The name “Jim Thorpe” may no longer be a household name in America, but in the early 1900s there was nary a child or sports fan that did not know of his legendary sports achievements.
Enrolled in the Carlyle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania in 1904, the Sac and Fox Native American from Oklahoma, was destined to become one of the most celebrated athletes of the 20th Century.
Pop Warner and company
Coached by the famed Pop Warner, a team led by Jim Thorpe from the little known Carlyle school became a national football powerhouse in 1907. The “Indians” regularly competed and won against eastern Ivy League colleges like Brown, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and also Army and Navy. In 1911, the little Indian school posted an impressive 11-1 gridiron record against much better-known colleges.
In 1912 the Indians won a highly publicized football game against a nationally ranked Army team and its celebrated linebacker – Dwight D. Eisenhower. The future general – and president-to-be was injured in the contest and never played football again.
The world’s greatest athlete
After reviewing his extraordinary sports achievements, Jim Thorpe was awarded the title of “The Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century” by an Associated Press poll in 1950, and again by ABC’s Wild World of Sports in 2000.
For starters, Jim Thorpe had won both the grueling five-event pentathlon and ten-event decathlon in the 1912 Olympics. Further, he excelled in all track and field events, as well as boxing, golf, hockey, rowing, and swimming.
As a professional, Jim Thorpe dominated the early days of pro-football (he was also the first President of the NFL), and additionally played professional baseball and basketball during his phenomenal career.
The town of Jim Thorpe
Thorpe was a true sports legend, and when he died in 1953, two small towns in Pennsylvania – located 100 miles from his old Carlyle school – wanted to capitalize on his fame for tourism and commercial purposes. They made an agreement with Thorpe’s widow, and in 1954, the neighboring boroughs of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, merged to become Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.
The new municipality entombed Thorpe’s remains, and erected a stately monument with two statues in his memory. The monument sits on soils from his native Oklahoma, and from the Stockholm Olympic Stadium where he won his gold medals.
Worth a visit
We planned to visit the borough of Jim Thorpe primarily because of the sports legend, but also because we heard the town was charming – and offered a unique perspective on Pennsylvania coal-country Americana. We decided to spend a few days there, and hoped it might turn out to be a worthy destination to write about. It was.
The now quiet hamlet is teeming with exciting stories about big coal throughout the 19th century, early tourism in Pennsylvania, and the famous hangings of the Molly Maguires in 1877.
The town stats
Jim Thorpe has a population of approximately 4,700, and is peacefully situated in a valley under craggy Mount Pisgah with its many hiking and biking trails.
Nestled in the Lehigh Valley Gorge, and alongside the Lehigh River, the little town is a photographer’s potpourri of interesting landscapes and 1800s architecture. There is much to discover about Jim Thorpe that is not immediately obvious.
Where we stayed
A subscriber to our travel stories, had recommended a local hotel because of its well-preserved architecture and period charm. We found the hotel a gentle step back in time and quite delightful.
The Inn at Jim Thorpe
As we climbed the outside entry stairs and passed through the old wooden doors, we knew we had chosen the right place to compliment the classic character of the town.
We checked in and ascended the long-serving staircase to our second floor room.
Like the hotel entrance, our room and furnishings were a perfect extension of the town’s yesteryear aura. We quickly became immersed in the subject of our work.
Sitting on the hotel’s veranda on Broadway was an enjoyable way to take in the activity of the town below.
The Inn was re-built in the commercial center of town after a fire in 1849. Like most 19th century lodgings the Inn at Jim Thorpe has had several names, seen good and bad times, and had many opportunities for rebirths. The latest took place in 1988 when the Drury family purchased the Inn and faithfully restored it to its early glory.
If you enjoy the unassuming ambiance of small historic hotels with a very different vibe from your run-of-the-mill lodging establishments, this one is for you.
Don’t forget to eat
The Broadway Grill and Pub is owned by, and adjacent to the Inn at Jim Thorpe. It is a friendly bar serving both local brews and top-shelf spirits. The tempting menu includes some local favorites.
For dinner we indulged in a traditional Pennsylvania dish. Haluski, which consisted of fried cabbage and kielbasa, sautéed with onions and a touch of sauerkraut. The entrée included a glass of smooth Yuengling Lager. Close your eyes and you could be dining in a bistro in Central or Eastern Europe!
Our daily breakfast, the “Broadway Breakfast,” consisted of two farm-fresh eggs, bacon (but available with sausage, ham, corned beef hash or scrapple), served with fresh garden potatoes, toast, coffee and juice. At the time, just $10. Yummy!
If you go
Jim Thorpe has been called the “Switzerland of Pennsylvania,” as well as the “Gateway to the Poconos.” That should give the reader some idea about the scenic value of a visit.
For more information about the Inn at Jim Thorpe click on their website *here*.
If you have an interest in differing styles of Pennsylvania and Pocono Mountain lodgings, we invite you to read our other articles on the subject:
If you have an interest in the man and athlete that became a 20th century sport’s icon, you will enjoy the 1951 movie classic “Jim Thorpe – All-American.” The film stars Burt Lancaster in the starring role and features some archival footage of Thorpe’s Olympic feats. Charles Bickford is excellent as Glenn “Pop” Warner, who was Thorpe’s lifelong friend and mentor.
Photos Copyright © 2016 Judy Bayliff