Starting Point: Glen Onoko, Pennsylvania, Mile Marker 109 (9:45 a.m.)
End Point: Easton, Pennsylvania, Mile Marker 59 (7:15 p.m.)
Total Distance Traveled: 50 miles (5.3 miles per hour)
Despite the minor heat exhaustion episode I experienced yesterday, I woke up this morning feeling energized and rejuvenated! The IV must have done me well. I picked up my bike from the Lehigh Gorge park rangers and was back pedaling on the trail like nothing ever happened.
At Mile Marker 106, I reached the town of Jim Thorpe. Originally incorporated as Mauch Chunk in 1818, this once small backcountry settlement boomed with the discovery of anthracite coal deposits during the early 19th century. The town quickly developed into a center of commerce and became a point of interest for early American tourism. The picturesque Pocono Mountains, serenity of the Lehigh River, and peaceful wilderness were all draws to Mauch Chunk, but nothing attracted tourists more than the Switchback Railroad. Often referred to as the predecessor to the modern-day rollercoaster, the Switchback was originally used to transport coal cars along Pisgah Ridge. Two “barneys” (steam-powered cable cars) would push the coal cars up inclined planes while gravity powered the downhill trip, reaching speeds topping 55 miles per hour. In 1873, more than 33,000 people rode the Switchback Railroad, making Mauch Chunk the second-most visited tourist destination in America, behind only Niagara Falls.
Mauch Chunk’s affluence deteriorated during the Great Depression. The bustling railroad and canal depots became defunct, profitable businesses went bankrupt, and the once-flourishing town fell into a state of desolation. In an effort to stimulate commerce, the town changed its name to Jim Thorpe in 1954. Thorpe was an accomplished Olympian—in addition to being a professional football and baseball player—who placed first in the pentathlon and decathlon events during the 1912 Stockholm Olympics He was the first athlete of Native American heritage to win gold for the United States. After his death in 1953, Thorpe’s third wife, Patricia, reached a deal with the Mauch Chunk government to inter his body there and rename the town in his honor.
Today, Jim Thorpe has reclaimed its status as a marquis tourist attraction and is frequently described as one of the most beautiful towns in America. The Mauch Chunk Historic District, Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, and of course, the Delaware and Lehigh Trail are just a few of the many wonderful things to experience here!
I got breakfast at Muggles’ Mug, a Harry Potter-themed coffee shop located in the heart of Jim Thorpe’s historic district, then made my way to the Asa Packer Mansion—a three-story, 11,000 square-foot home constructed between 1859 and 1861 by architect Samuel Sloan. As the name suggests, the mansion belonged to famed industrialist Asa Packer. He was president of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, founder of Lehigh University, and a prominent politician who served in the U.S. Congress, Pennsylvania State Legislature, and was a Democratic Presidential Candidate for the election of 1868.
In October 1851, Packer became the majority stockholder for the Delaware, Lehigh, Schuylkill, and Susquehanna Railroad Company, which he renamed the Lehigh Valley Railroad in January 1853. Between 1852 and 1855, Packer constructed rail lines from Mauch Chunk to Easton, Pennsylvania, connecting the rural coal mines to urban markets. After the flood of 1862 wiped out the Upper Grand Section of the Lehigh Navigation Canal, the Lehigh Valley Railroad became the preferred method of transportation for coal and lumber shipments. Packer made quite the lucrative profit while his lines flourished with big business. By the time of his death in 1879, Packer’s estate was valued at $54.5 million ($1.38 billion in today’s dollars) and his railroads extended more than 650 miles across the northeast.
Mary Packer Cummings, Asa Packer’s daughter, resided in the estate after her father’s death. She bequeathed the mansion and its property to the town of Mauch Chunk following her own death in 1912. All of the furnishings and décor inside the home are original to the Packers, beautifully preserved by local caretakers and the Jim Thorpe Lions Club. The mansion exhibits some fascinating features, such as the blue glass chandelier, Honduran Mahogany motifs with 1,500 unique rosettes, and Mary Packer’s 1905 Grande Welte Cottage Orchestrion. Unfortunately, photographs aren’t allowed while on tour, but for a $10 admission, you can see the inside of this splendid mansion yourself!
A half-mile from the Asa Packer Mansion is the Old Jail Museum. The former Carbon County Jail was constructed between 1869 and 1871 by architect Edward Haviland, son of John Haviland who designed Eastern State Penitentiary. The prison closed in 1995 and witnessed its fair share of controversy during its 124-year history, but nothing compares to the infamy associated with the Molly Maguire Trials.
Mining was a perilous occupation during the 19th century. During the 1870s, nearly six hundred people in Carbon County alone died from mining accidents. In addition to the treacherous conditions, miners and their families were marginalized and financially abused by mining companies. Large corporations, such as the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, had complete monopolies on the coal industry and total control over their workers, most of whom were Irish immigrants with no employment alternatives. Miners were forced to buy food and supplies from company stores at inflated prices (under the threat of unemployment) and all living expenses were detracted from their paychecks.
In December 1874, the Philadelphia and Reading Company approved a policy that reduced miners’ pay by twenty percent. The Workers’ Benevolent Society (WBS), a predominantly Irish workers union, called for a strike which lasted nearly seven months. During the final weeks of the protest, some financially desperate and destitute workers attempted to return to the mines, but were met with violence from the striking miners. In July 1875, the WBS, unable to reach an agreement with Philadelphia and Reading, called off the strike. The miners reluctantly took the 20% pay cut, which was followed by an additional 10% cut for insubordination.
Franklin B. Gowen, President of the Philadelphia and Reading Company, wanted to see the strike organizers punished. He believed that the Molly Maguires, a secret society of Irish miners, were behind the “Great Strike of 1875.” The Mollies were named after an 18th century Irish woman who sympathized with the Defenders—a vigilante group that targeted abusive landlords who evicted Irish tenants from their homes. While there were no indications that the Molly Maguires had an active presence in Pennsylvania during this time, Gowen was positive that Irish miners were influenced by this organization.
Gowen hired Pinkerton agent James McParland (under the alias James McKenna) as a spy to work among his miners and infiltrate the Molly Maguires. McParland identified dozens of Irishmen as possible Mollies who were immediately arrested by the Coal and Iron Police, a private law enforcement agency employed by Philadelphia and Reading. Some men blacklisted by the company and left penniless on the streets while others were brought to trial.
The prospect of a fair trial was highly improbable. Anti-Irish prejudice was rampant, especially among the jurors, while newspapers relentlessly slandered the accused in the months leading up to their respective trials. General Charles Albright, lead prosecutor for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was a close friend of Asa Packer, President of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, Gowen’s main source of transportation. Albright wore his Civil War uniform and officer’s sword during litigation in an effort to evoke sympathies from the jury.
Twenty-one men were sentenced to death for their alleged crimes, ten of whom were hanged from the gallows in the Carbon County Jail. The executions were a public affair. Over 180 people attended the hangings of Alexander Campbell, Michael Doyle, Edward Kelly, and John Donohue on June 21, 1877. Four hundred and eighty five people witnessed Thomas P. Fisher’s death on March 28, 1878, while several hundred others saw Charles Sharpe and James McDonnell swing from the ropes on January 14, 1879. It is believed today that most, if not all, of the alleged “Molly Maguires” were falsely accused by McParland and Gowen on the basis of their Irish heritage.
The Old County Jail is currently open to the public. For an admission fee of $10, you can take a guided tour of the facility, which contains a warden’s quarters, kitchen, and 44 cells split between a main cell block and dungeon. Inside the main cell block stands a reconstructed gallows where the ten Molly Maguires were executed. One of the Mollies, who was detained in Cell 17, firmly pressed his hand against the cell wall and proclaimed that his handprint would be an eternal sign of his innocence and wrongful death. His handprint is visible to this very day, and despite previous attempts to remove it, the print mysteriously reappears.
Though small and quick to tour, the Old Jail Museum was incredibly fascinating! The history behind its walls makes it a must-see destination while visiting Jim Thorpe. I wish I had more time to explore the town, but I had to get back on the trail.
The D&L Trail is currently closed between Jim Thorpe and the town of Weissport for construction. To get around the obstruction, I had to make like a bum and walk along the railroad tracks to my destination. After 45 minutes of all-terrain mountain biking, I linked back up with the main road and reached Weissport (Mile Marker 102). The town is named after Colonel Jacob Weiss—Quartermaster General for Generals Thomas Mifflin and Nathanael Greene and founder of the Lehigh Coal Mining Company.
At 12:30 p.m., I arrived in Slatington (Mile Marker 92). I grabbed a quick snack and pedaled to Three Mile Dam, located five miles down the trail. Three Mile was one of nine crib-style dams constructed by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. This particular dam created a three-mile-long slackwater pool (hence the name) that was deep enough to allow 120-ton canal boats to safely pass through the Lehigh River’s shallow waters.
I reached the Northampton Canal Park Trailhead (Mile Marker 82) at 1:15 p.m. Once again, I encountered another trail closure, this one extending seven miles from Northampton to Allentown. Looks like I have to cycle on the roads for a bit…no matter! This will just give me another opportunity to explore the area.
I biked across the river to the town of Coplay and visited the Cement Kilns during my detour. Coplay is recognized as the birthplace of America’s modern cement industry. In 1866, David O. Saylor, the Father of Portland Cement, created the Coplay Cement Company for natural cement production. After years of experimentation, Saylor created an artificial mixture called Portland cement, which was stronger, more versatile, and cheaper to produce compared to its natural counterpart. Saylor was granted a patent for Portland cement in 1871 and started manufacturing his mixture in Coplay’s vertical kilns in 1875.
In 1889, Jose de Navarro, a New York entrepreneur, built the nation’s first successful horizontal rotary cement kiln just a few mile north of Coplay. Navarro’s business churned out an average of 200 barrels per day, greatly surpassing the production output of vertical kilns. Pretty soon, vertical kilns were deemed obsolete and replaced with horizontal kilns. By 1907, the Lehigh Valley produced 70% of America’s Portland Cement.
The furnaces at Coplay are referred to as the Schoefer Kilns—the world’s only remaining example of continuous-firing vertical cement kilns. They were constructed between 1892 and 1893 and discontinued by 1904. The towers were originally 120 feet high, but were shortened 40 feet for safety concerns.
I passed through Allentown (Mile Marker 75) at 2:30 p.m. and arrived in Bethlehem (Mile Marker 71) a half hour later. I grabbed some much-needed lunch at The Wooden Match—a restaurant operating out of an old train station—and made my way into Historic Bethlehem, reflective of the city’s Moravian roots.
Bethlehem was founded in 1741 and quickly developed into a center of colonial mercantilism. Craftsmen, merchants, and artisans alike established workshops and storefronts in the city’s Industrial Quarter. While many of these buildings were demolished in the name of progress, some of the buildings still exist and offer meaningful insight into the valuable trades of yesteryear.
The largest building in the Quarter is the Luckenbach Flour Mill. This structure was built on the foundation of the original mill (c. 1751) in 1869 and operated until 1949. It later served as an auto parts salvage yard during the 1950s, but was restored to its former glory in 1982 and is currently being used as the Historic Bethlehem Library and Archives. Adjacent to the mill are the ruins of the Dye House (c. 1771), which was used to color textiles. Across from the mill are the Tannery (c. 1761) and foundation of the Butchery (c. 1750s). Bethlehem had one of the largest cattle-raising operations in colonial America and was a major supplier of meat and hides to the Continental Army.
About one mile away from the Industrial Quarter is Burnside Plantation—a living history representation of a Moravian family farm. The original 500-acre plantation was founded by James and Mary Burnside in 1748 and sold to the Moravian Congregation as a tenant farm in 1758. For ninety years, numerous families toiled in its fields, producing wheat, rye, turnips, flax, hempseed, oats, and other crops. While only 6.5 acres of the original farmland remain, they exemplify early American agrarian lifestyles. Visitors today can see the original farmhouse (c. 1749), summer kitchen (c. 1825), barn, stables, apple orchard, crops fields, and community garden.
Across the river from Historic Bethlehem is the South Side Historic District, indicative of the city’s industrial past. At its center stands the rusting remnants of Bethlehem Steel—once America’s largest shipbuilder and second-largest steel manufacturer.
Bethlehem Steel was established in 1860 by Robert Sayre as the Bethlehem Iron Company. Sayre created the enterprise to produce durable iron rails for the Lehigh Valley Railroad. In the 1870s, after having secured contracts with the United States Navy, the company shifted its focus from iron to steel production and began to manufacture armored plates, guns, and ordinances for the federal government. In 1901, Charles Schwab and Joseph Wharton became the primary shareholders of the company and changed its names to the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in 1904.
The corporation relied heavily on immigrant labor during the early 20th century. Workers of all different backgrounds flocked to Bethlehem and established diverse ethnic communities around the south side of the city. Steel workers often labored 6-7 days per week for long, exhausting shifts. Accidents were common. Over five hundred Bethlehem workers died on the job between 1905 and 1941 while thousands more were injured by molten metal, dangerous machinery, explosions, and toxic fumes.
Bethlehem Steel was made famous by its patented Bethlehem Beam—a wide flange “I-shaped” beam formed from a single piece of steel. The Beam was first produced in 1907 using a rolling mill designed by English engineer Henry Grey. It was discovered that Grey’s beam was more structurally-sound and cheaper to manufacture than conventional beams, and Bethlehem’s production took off. Between 1905 and 1999, Bethlehem Steel produced over 1 billion tons of steel and supplied the material for some of America’s most iconic landmarks, such as the Hoover Dam, Chrysler Building, and Golden Gate Bridge.
Bethlehem’s production began to decline during the 1960s. The company lost considerable business to foreign manufacturers and faced increasing competition with the aluminum and plastic industries. The economic recession in the early 1980s put the final nail in Bethlehem’s coffin. On November 18, 1995, Bethlehem Steel’s Blast Furnace C was cast for the final time. All operations in Bethlehem’s complex ceased by 1998.
Today, Bethlehem Steel has been revitalized and preserved by the city’s evolving South Side Arts District. The company’s main plant is now called SteelStacks and is a venue for various performing arts and community events throughout the year. You can even walk on elevated platforms around the abandoned steel complex and read interpretive plaques about Bethlehem Steel’s history and legacy. Bethlehem Steel certainly has been the highlight of my trip so far and definitely deserves an article of its own in the future!
I left Bethlehem around 6 p.m. and reached the borough of Freemansburg (Mile Marker 68) about twenty minutes later. This canal stop exhibits an original lock house (c. 1829) at Lock 44 and the ruins of an abandoned grist mill. I looked around the settlement for a bit then pedaled the last nine miles to Easton. I arrived at 7:15 p.m.
What a day it has been! Just jam-packed full of history and adventure! And best of all, I didn’t succumb to heat stroke today! There’s still plenty more to be seen on the Delaware and Lehigh Trail. We’ve got 59 miles to go until the end! Stay tuned tomorrow!
Visit the Asa Packer Mansion website for more info on this affluent railroad magnate!
Check out SteelStacks for more on the history of Bethlehem Steel and to see upcoming concerts and festivals!
Click the link for more on the Borough of Freemansburg!