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Northampton and Monroe counties contributed the land for Carbon County on March 13, 1843.  The name comes from carbon, the basic element of the area’s rich anthracite coal deposits.  The most famous names in Carbon County history is Asa Packer and Jim Thorpe.  Read about them and lots more about Carbon County history right here!

Asa Packer Molly Maguires
Jim Thorpe The Switchback Railroad
Hickory Run State Park The Walking Purchase of 1737
Boulder Field


Asa Packer is the most prominent citizen ever to live in Carbon County.  Born in Mystic, Connecticut on December 29, 1805, Asa was an entepreneur even at an early age.  He started out as an apprentice, worked as a house carpenter, a farmer, a boat captain and a store owner in Mauch Chunk.  He married Sarah Blakeslee in 1828.

He later became involved in coal mining and shipping coal to Nesquehoning, a neighboring town.  He later chartered the Lehigh Valley Railroad in 1846 and built it into a financial empire.  He built a line from Mauch Chunk to Easton and then spent the rest of his life expanding the line and making the railroad more efficient and successful.  He built the railroad into a 650 mile stretch of track from New York through New Jersey to the shore. 

Perhaps his greatest gift was the founding of Lehigh University, one of our nations finest college institutions.  At his death in 1879 his estate was valued at more than $55 million dollars.

The Asa Packer Mansion overlooks the Old Mauch Chunk National Historic District.  The home today is almost exactly the way it was when it was built in 1861 at a cost of $14,000.    While the exterior has changed very slightly from its original fashion, the interior is virtually intact. 

Since 1956, The Jim Thorpe Lions Club has made the Asa Packer Mansion available and open to the public seven days a week from Memorial Day to October 31st of each year.  Since 1912 the Mansion has been owned by The Borough of Mauch Chunk and its successor, The Borough of Jim Thorpe.  The Mansion was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985.

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The historic town of Jim Thorpe was formerly known as Mauch Chunk.  Mauch Chunk took its name from the curiously shaped hill across the Lehigh River. The Lenape Indians called it the “Mountain of the Sleeping Bear.”  The Indians felt the contour of the mountain resembled a crouching bear.

The town began growing in the early 19th century when the first road was built by the Lehigh River.  The region was rich with anthracite coal deposits and the Lehigh River made transportation a natural for the newly emerging Industrial Revolution in America.

In 1828 the Switchback Gravity Railroad was built to carry coal from Summit Hill to the Lehigh Canal.  In 1850, Asa Packer developed the Lehigh Valley Railroad and helped Mauch Chunk become a prominent rail transfer point bringing huge amounts of coal to New York and Philadelphia.

The natural beauty of the Lehigh River Gorge, narrow streets, and terraced gardens earned Mauch Chunk the nickname “the Switzerland of America.”  Asa Packard and other wealthy industrialists built mountainside mansions and villas in town.  Many of the millionaires resided in a row of elegant homes known as “Millionaires Row.”

As the need for coal waned, the Switchback Railroad was abandoned and became a popular tourist attraction for sightseers.  Visitors included the likes of General U.S. Grant and Presidents William McKinley, James Garfield, Grover Cleveland and Teddy Roosevelt.

The region was in decline in the early and mid 20th century with mine closings and the Great Depression.  However, an interesting development occurred in 1954 when Mauch Chunk was looking to revitalize the community.  The widow of Jim Thorpe, the Olympic hero of the 1912 Olympics in Sweden, offered her husband’s remains in exchange for a proper memorial.  The boroughs of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk agreed to bury the Olympian Gold Medal Winner in a 20 ton granite monument, befitting his stature, just outside of town.  The merging boroughs were now called “Jim Thorpe.”

Changing the name to Jim Thorpe did not have a huge economic impact.  The town continued to survive, but it was not until the 1980’s that tourism began to grow in earnest and many of the townspeople began restoring their homes.  A Historic District was established and buildings began appearing on the National Register of Historic Places.  Today Jim Thorpe is a vibrant and growing community with a sound economic future. 

King Gustav V of Sweden said of Jim Thorpe after he won Olympic Gold Medals in the Pentathlon and Decathlon “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.”  In 1950 ABC’s Wide World of Sports named Jim Thorpe “Athlete of the Century.”

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The 15,500 acre state park is in the western foot hills of the Pocono Mountains in Carbon County.  The ice age left the park region with poor, rocky soil that was almost impossible to farm.  The property was bottomless swamps and bogs.  Hickory Run became territory claimed by the Lenni Lenape, Susquehannock and the Iroquois Nation, but very few American Indians lived there.  It originally was part of an immense tract of land that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania purchased by a treaty with the Indians.

After the American Revolution the government was giving away 400 acre parcels for free.  There were few takers.  However, one of the wealthiest men in America, Robert Morris purchased land there in 1794.  Morris was known as the “financier of the American Revolution” and was George Washington’s best friend.  He also was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the United States.

In the 1800’s Hickory Run saw a number of mills and roads built in the region.  Loggers clear cut the forests, but with little conservation no replanting took place.  Flooding was a constant problem and many people left the region.

It was not until 1912 that Allentown millionaire General Harry Trexler began purchasing large tracts of land to develop it as a future state park.  Subsequently at tax sales, General Trexler added to his holdings until he had acquired over 20,000 acres.  He opened the land to the public for hunting and fishing.  Following his death in 1922, his executors disposed of 15,000 acres of his holdings to the Federal Government.  In 1935, the National Park Service purchased Hickory Run to create a national recreation area.  The Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps began building roads, trails and campsites.  In 1945 Hickory Run was transferred to the state of Pennsylvania and became Hickory Run State Park.

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Boulder Field is a small piece of a landscape left over from the last ice advance.  About 15,000 years ago, this type of landscape was common throughout Pennsylvania and the northern part of North America.  Since that time the climate has changed and most boulder fields have disappeared.  Only in a few places do they still remain, and Hickory Run State Park has one!

The field is a jumbled assortment of loosely packed boulders which range in size from 15 feet to several inches in length.  The field is 400 feet wide, 1,800 feet long, 12 feet deep and comprising about 30 acres of land.

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The Switchback Railroad was the creation of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company.  It was the first railroad in the United States and was a 9 mile Gravity Road that was completed in April 1827.  It was created to transport coal from the mines at Summit Hill to the canal at Mauch Chunk.  In Mauch Chunk the coal was loaded onto canal boats and transported down river to Philadelphia.

The railroad had ten wagons, each carrying up to 2 tons of coal traveling down Summit Hill powered entirely by gravity.  A brake attached to a cable was the only means of control.  Mules pulled the empty cars back up the hill then rode down with the coal in a car of their own.  The mules pulled the empty cars back up to the summit in three hours, while the gravity-assisted descent lasted about 35 minutes.

In the 1840’s the old track was expanded to become a continuous 18-mile figure eight, allowing empty cars to travel back to the mines while full ones descended down to the canal – making operations much more efficient.

By the mid 1870’s, major railroads began using steam locomotives.  The Switchback Railroad became obsolete, but the railroad adapted by becoming a major tourist attraction.  The Switchback prospered and became the second leading tourist attraction in America, behind only Niagara Falls.  It attracted over 75,000 tourists a year each paying one dollar for the privilege of riding down the first “roller coaster” in the country.  Thomas Edison marveled at the technological wonder and pronounced that he would not change any part of its operation!

By the 1920’s the popularity of the automobile hastened the ride’s demise and the Great Depression sealed its fate.  The last car ran on October 31, 1933.  Restoration efforts are under way to revive the attraction for future use.  The non profit organization is the Switch Back Gravity Railroad Association in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

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In 1681 King Charles II granted William Penn a charter for the land north of Maryland and west of the Delaware River.  Penn called it Sylvania, meaning woodland, because of the magnificent forests which were there.  William Penn believed that all people were children of God and should be considered equal.  He went to great lengths to treat all men including Native Americans fairly.  While King Charles granted Penn all these lands, Penn also acknowledged the Indians as the rightful owners of these vast lands.  He made friendship treaties with the Indians and then made his first land purchase from them in 1682 and continued this practice in the following years.

This occurred despite the fact that traditional Indian custom did not include private ownership of land.  They believed themselves to be the chosen race, the true children of the Great Spirit and saw the land and forests as things not to be possessed or sold, but, like the air, as things free for the use of all.

After William Penn’s sons John and Thomas had inherited the colony’s proprietorship they had fallen into debt and needed to generate new sources of income.  The demand for land was strong because of heavy immigration from Europe, and settlers were moving north in to the area from southeastern Pennsylvania and west from New Jersey.  Provincial officials needed to extend their authority and provide a form of government for these settlements.  As a result, they considered it necessary to obtain a clear title from the Indians to the land in the upper Delaware and Lehigh River valleys.

Acting Governor James Logan and Thomas Penn convinced the Indian tribes that all the ground walked in eighteen hours would belong to the white man, the vast lands beyond, exclusive Indian territory.  The Walking Purchase was signed on August 25, 1737.

The next step was to measure the purchase and specify the boundaries.  The deed indicated that the purchase extended from a point on the Delaware River near Wrightstown, northwest into the interior “as far as a man could walk in a day and half.”  This is a typical measurement of space used by Indian tribes that they felt comfortable using. The deed also used typical Indian phrases that showed their respect for elders and their way of calculating distances. 

Prior to signing the deed the Penns had sent scouting parties to clear the route, making it much easier for the men to walk at a rapid pace and achieve much better results.  In addition, they hired three outdoorsmen, Edward Marshall, James Yeats and Solomon Jennings.  These men were tremendously prepared for the task and set a fierce pace hour after hour.  It was the ultimate cross-country foot race that confused and angered the exhausted Indians following along.  The walk ended well into the Lehigh River Valley, near what is now Jim Thorpe, formerly Mauch Chunk at the foothills of the Blue Mountains.  A line run at a right angle from that point struck the Delaware River near the mouth of the Lackawaxen River, giving Pennsylvania all rights to what the Indians called the Minisink country west of the Delaware.  The amount of land involved was three-and-one-half times greater than had been anticipated by the Indians and included prime Indian hunting grounds.

William Penn’s sons John and Thomas, as well as Governor Logan indicated clearly that they had abandoned William Penn’s policy of fairness toward the Indians.  Their actions demonstrated their short-sightedness.  They achieved their immediate objectives of acquiring land in the Upper Delaware and Lehigh River Valley but they contributed to a later catastrophe by alienating the Indians.  Bloody warfare was soon to follow when Indian tribes ravaged the Pennsylvania frontier, destroying crops, burning homes and killing many colonists.

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The “Molly Maguires” was a secret organization of Irish-Americans in the anthracite mining districts of Pennsylvania in the mid 1800’s.  The group was coal miners that used violence and terrorism to combat the deplorable conditions of the mines, inflicting horror on police, supervisors and mine owners.  They blew up railroad cars loaded with coal, organized riots and threatened anyone who spoke out against them.  They intimidated, beat, bashed and murdered mine owners who mistreated them.  There was a level of violence that eclipsed the wild west’s gunslingers.

Molly Maguire is said to have been an actual woman, a widow, who was persecuted in her homeland because she was a Catholic.  The conception of the Molly Maguires occurred at a time long before child labor laws, a minimum wage, suitable standards on working conditions, or any organized form of labor unions came into existence.  The working hours in the coal mines were long, the pay was low and they often lost their lives due to the terrible working conditions.  They lived in company owned houses and were forced to purchase everything they needed from the company owned stores, often paying inflated prices for goods and services.  The frustration levels were high and tempers were short.

What is known about the American Mollies in Pennsylvania is that they worked within the legal organization “The Ancient Order of the Hibernians,” otherwise known as the A.O.H., the largest fraternal organization of the times, even larger than the Masons.  Each region had its own body master, treasurer, secretary and members.  At meetings they discussed working conditions, terrorist acts, and even murder.  The henchmen would often say “Take that from a son of Molly Maguire!” before bashing and beating its victims.  The Mollies reached the height of the power around 1875, when they managed to organize a union and call a strike.

The railroads owned most of the coal companies.  Franklin Gowen, President of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad was one of the most powerful company owners.  Gowen saw the union crippling company profits and decided to hire Pinkerton Security to break the Molly Maguires.  Pinkerton assigned James McParlan, a young outgoing Irishman, to infiltrate the Mollies, collect evidence, and crush the organization.  James McParlan, armed with his new name, James McKenna, set out on a mission that would take almost 5 years to accomplish.  McParlan gained respect among the criminals, stopped many crimes from taking place and reported back the inner workings of the society.

When all was said and done, twenty men were hung.  On June 21, 1877, four men were hanged at one time in the Mauch Chunk Jail.  Within the next two years, three more men were accused and hanged in the jail.  The men were accused of murdering two mine bosses. 

Alexander Cambell, who moved to America in 1868, was tried and found guilty of the murder of John P. Jones and, soon afterwards, of Morgan Powell.  Before going to the gallows Cambell declared his innocence by placing his hand on the wall of his cell and stated that his hand print would remain on the wall for all time to prove his innocence.  His hand print remains a silent witness to his claim.  It can still be found on the wall of his prison cell at the Mauch Chunk Jail in Jim Thorpe.

There remain questions to the innocence and guilt of some of the Mollies that were hung.  One thing was certain, the Molly Maguires were through.  To the dismay of the coal barons, the unions would gain strength and become one of the most powerful unions in the country – the United Mine Workers. 

As a footnote, Franklin Gowen earned a selfish, elitist image that historians regard as repugnant.  He committed suicide in Washington D.C. in December 1889.

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