The locale: A former coal-mining borough of 4,600, about 5 hours to the southeast.
The scoop: This vibrantly painted Victorian town attracts an eclectic vacation crowd of outdoor adventurists, history buffs, shoppers and sports enthusiasts drawn by its namesake’s tomb. Olympic legend and NFL founder Jim Thorpe was buried here, 1,300 miles from his native Oklahoma, because his widow wanted a memorial that Oklahoma refused to erect.
When this community (formerly Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk) learned of her desire, it offered to merge, rename itself Jim Thorpe and build a fitting tribute, in hopes of creating a tourist trade for a town that had long since lost its distinction as one of the nation’s wealthiest. The result is an unusual historic district of narrow, winding streets that teem with weekend guests, strolling among shops that specialize in Colombian handcrafts, letterpress designs, candy, Wicca, books, fine art, gems, cigars, records and more.
If you do visit (and you really should), plan your trip for mid- to late-week. Many stores and some restaurants are closed Monday and Tuesday, some even on Wednesday. But, if you plan a weeklong stay, there’s plenty to do in the surrounding hills and waters, plus the opportunity to visit the historic home of early railroad magnate and philanthropist Asa Packer.
The hit list
The Inn at Jim Thorpe, 26 Broadway — There are numerous guesthouses and B&Bs in town, but this hotel is the perfect spot if you want to be in the middle of things. The staff is friendly, a breakfast voucher is included in the room price, and balconies overlook the main street. The hotel restaurant is convenient, and framed photos of celebrity guests hang in the nearby stairway — including one of comedian George Carlin, who wrote "The best road meal ever!"
Molly Maguires Pub & Steakhouse, 5 Hazard Square — Try the shepherd’s pie or stout burger in the 180-year-old Hotel Switzerland. A favorite among locals, the restaurant has plenty of tables, but if you feel like conversation, eat at the bar and hear about the community first-hand.
Moya, 24 Race St. — For fine dining, this is the spot. Jim Allesch, a clerk at The Inn, eagerly recommends the smoked rainbow trout appetizer and braised lamb with cardamom apricot honey glaze.
The Old Jail Museum, 128 W. Broadway — This impressive stone fortress is around the bend from the shopping district and is best known for the hanging of seven Irish coal miners called the Molly Maguires. One left behind a handprint that generations of wardens have failed to remove.
Lehigh Gorge State Park and Glen Onoko Falls — Just two of many places to enjoy outdoor activities. There’s hiking, biking, rafting, swimming, photography walks, horseback riding, a train ride, motorcycle sidecar tours and more.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 21 Race St. — Expect to hear "Have you seen St. Mark’s?" when locals tell you about the town. The Gothic Revival structure features Tiffany windows and redodos copied from a Windsor Castle chapel.
The Treasure Shop, 44 Broadway — Owner Peggy Dart’s friendliness is reason enough to stop in and browse the array of merchandise made either in Ireland or the U.S. — jewelry, sweaters, perfume, glassware and more.
Artisanal Gifts, 103 Broadway — Everything here is made of recycled materials, from shoes and pillows to unbelievably aromatic orange peel or coffee bean bracelets.