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The Inn At Jim Thorpe


Photo courtesy of The Inn at Jim Thorpe

Nestled in the foothills of Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, picturesque downtown Jim Thorpe, with its cobblestone sidewalks, brick facades and intricate iron railings, makes visitors feel as if they’ve stepped into a Charles Dickens’ novel. In its 19th-century heyday, the town was known as Mauch Chunk (pronounced mock chunk), the native Lenni Lenape words for the area’s mountain range that resembles a sleeping bear. It was a fitting name for a boomtown awakening at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, supplying the country with anthracite coal mined nearby and transported via railway to major cities across the young country. In the Victorian era, 19 of the country’s 26 millionaires had homes in the town. Easy passenger rail access from other cities combined with rich cultural offerings and natural beauty made Mauch Chunk one of the top vacation destinations in the country, second only to New York’s Niagara Falls.

In 1849, after a massive fire destroyed most of the town, the New American Hotel was built to accommodate the continued influx of tourists. The town’s main street, Broadway, boasted several hotels but none as glamorous as the New American, which hosted dignitaries such as General Ulysses S. Grant and President William Taft.

Old Inn at Jim Thorpe Postcard
Vintage postcard depicting The Inn at Jim Thorpe at the turn of the 20th century.
Photo courtesy of The Inn at Jim Thorpe

But when Mauch Chunk and the rest of Carbon County experienced an economic downturn in the 1930s due to the coal bust and the Great Depression, the visitors disappeared, too. After decades of struggle, an opportunity to change the town’s fate presented itself. In the early 1950s, the widow of Olympic sports legend Jim Thorpe was searching for a final resting place for her husband. Seeing the potential to revive tourism activity and to pay tribute to the man who had called Pennsylvania his home for many years, the town leaders in 1953 offered to build a memorial to honor Thorpe in exchange for changing the name of their town to Jim Thorpe.

The economic growth hoped for with the name change came slowly. In 1988, the New American Hotel was purchased, fully restored and renamed The Inn at Jim Thorpe. Today, The Inn consists of three buildings: the 45-room, four-story building at 24 Broadway that was once the New American Hotel; just down and across the street, the 16-room lodging at 55 Broadway; and the newly renovated 44 West Broadway, which feels more like a bed-and-breakfast with just seven rooms. All of the properties at The Inn offer charming accommodations that include some rooms with whirlpool baths or fireplaces and others with ornate cast iron-railed balconies overlooking Broadway. The welcoming lobby invites guests to enjoy complimentary coffee service while lingering in cozy chairs set by a fireplace. Across the lobby, the hotel’s restaurant, the Broadway Grille & Pub, offers a casual atmosphere that features comfort food and live music Thursday to Sunday. (Guests staying at The Inn receive a $7 voucher toward breakfast at the restaurant.) The hotel’s full-service spa, located downstairs, offers a wide array of services, including aromatherapy treatments, deep-tissue massage and reflexology. Underneath the restaurant, you’ll find the new dance club Broadway Underground.

Just outside the lobby, you can start your trek along the trio of linked streets in a teardrop shaped-route, bounded on one side by the historic Mauch Chunk Railroad Station. The entire downtown area is listed on the National Register as a historic district, and your route will take you past dozens of 19th-century brick buildings that today house surprisingly hip, interesting shops and eateries, ranging from quick bites to upscale and on-trend. Browse the bawdy handmade greeting cards at Somersault Letterpress and the hippie-chic trinkets and décor at Bee Stung.

Broadway Grille and Pub
Broadway Grille & Pub is a gathering spot for socializing and listening to local music.
Photo courtesy of The Inn at Jim Thorpe

Try highly rated Moya for an eclectic take on shared plates made from locally sourced ingredients and prepared with a South American flair. Check the playbill at the circa-1882 Mauch Chunk Opera House, which once hosted popular vaudeville acts starring the likes of Mae West, W.C. Fields and Al Jolson (all of whom stayed at the town’s most luxurious hotel, the New American, of course). The fully restored 370-seat venue presents major touring acts; like their earlier counterparts, many of today’s performers stay at The Inn. (Guests of The Inn get a $5 discount on tickets to performances at the opera house, but purchase early, as big-name bands and seasonal shows may sell out quickly.)

In every season, Jim Thorpe offers entertaining activities and special events. In spring, walk uphill from The Inn to enjoy the gardens of The Harry Packer Mansion, built in 1874 by one of the town’s millionaires (and said to be Walt Disney’s inspiration for the Haunted Mansion attraction in the Magic Kingdom). In spring and summer, nearby whitewater rafting on the Lehigh River and miles of hiking and biking trails along the Lehigh Gorge Trail and in Lehigh Gorge State Park beckon active vacationers. With blazing fall colors in the hills surrounding the town, visitors in autumn will find a certain eeriness blanketing the stoic Victorian buildings. In December, carolers in Dickensian costume stroll cobblestone sidewalks dusted with snow, and visitors can take in the town’s twinkling lights from a cozy seat in a horse-drawn carriage.

Less than a two-hour drive from Philadelphia and New York City, The Inn at Jim Thorpe is the perfect home base for a getaway that makes you feel as if you’ve journeyed farther and perhaps even stepped back to another era.