Pocono Mountains History

Early Days: The First Inhabitants

Long before the Pocono Mountains became a destination for families, honeymooners, nature-lovers, and relaxation-seekers, the area was inhabited by the Delaware, Iroquois, Shawnee, Minisink, Lenape, and Paupack Native Americans. Archaeological evidence uncovered near Stroudsburg has revealed one of the oldest Native American sites in the Northeastern United States, with habitation stretching back over 10,000 years. In 1659, the Dutch established settlements near the famous Delaware Water Gap but were forced to leave by the English in 1664. By 1742, English and German settlers were arriving in the Pocono Mountains and the first permanent residence was established by Nicholas Depui in 1725 at Shawnee.

1829 - 1927: First Hotel Established and an Industry is Born

The Delaware Water Gap was the site of the first boarding house hotel, established in 1829 by Anthony Dutot, who initiated what would become a wildly successful resort industry. By 1900, thousands of visitors from the growing cities of Philadelphia and New York escaped to the high altitudes for summer vacations. The Delaware Water Gap was called a scenic “Wonder of the World,” while the picturesque town of Jim Thorpe, then called Mauch Chunk, was touted as the “Switzerland of America.” Victorian visitors came by train to admire the mansions of industrialist millionaires and try tourist attractions like a converted Switchback Railroad, considered one of the world’s first roller coasters.

Alongside the growing resort industry was a booming coal industry. Jim Thorpe was founded in 1818 by Josiah White, the first to discover how to ignite and effectively burn Anthracite coal as an energy source. The Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company mined and shipped coal from Carbon County to cities all over the East Coast in the 1800s; while Honesdale over in Pike County welcomed the first steam locomotive to run on US commercial tracks in 1829. The train was called the Stourbridge Lion and was purchased by the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company, which also commissioned Roebling Aqueduct Bridge, which is today the oldest existing wire suspension bridge in the United States and was designed and built by the same engineer who would later create the Brooklyn Bridge.

When renowned naturalist John James Audubon visited Lehigh Gorge in 1829, he admired the area's beauty while also lamenting the growing deforestation and mining. However, there were members of the Pocono community already advocating conservation. Gifford Pinchot, a resident of Milford in Pike County, became the first Chief of the US Forest Service under President Teddy Roosevelt and was later called the "Father of the Conservation Movement" by President John F. Kennedy. Pinchot's home is now Grey Towers National Landmark, home to the Pinchot Institute for Conservation Studies.

Seeking a new form of energy, the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company (now PPL Electric Utilities, Inc.) began construction in 1926 of what is now the third-largest man-made lake in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Lake Wallenpaupack, stretching 5,600-acres with 52 miles of uninterrupted shoreline. To this day, the Big Lake remains a top destination for water sports and recreation. In 2016, ownership was transferred to Brookfield Renewable, which now manages the lake and shoreline in order to protect the recreational, scenic and environmental values of the land and water.

Post World War II: Here Come the Honeymooners and Skiers!

During World War II, many GIs took their leave with their girlfriends and families in the Pocono Mountains. The area had a romantic appeal for these young people, and many returned after the war as honeymooners. In 1945, Rudolf Von Hoevenberg opened a rustic operation consisting of some cabins and a main lodge, called The Farm on the Hill, the first honeymoon resort of the Pocono Mountains. Plush lodgings sprang up in the 1940s and 1950s and spurred the growth of a flourishing resort business in the Pocono Mountains.

In 1946, the Pocono Mountains welcomed the first commercial ski area in Pennsylvania, Big Boulder Ski Area. In 1950, the first patent application for the making of snow by blowing water through a nozzle was filed, and by the winter of 1956, the system was perfected and in place at Big Boulder Ski Area, making the Pocono Mountains a bona fide ski destination. Shortly after, the opening of Interstates 80 and 81 in the late 1950s and 1960s in the four-county region made the Pocono Mountains easily accessible by motor vehicles. Family-owned and operated resorts gained popularity during this time, where the comforts of home could be found among the convenience of a full-service resort for an ideal summer vacation of family picnics, zany games and organized sports and activities.

Learn about the history of Skiing in the Poconos

1960s – 80s: Heart-shaped Tubs and Racing Stripes

In 1963, the heart-shaped tub was introduced at Caesars Cove Haven in Lakeville, Pennsylvania. Life Magazine ran photos of this latest novelty and a flood of publicity followed, resulting in the naming of the Pocono Mountains as the “Honeymoon Capital of the World.” Pocono International Raceway (now Pocono Raceway) in Long Pond, Pennsylvania opened its 2½ mile super speedway in 1971 with the first series of Indy car races. NASCAR soon followed in 1972 and continues to bring over 100,000 race fans to the Pocono Mountains each summer. In the 1980s, the growth of whitewater rafting, golfing, outlet shopping and other attractions further broadened the four-season appeal of the Pocono Mountains.

1990s: A Destination Evolves

The 1990s ushered an era of change to the Pocono Mountains: several well-regarded honeymoon resorts closed, while other accommodation facilities and tourist attractions made significant capital improvements to their properties.

A New Century: Fresh New Look and Exciting Future

Fall of 2005 welcomed Great Wolf Lodge, one of the northeast’s largest indoor waterpark resorts and a precursor to the waterpark resorts yet to come. The property features 90,000 square feet of waterslides, a lazy river, an interactive treehouse water fort, a wave pool and 400 rooms. That same fall brought the reopening of a historic inn: slated for demolition, but instead beautifully restored, the Hotel Fauchere has added to the charm and beauty of the celebrated town of Milford. October 2007 brought the opening of Mount Airy Casino Resort, the region’s first resort featuring slot machine gaming. The casino resort now includes table games along with a championship golf course, five restaurants, an indoor/outdoor pool and a night club. Resorts began adding on-site spas as well to cater to stressed consumers seeking to be pampered. The Lodge at Woodloch, an exclusive $35-million destination spa that opened in spring 2006 in the Lake Region of the Pocono Mountains continues to be one of the most sought after destination spas by guests and travel publications alike.

2010s: Reinvest to Reinvent

Pocono Mountains properties are continuing to invest millions of dollars in improvements and renovations including golf courses, resorts, bed and breakfasts, rental properties and timeshares. To attract midweek business to the Pocono Mountains, resorts have also invested in new conference and meeting facilities that will serve the needs of corporations, associations and other groups looking to hold business-related events, meetings, and team-building experiences.

Golfers can tee-off at more than 30 courses, including those designed by Robert Trent Jones, AW Tillinghast and Donald Ross. The Pocono Mountains region is also a place for adventure activities such as zip-lining, stock car racing, whitewater rafting, hiking, biking, fishing and canoeing. With nine state parks, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, the Pocono Mountains offer a wide spectrum of outdoor recreation opportunities.

The region continues to grow as a tourist and conference destination. In 2015, two additional indoor waterpark resorts debuted in the Pocono Mountains. Camelback Lodge and Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark opened in April with 453 guest rooms and suites, 170,000 square feet of wet and dry activity space, and 20,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. Kalahari Resorts and Conventions opened in July with 457 guest rooms and suites, a 100,000-square-foot indoor waterpark and 65,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. The resorts also feature on-site restaurants, spas, and family-friendly activities.

The small towns of the Pocono Mountains are becoming tourist meccas on their own, each encompassing culture, art, and history. Milford, along the Delaware River, hosts musical events and a fall film festival and offers its visitors nearby historic sites and a charming downtown of galleries, shops, restaurants, and inns. The quaint Victorian town of Jim Thorpe, along the Lehigh River, has historic mansions and seasonal celebrations. Honesdale, the “Birthplace of the American Railroad,” is home to friendly downtown boutiques and themed railroad tours. Stroudsburg awaits visitors with unique shopping and dining experiences, spectacular local artistry, and a variety of festivals.

As it has for almost two centuries, the Pocono Mountains region continues to be so close yet feel so far removed from the everyday hassles of life – a region filled with relaxing and scenic beauty, and encompassing a calm, carefree style that engages guests in leisure pursuits and in connection with nature, friends and loved ones. This is the legacy of the Pocono Mountains.

 

Pocono Perspectives

Asa Packer Mansion

Chris Barrett talks with Ronald Sheehan about Asa Packer and his impact on our area.

John Thorpe

Jim Hamill sits down with John Thorpe, grandson of legendary athlete Jim Thorpe.

Robert Uguccioni

Chris Barrett talks with Robert Uguccioni, former CEO of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau.

Dr. Martin Wilson

Chris Barrett talks with Dr. Martin Wilson, a history professor at East Stroudsburg University.

Dr. Lawrence Squeri

Chris Barrett talks with Dr. Lawrence Squeri, a retired history professor from ESU.