic in the woodcarvings in the Main Hall and stairs and the bracketed ceiling and stained-glass windows in the dining room. The chandelier is said to have been the model for the one that appears in Gone With The Wind. The most amazing story about this National Historic Landmark, now open for tours, is that the mansion was boarded up from 1912 until 1956 and it was never vandalized and nothing was ever stolen from the house.
Harry Packer Mansion
Packer Hill Road
Asa Packer built another Victorian mansion next to his own home as a Lehigh Valley Railroad company owned home. This home was later lived in by his railroad engineer son, Harry Packer, and the Harry Packer Mansion is now used as an inn.
FOLLOW PACKER HILL ROAD BACK DOWN THE HILL TO ROUTE 209 AT THE BOTTOM.
beneath the Packer Mansions on Packer Hill Road
These grounds were once the site of the grand 19-room mansion of coal baron Mahlon Kemmerer. When Kemmerer died in 1925 none of his children took interest in his luxurious home which was demolished in 1927 to make way for a public park and playground. Standing at the far end of the park is the Kemmerer Park Carriage House, larger and more substantial than most houses of the era. Featuring Victorian-era details, the multi-gabled building accented by a commanding cupola is in deteriorating condition and awaiting restoration.
TURN RIGHT AND WALK TOWARDS TOWN (THE LEHIGH RIVER IS ON YOUR LEFT).
Central Railroad of New Jersey Station
foot of Broadway at Lehigh Avenue
Constructed in 1868, the Central Railroad of New Jersey Station was designed by the firm of Wilson Brothers of Philadelphia. It is a brick one and one-half story building, five bays in length with a three and one-half story cylindrical tower. Once considered one of the finest passenger stations on the Jersey central line, the main mass of the station is covered by a gable roof and supported by brackets, with two gabled dormers on either side, double chimneys at either end, and a large wooden cupola which dominates the building. With the discontinuance of passenger service in 1963, the station began to deteriorate, and on March 31, 1972, 106 years to the day the Jersey Central had begun its operation of the Lehigh and Susquehanna Division, the station was officially closed. Listed in the National Register in 1976 the station now houses the Tourist Welcoming Center.
WALK THROUGH THE PARK IN FRON TOF THE TRAIN STATION TO THE INTERSECTION OF SUSQUEHANNA STREET AND RACE STREET.
Hooven Mercantile Co.
41 Susquehanna Street
The Hooven Mercantile Co. was established in Mauch Chunk in 1882 as a distributor of coffee, tea and spices. It was renovated in 1984 as a combination of museums and specialty shops. On the second floor, the Old Mauch Chunk Model Train Display and Hobby & Gift Shop offers a brief history on the world of model trains. This display features 13 separate mainlines, realistic landscaping, more than 100 bridges and trestles, over 200 structures, including a burning building.
WALK UP RACE STREET.
St. Mark’s Church
21 Race Street
The first Episcopal services were held in Mauch Chunk in 1829 but it wasn’t until 1848 that the first church was ready for occupancy. On June 16, 1867 the last service was held in the first church after which it was demolished to make way for the new building. The cornerstone of the present church, designed by Richard Upjohn and now a National Historic Landmark, was laid on September 21, 1867. In 1876 the original bell was replaced by a chime of nine bells cast by the Jones bell foundry of Troy, New York. Each bell was given by or in memory of a prominent member of the parish. As the wealth of the citizens of old Mauch Chunk grew, so did the richness of the memorials they lavished on their church. This church contains Tiffany Glass Windows, Minton Tile Floors, and an incredible stone labyrinth. The year 1912 was noteworthy for the many improvements made to the church. Through the generosity of Mary Packer Cummings, the entire church was renovated and redecorated, including the installation of an Otis elevator. The story goes that just before the elevator was completed, Mrs. Cummings fell ill and died. The first official use of the elevator was to carry her casket up to the main church for her funeral service on November 1, 1912.
25 Race Street
Asa Packer built these 16 row house for engineers and foremen of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Built of stone, the houses may have been a copy of Elfreth’s Alley in Philadelphia. All houses are sturdily constructed and well designed. A stone wall divides every other dwelling to help cut down on noise. The three-story row houses were individualized by variations in dormer, bay window and door and window trim.
AT THE END OF RACE STREET TURN LEFT ON WEST BROADWAY.
Mauch Chunk Opera House
14 West Broadway
The Mauch Chunk Opera House was designed by Philadelphia architect Addison Hutton in 1882 to function as an open-air farmer’s market on the first floor and a second story concert hall. It was said to be “of ample size, appropriately and elegantly finished and furnished, and possessed the important requisite of excellent acoustic properties.” The Opera House would become a regular stop on the old Vaudeville Circuit. Al Jolsen performed here regularly as well as John Phillips Sousa who delighted audiences with an annual show. In 1927, the building was purchased by the Comerford amusement chain, who renovated extensively, eliminating its Italianate tower. During the next three decades the Opera House became known as the Capitol Theater, a movie house. The movie house officially closed on April 27, 1959. The building was then purchased by Berkeley Bags Company, a pocketbook manufacturer, and used for many years as a warehouse before being reborn as a venue for live performance and cultural events.
Marion Hose Company #1
16 West Broadway
The Marion Hose Company #1 was the first fire company in Carbon County, erected in 1885. Aside from the function of protecting Mauch Chunk from the ravages of fire, the Marion Hose was a community center. It was the location of numerous social and cultural events and the site of the first art exhibition held in Mauch Chunk.
Anita Shapolsky Art Foundation’s Exhibition Center
20 West Broadway
This one-time Presbyterian Church from the late 1800s provides an unusual and dramatic building to showcase the Foundation’s collection of American Abstract Expressionist art. The church has a most unusual layout with two stories, a stage, and full living quarters in the rear. The second floor has a stunning collection of beautiful stained glass windows by Tiffany, LaFarge, and others.
Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center
41 West Broadway
The Museum is housed in the former St. Paul’s Methodist Church building in the Jim Thorpe Historic District. Constructed in 1843 of red brick with high ornate ceiling, the church is a magnificent example of Victorian ecclesiastical architecture. The museum contains Switchback Railroad and canal lock models as well as a museum of history of Mauch Chunk and a display of Jim Thorpe.
43 West Broadway
This fortress-like Italianate building was actually constructed in 1855 as the town school. In the 1930s it was converted into a factory and is now adapted for residential use.
Old Carbon County Jail Museum
128 West Broadway
The Carbon County Jail is an excellent example of 19th-century prison construction, designed and built from 1869 to 1870. The jail is a two-story rusticated stone building with thick, massive walls and a tower. The jail could hold 29 prisoners. It was an active prison until 1995. In 1875, the jail was crowded with miners, either Irish-born or the sons of Irish immigrants, who were accused of a series of murders on behalf of what the mine owners, railroad men, the prosecutors, anti-labor and anti-Catholic nativists, and the press described as an ominous terrorist conspiracy―the Molly Maguires, taking their name from the legendary widow Molly Maguire, said to have led anti-landlord resistance in the 1840s. The trials of the Molly Maguires, which received incendiary and biased press coverage, were patently unfair: prosecuting attorneys worked for the railroad or mining companies (not the state); Irish Catholics were not allowed to serve on the juries; some juries consisted primarily of German-speakers who knew little or no English; and in a number of trials, the sole prosecuting evidence came either from James McParlan, who admitted to attending meetings where assassinations were planned, but did not warn the intended victims, or from men who after being convicted of murder, became prosecution witnesses in order to lessen their sentences. The convictions and death sentences crushed the Molly Maguires and the cause of organized labor suffered as a result of the trials and the identification of the Molly Maguires with the mine union movement. Of the twenty convicted Molly Maguires, seven men were hanged at the Carbon County Jail while the other men were hanged in Pottsville.
Immaculate Conception Church
180 West Broadway
There is record of a circuit-riding priest coming to the area to serve the scattered Catholic population as early as 1797 but it wasn’t until 1852 that the congregation, mostly Irish refugees, had a permanent home. The original brick-and-frame church was replaced in 1906 with this handsome Romanesque sanctuary built of North Carolina granite trimmed with Indiana limestone.
TURN AND WALK BACK DOWN THE HILL ON WEST BROADWAY.
Broadway, beneath Hill Road
Instead of mansions, some of Mauch Chunk’s wealthiest denizens built stately townhouses in the fashion of Philadelphia and New York. As many as 13 millionaires were thought to reside along Broadway in the late 1800s. This four-story brick house at 72 Broadway sports a Second Empire mansard roof and, like many of its neighbors, a terraced garden in the back.
The YMCA, now a human services center, was built in 1893; the four Ionic columns on the upper facade may have been salvaged from the town’s second courthouse that was razed for the current courthouse that was also built that year.
Dimmick Memorial Library
Milton Dimmick, son of Milo Dimmick a local lawyer and congressman, died in 1884 at the age of 36 and left money to establish a library in the name of his family. The original Dimmick House is located one block up Broadway from the library. The cottage style, cross-gabled library designed by T. Rooney Williamson opened its doors on October 1, 1890.
Originally a two-story structure built in 1844, the Odd Fellows Hall was substantially enlarged and altered in the Italianate style sometime after the Great Fire of 1849. The first floor commercial front with lead glass windows dates to the turn of the century.
In the late 19th century the building trades made a distinction between clay-based terra-cotta and artificial stone. Artificial stone was manufactured from a mixture of cement, sand, water, and stone aggregate that was poured into molds. Like cast iron, its popularity lay largely in the cheapness of its complex forms. Well-done cast stone is detectable only to an experienced eye and one of the best of its form in Pennsylvania is the 1898 Stroh Building. It is fully constructed of artificial materials: Pompeiian brick front is trimmed with what appears to be cast-brownstone sills and lintels, ground story iron piers with an in-fill of mid-twentieth century artificial stone, and a sheet-metal cornice and parapet with a terra-cotta gable.
The Inn at Jim Thorpe
Cornelius Connor built the White Swan Hotel here in 1833, one of several large, rambling, grand hotels in the town. After the inn was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1849 Connor rebuilt as the New American Hotel that stood as the jewel of Mauch Chunk accommodations until the Great Depression. Among the dignitaries staying here were General Ulysses S. Grant, President William H. Taft, Buffalo Bill, Thomas Edison and John D. Rockefeller. The inn fell into disrepair in the 1930s until it was restored in the 1980s, becoming a catalyst for the rebirth of the town’s tourist trade.
Jim Thorpe National Bank
In 1852, Rockwood, Hazard & Company purchased, from the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, a stone building erected in 1829 on this site. This was the beginning of a private bank known as the “Savings Shoppe” that would be the Mauch Chunk Bank when it became the first chartered bank in Carbon County in 1855. In 1863, The First National Bank of Mauch Chunk was organized, erecting a new building on the site of the former Mauch Chunk Bank. The brick building, recently stripped of its white paint, features cast iron detail and marble veneer in the Baroque style. The First National Bank of Mauch Chunk consolidated with the Linderman National Bank in 1902 and was chartered by the United States Treasury Department as The Mauch Chunk National Bank (Jim Thorpe National Bank).
Lehigh Coal and Navigation Building
1 Susquehanna Street at southwest corner of Broadway
Josiah White was born in 1781, about ten years before the discovery of anthracite coal in the wilderness that was Carbon County. When he arrived in the Lehigh Valley he envisioned the shallow river carrying the “black diamonds” out to America’s biggest cities. White invented an ingenious method that allowed canal locks to be closed quickly by only a single man to rapidly crete navigable water. His unique “bear trap lock” system tamed the Lehigh River and created the inland highway through the gorge he sought. On August 8, 1818, The Lehigh Navigation system was created. A second company, the Lehigh Coal Company was formed to mine the coal. Between 1820 and 1883 some 21 million tons of coal were shipped down the Lehigh River. At that time the firm was ready for a new headquarters. Addison Hutton, the town’s go-to-architect for statement buildings, created the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Building with red brick structure, terra-cotta and carved sandstone trim. He designed the building to be fire proof using cast and wrought iron structural units. The building never burned but the company flamed out when petroleum replaced coal in the home and industry and the offices were abandoned. The town’s most spectacular building, sited at its most prominent location, eroded until disrepair until it was resuscitated for residential use in the 1970s.
Carbon County Courthouse
This is the third courthouse located on this site. The first built sometime after 1843 was destroyed in the 1849 fire. The second was an imposing Greek revival structure demolished to make way for the current sandstone structure, designed by L. S. Jacoby of Allentown. On the building’s centennial in 1983, it was refurbished, leaving original Victorian courtroom preserved.
TURN LEFT ON HAZARD SQUARE.
5 Hazard Square
The Hotel Switzerland has been entertaining guests since 1830; this block was once known as Hotel Row in Mauch Chunk with the Central, Switzerland and Armbruster houses. only the Switzerland remains.
Civil War Monument
north end of Carbon County Courthouse
The dedication of the town’s Civil War Monument took place on Memorial Day, 1922.
TURN RIGHT TO RETURN TO THE PARKING LOT.