Mauch Chunk's Past
Once the wealthiest town in the United States, the borough of Jim Thorpe (formerly Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk) became economically depressed following the collapse of the coal industry and disappearance of the passenger railroads that had led to its prominence in the 19th century. That depression lasted for several decades until coordinated efforts of the local community to invest in attracting tourism to the area began in the 1950’s.
While an economic and tourism boom did not materialize right away, in 1977, Carbon County with the cooperation of Jim Thorpe officials applied to the US Department of the Interior to designate the downtown as a national historical district. On November 10th, 1977, Broadway including W Broadway, Race St., High St., and Susquehanna St., were accepted into the national register of historic places certified as the “Old Mauch Chunk Historic District”.
The designation provides unique access to preservation and beatification grants as well as state-backed loans in qualifying districts. Over the years the borough and multiple building owners in Jim Thorpe’s historical district have applied for and received related grant or loan funding to assist in the preservation and development of many buildings in the historic district. This has helped lead to a renaissance as travelers continue to discover its charm and natural amenities.
Today, Jim Thorpe attracts approximately 400,000 visitors every year. However, the successful development of this tourism industry has introduced serious challenges for residents of the community.
The primary challenges that the volume of tourism here has created relate to overcrowding and a lack of parking. During its peak season, based on county parking lot counts, the area draws 12,000 to 15,000 people every weekend. Average weekends attract 2,000 to 3,000 people regularly. Comparatively, the town has approved seating capacity at restaurants of only around 1,200. Lodging is also an issue. There are approximately 153 vacation rentals in addition to the very limited capacity available through other hotel and bed and breakfast suites in the downtown. And recently passed local ordinances have further restricted access to parking relegating visitors and many business employees to park in the county parking lot, in satellite mini-lots, or in private parking provided by lodging facilities, none of which provide adequate parking to facilitate the number of visitors attracted to the area.
Beyond the lack of adequate amenities, another challenge for Jim Thorpe relates to it becoming a zoned community decades before the tourist industry had developed. The current zoning map created for Jim Thorpe remains largely unchanged from the original map from the 1970’s which provides for the Commercial Zoning (C3) that makes up the historic business district in Jim Thorpe, primarily the .2 miles along Broadway and Race Streets respectively. The economic needs of the community have changed again.
While many of the surrounding communities are actively working to build off the tourism that has developed here, the need for new businesses in Jim Thorpe to meet the current demand is greater than ever. That demand has caused business to spill over into residential districts causing unwanted traffic in neighborhoods.
The planned development of amusement attractions, parking, and housing to be constructed on Flagstaff Mountain are expected to draw potentially thousands of more residents and visitors to the area in the near future. Additionally, multiple buildings along West Broadway, some that have survived for 200 years, are in danger of being lost forever. Many stick-framed homes that make up the historic district have fallen into disrepair and suffer from conditions that will be costly to remediate. Several other businesses and historic buildings that already exist along West Broadway struggle to attract customers because of the lack of supporting industry. Investing now to restore and preserve these deteriorating buildings and to support those businesses which already exist along West Broadway is critical to safeguarding the heritage of the Borough and preserving its cherished historic district.
Jim Thorpe Now
By adapting the current zoning map to meet the present and future needs of this community, we have an opportunity to enhance the environmental quality of neighborhoods and to strengthen the borough’s economic base through support of a healthy tourism industry.
With your support, we'll work to implement this plan to amend the zoning map to consolidate part of the Residential R4 district in the Mauch Chunk Historic District into the Commercial C3 business district.
In doing so, we will create a pathway for the sustainable, controlled, and necessary growth of the downtown business district, create incentive for investment in preservation of our historic buildings, and protect our residential neighborhoods from unwanted development.