Ed Benjamin has a deep appreciation for the buildings and mansions of Jim Thorpe, which is quickly evident in his book, The Architectural Heritage of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.
The architect/author, who will be at the Dimmick Library Friends House, 58 Broadway in Jim Thorpe on June 16 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., says the book is a history of the Victorian architecture and its influence on the character of the town.
"To the east and to the west you will come across some houses that are of a newer vintage, but basically the town was built between 1850 and 1900," Benjamin said. "Everything built in the town was pretty much built in that 50-year period."
The spiral-bound book, printed on 8.5 x 11 paper and running a hefty 460 pages, includes about 200 of Benjamin's hand-drawn sketches of the buildings and the mansions throughout the town.
Benjamin, a professional architect with over 50 years of experience, grew up outside of Scranton but he has early memories of this area since his mother was from Nesquehoning.
"During the second world war when I was a child, my mother took me by train to Mauch Chunk, which was the name of the town at the time," he said, "and my uncle would pick us up and drive us to Nesquehoning.
"I got to know the area. At the time, it was pretty dirty. Buildings were coated with coal dust and smoke from the steam engines. I watched what happened over the years when the mining industry and steam locomotives died out. Over the last 15 to 20 years, there has been a tremendous rejuvenation in the buildings."
Ten years ago, Benjamin began visiting Jim Thorpe twice a year, and during his visits, he began taking photographs and sketching the buildings. One thing led to another, and he became interested in the town's history, seeking out and learning from local historians Jack Sterling and John Drury.
"When I visit Jim Thorpe, I just have a good time," he said. "I love seeing what changes have taken place, and a number of them have, from the time that I started writing the book until now a year or so after it's been in print."
He said Jim Thorpe has a combination of micro-urban and residential architecture.
"The West side has an urban feel to it. The scale is great on Broadway and Race Street," he said.
By scale, Benjamin points to the town being sandwiched between three mountains and crossed by the Lehigh River and the Mauch Chunk Creek.
"It's not an area full of wide open spaces," he explained. "Only one or two streets cross Broadway, and there are some alleyways between some of the buildings."
Benjamin enjoys the view from Josiah White Park.
"You can sit in the square and see several different periods of architecture: Romanesque, Victorian and early American train station style," he said.
Benjamin misses the Sunrise Diner, the 1950s-era spot where he breakfasted when he came to Jim Thorpe.
"When my uncle, Nelson Orwood, returned from the second world war, he was made head of Veteran's Affairs for Carbon County," Benjamin said. "He had an office in the Courthouse on the square. Whenever I came to Jim Thorpe, I had breakfast there. I did that until the diner disappeared."
He noted that many small towns have been losing their once-historically important buildings.
"It's hard to preserve a 100-year-old building," he said.
He said while working on his book, it was interesting to see how things were preserved and restored.
"Many people in the community who own some of these residential structures have done a tremendous amount of work in upkeep and maintenance," he said.
He said deciding to preserve an old building is not always easy.
"You have to find a use for these old buildings," he said. "You have to invest money. It's not an easy situation, if you are going to keep it on the tax rolls without tearing it down."
Copies of The Architectural Heritage of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania are available at the Dimmick Memorial Library, the Mauch Chunk Museum, and Sellers Books & Fine Art.