Friday, April 9, 2010

America's First Rollercoaster: Biking Along the Switchback Railroad

This is a view from the far trestle buttress atop the Mt Pisgah Plane.  Visible here, beyond the Flagstaff "Ballroom in the Clouds" at the tips of the branches on the right, you can see the Lehigh Gap through the Blue Mountain.  You can also see the many Dogwoods now in full bloom, along Route 209/The Mansion House Hill, entering Jim Thorpe, below that you can see the Lehigh River, snaking past St. Mark's Cathedrel, a European-style gothic masterpiece of architecture, endowed by Asa Packer.

The Switchback Railroad was the world’s first rollercoaster. It brought the coal from ‘coal country’ of Summit Hill, where coal was first discovered by Philip Ginter in 1791. It was the brainchild of Josiah White to bring the coal down to Mauch Chunk and the Lehigh River and on down to his and other factories of Philadelphia, eventually fueling the industrial revolution’s growing energy demands of the world.

It was the first man-made contrivance that allowed man to travel up to 60 miles per hour. An engine house atop Mt Pisgah, pulled the cars up over 2,000 feet of inclined plane, on down by gravity to the base of Mt Jefferson in Summit Hill and pulled over 1,600 up another plane, loaded with coal, and again down by gravity’s lure to the coal chute in old Mauch Chunk.

Today, one can bike this entire loop and see views from spectacular vistas. These views alone are worth the trip to Carbon County. But back in the 1870s to the 1930s, when this was the second largest tourist destination behind Niagara Falls, people flocked for the unbridled manifestation of White’s inventive mind. You can see the only working scaled replica of this railroad at the Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center, Broadway, Jim Thorpe.

Seen here, is the 5-mile Crossover, looking downhill toward JimThorpe.  This buttress held the trestle for the tracks headed toward Summit Hill and the Mt Jefferson Plane, traveling from left to right.  By mountain bike today, you can head to the top of Mt Pisgah 4.5 miles away by heading uphill to the left of this buttress.  Going straight ahead into this picture, you can find a lazy 5 mile ride along Mauch Chunk Lake and Mauch Chunk Creek, into downtown historic Jim Thorpe.

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