Broadway: Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
With a gentle curve, Broadway juxtaposes picturesque Victorian architecture with the high and steep mountains that form the Lehigh River Valley. The borough of Jim Thorpe, originally named Mauch Chunk, was a company town founded and built by Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company owners Josiah White and Erskine Hazard after anthracite coal was discovered in nearby Summit Hill in 1791.
Broadway encompasses a two block stretch from the intersection with U.S. Route 209 to Hill Road adjacent to the Mauch Chunk Opera House.
By the mid-1800s the town was on the threshold of its most prosperous era, marked by an unprecedented building boom on Broadway by a handful of families who built a collection of expensive mansions later nicknamed "Millionaire's Row." Comprising an eclectic mix of architecture — from Italianate and Second Empire to Queen Anne, Romanesque, and Classical — the homes were accented by intricately detailed and colorfully ornamented porches, shutters, roofs, windows, and doors.
Alongside these homes with their delicate architectural features are other buildings on Broadway, such as the fortress-styled Carbon County prison, that reflect the grittier and more rebellious aspects of living in Jim Thorpe during the 19th century. This is where several hangings took place between 1877 and 1879. The executed persons who were convicted of murder — some argue they were innocent —belonged to the Molly Maguires, a secret society of coal miners.
By 1933 coal mining in the region came to an end, precipitating several decades of economic decline. The mansions of Millionaire's Row, although not torn down, fell into disrepair. Acting on a suggestion by a local newspaperman, residents pledged a nickel a week for five years in order to attract industry. Ultimately they voted in 1954 to rename their town Jim Thorpe after the celebrated and widely known Olympic athlete.
Ever since it was founded, the town was threatened by flooding from Mauch Chunk Creek, which could inundate Broadway with water as high as the second floor of the Carbon County Courthouse. To mitigate the flooding, a dam was constructed in 1972 — the same year Hurricane Agnes hit and brought enough rain that had the dam not been built, Broadway would have suffered $2 million in damages.
Since the downtown area of Jim Thorpe was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, individual property owners have taken the initiative to restore many of Broadway's historic buildings, including the magnificent Inn at Jim Thorpe. Originally the New American Hotel, it was built by Cornelius Connor where his White Swan Hotel stood before it was destroyed by the town's 1849 great fire.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- Philip Ginder discovered outcrop of anthracite coal at Summit Hill (1791); Mauch Chunk founded 1818; coal transported using barges on Lehigh River
- Fire swept across lower Broadway, 30 buildings lost (1849); provides space for new, more opulent public and private buildings reflecting increasing wealth of city and some residents
- Lehigh Valley Railroad built by Asa Packer (1855); Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad reached Jim Thorpe (1869); station located on Broadway; used to ship out coal, bring tourists to town
- Switchback gravity railroad, originally used for coal transportation, became one of country's first thrill rides (1872); tourist attraction for visitors to Broadway
- Molly Maguires trials; four prisoners hanged at Carbon County Prison (1877); between 1878 and 1879, three more convicted members of the Molly Maguires in Mauch Chunk were hanged
- Trolley service began in 1901, taking tourists between Broadway and summit of Flagstaff mountain; trolley continued until 1925
- Last coal shipment using Lehigh Canal in 1932; switchback railroad dismantled (1933)
Planning and Revitalization
- Mauch Chunk Daily Times suggested renaming town to address declining economy (1951)
- Funds from residents who pledged 5 cents a week for five years to attract industry were used to move the remains of celebrated Olympian Jim Thorpe from Oklahoma to Mauch Chunk
- Carbon County Tourist Promotion Agency launched promo (1968) connected to Molly Maguires film with Sean Connery, which uses Carbon County Courthouse and Broadway as movie set
- Mauch Chunk Lake Park with Lehigh River rafting (1974); draws 150,000 tourists annually
- Carbon County Planning Commission retains Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Associates of Philadelphia to address town revitalization (1979)
- Main Street program develops design guidelines to help repair blighted buildings; architectural and parking guidebooks produced; old-time Christmas promotion (1981)
- Plans call for connection between Broadway and 165-mile Delaware and Lehigh Valley trail; businesses along Broadway adding bike racks, possible "bike spas" for guests arriving by bicycle
- Millionaire's Row houses designed in the Second Empire style (1852-1870); building at 72-74 Broadway epitomizes style with mansard roofs, oversized brackets, paneled cornices
- Inn at Jim Thorpe (24 Broadway, 1849) designed by Cornelius Conner; has Italianate influences and two-story balcony ornamented with decorative cast iron railings; renovated in 1989
- Carbon County Court House (4 Broadway, 1893) reflects Richardsonian Romanesque style with heavy masonry massing, rounded windows, rough-faced native Rockport stone
- Former YMCA (69 Broadway, 1893) design influenced by classical revival elements; pedimented windows and doorway, Ionic-columned balcony, denticulated cornice
- Dimmick Memorial Library (54 Broadway, 1889) designed by J. Rooney Williamson; cottage-style, cross-gabled with terra-cotta panel ornamentation around doorway, cornices, gable ends