Sunday, April 14, 2013

Jim Thorpe - Switzerland of America!

March is my “happy birthday” month; however, I never had the privileges of having a really nice stress free birthday. For as long as we were in India, March was the exams time and now, after coming to USA, it’s the storms time.  In the past 6 years in USA, there has not been a single time when March was calmer!
So, this time we decided to plan something less extra-ordinary for my birthday, but as it always has been with me, the plan (Jim Thorpe, PA) turned out to be more beautiful, more relaxing and even more beautiful than I could ever imagine.

Jim Thorpe is special for some very random reasons –
1. It is called the Switzerland of America because of its location. It is completely surrounded by the Poconos Mountains and is a visual treat in any season of the month.
2. The proximity to NYC and Philadelphia (about 1.5 hours from both) lends the town so many visitors, that for an outsider, it is far from believable to see no parking spots in the town or no lodging availability even during off seasons.
3. Finally, did you know – Jim Thorpe (or formerly called Mauch Chunk) had the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway System, which was probably the first American Roller Coaster ride?
4. Mauch Chunk was renamed to Jim Thorpe on the insistence of latter’s wife. Jim Thorpe was the world’s greatest athlete in his lifetime. When he died, his wife persuaded Mauch Chunk’s govt. to rename the town to his name and they could have his memorial erected in the town, which was a little more than 1 hour away from the place in Pennsylvania where he started his startling sports career.
5. Also, there might have been a time in Jim Thorpe’s history, around 1880s, when the town saw most number of millionaires living here than in any other city of America. This claim needs to be proven, but the fact remains, during the coal mining period of the country, Jim Thorpe might not have had parallels.

We spent a weekend in the first weekend of March in Jim Thorpe and like I mentioned above, it was surprising that there were no lodging facilities available even in that stormy season. For those who are familiar with Mussorie, Jim Thorpe shares similar credentials, so like Mussorie is the foot hills of Himalayas, Jim Thorpe is the foot hills of Poconos.
We left Philadelphia around noon only to reach Jim Thorpe by 1.30 approximately and we checked in the Inn at Jim Thorpe’s guest house! It is a nice little guest house, away from the main Inn and boasts of beautiful rooms for short stays. Our first destination was the nearby Glen Onoko falls. As luck would have it, we lost our way, but then who was complaining with the new route looking like this?

We never made to the actual falls. It was also recommended not to walk in some areas near falls, as it was slippery from previous snow falls and could lead to deaths. This was enough for us to stop short of some plans. But then we walked around the trails along the railway tracks for as long as we could and returned back to the town. However, whatever we could see in that short walk was enough for us to decide to come back again.
The town looks equally enchanting in the evenings. There are enough bars in the town to keep the visitors busy throughout the night. Thing to note is that, in this entire town, there is only one street of popular interest – called the Broadway. It starts with the visitor centre or the railway station which runs trains in the summer and fall seasons around the mesmerizing Poconos. The front part of Broadway boasts of architecturally beautiful clock tower, the Inn at Jim Thorpe and other mom and pop stores, with wide array of colors on walls.
Snippets from the evening time Broadway, Jim Thorpe
Of the many attractions that this small town can boast of, one of the most “historically rich” one is the “Carbon County Jail”, where the famous “Molly Maguires” hanging took place. It is said that one of those men, Alexander Campbell, had left a hand print on the wall of the jail and proclaimed that, if he was innocent, the print will never fade away. This happened in 1877 and inspite of repeated attempts to remove it, the print remains there on the wall. Spooky?? You bet it is!
County Carbon Jail
There are other numerous historical buildings and museums which on one’s interest, can be explored. The town also has a Mauch Chuck Opera house which hosts numerous musicians and has been featured in the national geographic as well. Also notable are the small coffee bars, mom and pop stores and other novelty items which can add to the experience of the traveler. Of the places to eat, we tried our luck with an Italian restaurant, Trattoria 903, located about 5 miles away from the Broadway and we definitely selected the right one for a birthday night. Great ambiance and amazing food. Meanwhile, the best surprise came in the form of the coffee (Strange Brew) and the breakfast (Bear Apetit) joints located right on the Broadway. If you are there, you must try these little gems of the small town.
The Packer mansions are also the very famous attractions of the place along with the Jim Thorpe memorial. Asa Packer's mansion is a museum of the legendary and wealthy businessman while his son's, Henry Packer's mansion has been turned in to a bed and breakfast. 
But of course, of the many things to do here, outdoor activities take the cake obviously. Some tours can be experienced only when weather permits, but there are others like the ATV tours which can be booked in advance and I can vouch that they are lot of "scary-good" fun. Paintballs, hiking, white water rafting, biking and other activities keep the town brimming with visitors.

Some of my favorite photographs of the town in both day and night -
The Inn at Jim Thorpe
Various views of the Broadway,  Jim Thorpe

We finished our trip the following morning with the Flagstaff Mountain Park. Now, what's important to note is that your GPS is non functional here. One should know where to stop, the roads are unprotected and dangerous. There is a small open land like a parking spot, and that's from where some amazing views of the town can be seen. Is it worth it? Yes it is, by all means!

I guess the photographs by themselves present a view of where the town is actually! In the foothills of beautiful Pocono Mountains.