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Historical Bits . . .

Reverend Richard Webster

Richard Webster was born in Albany, New York, on July 14, 1811, the youngest son of Charles R. and Cynthia (Steele) Webster.  He died at Mauch Chunk [now Jim Thorpe]. Pennsylvania. , on Thursday morning, June 19, 1856, just twenty five days short of his forty-fifth birthday.  A graduate of Union College (1829) and Princeton Theological Seminary (1834), he initially sought service as a missionary under the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, but was providentially hindered.  Turning to other avenues, he was designated a home missionary by the Prebetery of Albany, and was soon engaged in ministering to those living around Easton along the Lehigh River, to the region of Mauch Chunk, where coal mining was recently underway.  By 1836, a church had been established there and he faithfully gave the rest of his life to his congregation and to the people of Mauch Chunk.

Mauch Chunk

Mauch Chunk (pronounced mock chunk), now Jim Thorpe, was established on the Lehigh River as a shipping depot for anthracite coal in 1818 by Josiah White, a Philadelphia Quaker and brilliant engineer, and his trusted business partner, Erskine Hazard.

By 1829 White and Hazard had founded the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company and built an efficient transportation system that moved coal nine miles over the mountains to Mauch Chunk by Switchback Gravity Railroad, and forty-six miles along the Lehigh Canal to Easton.

With the arrival of the railroads, the Switchback became a major tourist attraction.  As rail excursionists descended on Mauch Chunk to experience a hair-raising ride on America’s first roller coaster and enjoy the magnificent scenery, the coal shipping town, billed by the railroads as “the Switzerland of America”, became a tourist destination second in popularity to Niagara Falls.

In a story stranger than fiction, Mauch Chunk exchanged its name for the name of Jim Thorpe when the 1912 Olympic hero was laid to rest there in 1954.  Jim Thorpe, the man, an athlete of Native American (Sac and Fox) and European ancestry was born in Prague, Oklahoma on May 22, 1887. Considered one of the most versatile athletes of modern sports, he won Gold medals in the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon, played American football (collegiate and professional), and also played professional baseball and basketball.  He lost his Olympic titles after it was found that he was paid for playing two seasons of semi-professional baseball before completing in the Olympics, thus violating the amarateurism rules that were then in place. In 1983, 30 years after his death, the International Olympic Committee restored his Olympic medals.

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