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Old Mauch Chunk Historic District

Jim Thorpe Boro, Carbon County, PA

The Old Mauch Chunk Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]

The Old Mauch Chunk Historic District contains an incredible blend of public and private buildings of exceptional architectural merit, scattered among a background of typical 19th Century commercial and residential structures; all located in spectacular natural setting. Within the district there are only three intrusions; two garages and a diner at the lower end of Broadway.

The district covers the area of the original town and consists of two streets; Broadway, which winds its way up the narrow valley and Race, that runs parallel for a short distance at the lower end. The valley was so narrow that Mauch Chunk Creek was confined to a culvert under the street and buildings at an early period.

Because of the presence of many distinguished public buildings most of the vernacular structures tend to be unusually well detailed.

The following buildings are of particular note:

Asa Packer Mansion — An eclectic Victorian Mansion which overlooks the town. It still contains most of the original furnishing collected by Asa Packer, Founder of the Lehigh Valley Railroad and leading political figure. Separately listed on the National Register.

Harry Packer Mansion — A two story brick mansion with a mansard roof and Italianate detail separately listed on the National Register.

Carbon County Jail — A castle-like structure of cut stone. In plan and appearance it is similar to several other county jails in Pennsylvania. It derives its significance in part as the place of execution of Tom Fisher, a leader of the Mollie Maguires. Separately listed on the National Register.

Central Railroad of New Jersey — This pleasant brick structure was built in 1888. The architectural firm of Philadelphia, The Wilson Brothers, prepared the plans. Machinery Hall at the centennial exposition was one of their commissions. Separately listed on the National Register.

St. Marks Church — This Gothic Revival edifice was designed by Richard Upjohn Sr. in 1867. An addition was added in the 1880's by Addison Hutton. It is particularly noted for its excellent detail including Tiffany windows and stone altar back. The early 20th Century used large passenger elevators for carrying parish up to the chapel is also of note. Separately nominated to the National Register.

The I.O.O.F. Hall — Originally a two-story structure built in 1844. It was substantially enlarged and altered sometime after the 1849 fire. It is currently four stories, brick with Italianate detail. First floor commercial front with lead glass windows dates to the turn of the century.

The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Building — one of the most spectacular buildings in town designed by Addison Hutton in 1882, has red brick structure with terra-cotta carved sandstone trim and has a dominate position in downtown Jim Thorpe. The architect designed the building to be fire proof using cast and wrought iron structural units.

The Jim Thorpe National Bank Building — This brick building with cast iron detail and marble veneer in the Baroque style, apparently was built in the 1870"s.

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. L. S. Jacoby of Allentown was the architect of this 1894 edifice.

Dimmick Memorial Library — This Gothic cottage style structure was designed by J. Rooney Williamson in 1889.

Capitol Theater — Originally the Mauch Chunk Opera House, this building had a market place on the first floor and an architectural hall on the second. The tower that graced the front of this Addison Hutton, 1882 building was removed in the 1930"s.

1855 School — This imposing fortress-like structure was used as a school until the 1930"s. It was converted to factory use and is presently vacant.

Weiksner"s Taproom — This is a three-story commercial building built in the 1860"s. Its most prominent feature is the ornate mahogany and marble bar and back bar that has been the water place of local politicians for nearly a century. It reflects the level of accommodations that where available during the late 19th century when Mauch Chunk.

"Stone Row" — This range of 16 houses was built by Asa Packer for the engineers and foreman working on the Lehigh Valley Railroad. The exact date is not known but the predate was the 1849 fire.

Webster House — This three-story brick building is typical of houses from the pre-fire period. The second floor doorway was a common feature and originally there would be stairs to the ground level.

There are literally dozens of buildings within the Mauch Chunk Historic District that warrant individual nomination to the National Register.

In 1791 a miller by the name of Philip Ginder went to cut a millstone at Summit Hill, Carbon County. Upon removing the blank rock underneath, having heard of "stone coal" he took some of it to a local blacksmith to see if it would burn. It did. He also gave a sample to Colonel Jacob Weiss who took it to Philadelphia for analysis.

When the sample was proved to be anthracite, Weiss formed the Lehigh Coal Mine Company in 1792 and purchased some 10,000 acres of land in around Summit Hill. However, at this time there was no market for hard coal or much less anyway to get it there. For the next 20 years only a few tons were carried to Philadelphia, where it was largely ignored. With the outbreak of hostilities in 1812, interest was renewed in the Pennsylvania coal field. A company was formed by Jacob Cist, Charles Miner and John Robinson, to mine and market the coal. Weiss and his partners leased the lands to them for a dollar a year with the stipulation that they market 10,000 tons annually. They hoped that this would create a market which they could later capitalize on. The project was a failure but they did manage to get 48 tons of coal to Philadelphia. Part of the shipment was bought by Josiah White and Erskine Hazard for their nail and wire factory.

After they had discovered by accident how to use the coal efficiently, they decided to form their company to exploit the Lehigh coal. They leased the land for one ear of corn per annum payable on demand from Weiss and his associates.

Three basic problems confronted them: mining, transportation and marketing. The company set up its field headquarters along the Lehigh where a small tributary, Mauch Chunk entered. A road was built to Summit Hill nine miles to the west. It was unique at the time in that it was designed to adverge the grade and was later converted to the first gravity railroad of any consequence in America.

At the same time improvements were made on the river to raise the water level and clear a channel. However, it was soon found that these recoveries were not enough so Josiah White began experimenting on Mauch Chunk Creek. The result was the famous bear trap lock which allowed for the creation of a temporary freshet which the boats could ride down stream for a short distance through shallow sections. In 1820 the first year of regular shipments, 365 tons reached Philadelphia, however, sales were dismal and in 1823 their agent in Philadelphia wrote telling them to ship less since half that years supply went unsold. White, with characteristic shrewdness had recognized that much of the reluctance on the part of manufacturers to purchase anthracite was based on fears about the reliability of supply so he flooded the market. It was soon obvious that even the bear trap lock system was unable to meet the demand for coal in the eastern cities. In 1827 the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company (LCNC) began the construction of the Lehigh Canal from White Haven to Easton. Unfortunately, the Delaware division of the Pennsylvania Canal was not finished until 1832 and during this time the coal fields on the Schuylkill gained a dominant share of the market.

During this time, Mauch Chunk grew rapidly under the Lehigh control of the LCNC. In 1843 Carbon County was formed out of parts of Northampton and Monroe. Mauch Chunk was selected as the county seat. In 1849 a disastrous fire swept through the lower town destroying most of it, only a few buildings of the pre-fire period survive today. In 1855 Asa Packer brought the Lehigh Valley Railroad to Mauch Chunk, to compete with the LCNC.

In many ways this marked the start of a new era for Mauch Chunk. The fire had made possible the renewal of lower Broadway and many of new buildings reflected the wealth of the town"s prosperous coal. At mid-century the LCNC was one of the largest corporations in the country.

With the completion of the railroad to the outside, the area was opened to tourists who flocked to the area to see the natural and man-made wonders and to ride on the famous switch back railroad.

The managements of the Lehigh Valley Railroad and the LCNC completed in erecting both private and public structures. Most notable of these are the Asa and Harry Packer mansions, St. Marks Church, Central Railroad of New Jersey, the LCNC office and the county courthouse. Most of the buildings in town are typical, second half of the nineteenth century, residential structures. Many of them are quite substantial in size and exhibit an excellence of detail.

The most striking thing about Jim Thorpe is the nearly complete absence of modern intrusions. This is due almost entirely to the collapse of the coal industry twentieth century, the disappearance of the passenger railroads and the associated tourist trade.

  1. Packard, Vance, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Old Mauch Chunk Historic District, nomination document, 1977, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Broadway • High Street • Opera House Square • Race Street