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Josiah White's curious link to Jim Thorpe

  • AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS John Drury, president of the Mauch Chunk Museum, holds a display box of packets of anthracite coal. The Jim Thorpe Lions Club supports local Jim Thorpe nonprofits and White's Residential & Family Services in…
    AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS John Drury, president of the Mauch Chunk Museum, holds a display box of packets of anthracite coal. The Jim Thorpe Lions Club supports local Jim Thorpe nonprofits and White's Residential & Family Services in Indiana by selling small packets of anthracite coal. In the background is an image of Josiah White and a print of a portion of the canal system that he engineered.
Published November 17. 2012 09:01AM

Recently, when the borough's elementary school children were asked who founded their town, two of the responses were Jim Thorpe and Mark Chunk.

They are hardly alone. The town was established as Mauch Chunk in 1818 by Josiah White, the founder of the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company. In 1954, the east and west sides of the town merged to form a borough, and it was named Jim Thorpe in honor of the Native American Olympic athlete-whose body was laid to rest in the town but who during his life had never visited it.

Josiah White died in Philadelphia in 1850. Jim Thorpe was born in the Oklahoma Territory in 1888. Could there be any connection between the two?

In 1850, 69-year-old Josiah White, a Pennsylvania Quaker, attended the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends. White donated $40,000 to fund a manual training school in the Indiana and Iowa where "poor children, white, colored and Indian" might receive a religious education according to the teachings of the Friends.

On the long, difficult trip home, White caught a severe cold that shortly led to his death. Unfortunately, the father of America's oldest corporation was unable to create a dynasty. He had five children: three boys who died young, and two daughters who never had children.

So, White wanted his money to help people, and he created two orphanages-one in Indiana and is second in Iowa. Both were initially called White's Manual Labor Institute.

With White's endowment, the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends appointed a board of trustees to oversee the school. They purchased land and by 1854, 500 acres of sod was broken and enclosed and an orchard of 700 apple trees was set out near the site of the future building.

They had planned to rent the land, but crop values and a financial panic in 1857 soon depleted their fund.

In 1864, Indiana Yearly Meeting asked the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends to take over the project. A new board of trustees took control. From the remaining funds, a two-story brick school was constructed, but remained uncompleted when they ran out of funds to put on the roof.

With no funds to complete the building, the trustees went to the state legislature. A bill was introduced to establish a home for juvenile offenders and the White's Institute property was rented to the state for ten years. In 1868, it opened as the Boy's Training School, then became a girls' school, and then the girls' department of the State Reform School.

The White's Institute property was returned in a very rundown condition. The property underwent a major restoration including the planting of one hundred and fifty apple trees, thirty cherry trees and fifty grape vines. Debts were paid off and the Iowa Yearly Meeting planed to start a school on a small scale according to the founder's wishes.

The Training School for Indian Children in Iowa leased 480 acres with the school building and barn. In 1886, there were seventy-five Indians and thirteen white children enrolled at the school. In 1887, fire destroyed the main building, and all but three Indian children were moved to the recently opened Haskell Indian School at Lawrence, Kansas.

Jim Thorpe was born in 1888 and transferred from the Sac and Fox Indian Agency school to the Haskell Indian School in 1898. His father sent him there so that he would not run away, as he had from his previous school.

White's school, with its Civil War-era beginnings, was among the earliest attempts to educate Native Americans. The movement that White seeded may well have influenced the policy of the US government to create Indian boarding schools as a means to assimilate American Indian children and to train them as skilled laborers.

Surely, that was the thinking that led to the creation of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Founded in 1879 at Carlisle, Pennsylvania by Captain Richard Henry Pratt, the school was the first US government off-reservation boarding school. Over 1,000 Indian children from 39 tribes into the majority culture attended the school.

In 1904, sixteen-year-old Jim Thorpe transferred to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, and in 1907, his athletic ability was recognized by Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner. Thorpe became an all-around athlete competing in football, baseball, lacrosse and track and field. In 1912, Pop Warner took Jim Thorpe to the Stockholm Olympics, where Thorpe took home first prize in the pentathlon and decathlon events.

Were it not for Josiah White's creation of a school for training Indians, perhaps the idea would never have spread and schools such as Carlisle would never have been created, and a poor Native American such as Jim Thorpe might never have learned to play sports-much less compete in an international Olympics.

The schools founded by Josiah White continue today. In Indiana, White's Residential & Family Services is the state's largest social service agency offering accredited and comprehensive residential, foster care, independent living, adoption, and home-based services. White's serves families and children, from infants to youths of 21 years, irrespective of race or religious background. Youth are placed at White's through state and county DCS and juvenile probation offices, through the Departments of Corrections and Education, and through private placement.

After fire destroyed the main building in Iowa in 1928, the school and children's home was moved to a nearby farm and renamed as Quakerdale. The first boy entered in January 1942. By 1963, a staff of nine cared for 20 boys who attended New Providence Community School and the New Providence Friends Meeting. Quakerdale is currently a Christian, nonprofit organization providing educational opportunities, support services and community outreach programs to youth and families in Iowa.

Ten years ago, the Jim Thorpe Lions Club decided to support the work in memory of Josiah White by selling small packets of anthracite coal. A portion of the proceeds, over $1,000 a year, is split between local Jim Thorpe nonprofits and White's Residential & Family Services in Indiana.

"Josiah White was a visionary who was a superb engineer," said John Drury, president of the Mauch Chunk Museum. "As he grew older, he turned increasingly from the temporal to the spiritual and became introspective. On his 64th birthday his thoughts went back to his youth and the difficulties caused by the loss of his father. He became determined to make some provisions for youth in similar circumstances."

Packets of the anthracite coal are available at: the Inn at Jim Thorpe, at the Asa Packer mansion, and at the Mauch Chunk Museum. The anthracite coal has been donated to the Lions Club by Butch Reibold and the displays were made by Manny DeCosta.

"We sell the packets of anthracite coal to visitors to the town for one dollar per bag," Drury joked. "It comes out to about $17,000 per ton."

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