Finding Disney in Unexpected Places: Jim Thorpe, PA


Over the Labor Day weekend, I went to visit some of my wonderful friends (or family, depending on how you look at it) in the northeast. One of the places they took me to visit was Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. I have to be honest and say that before this trip, I had never heard of Jim Thorpe, PA but I knew something was up when they told me I couldn’t Google the town to find out more about it…

I thought we were there to roam around and enjoy the town. While that’s what we did, come to find out, this gorgeous town has a connection to our beloved Disney World- it’s home to the mansion that inspired the exterior of Disney World’s Haunted Mansion.

A Bit of History

In 1833, Asa Packer settled in Mauch Chunk (“Bear Mountain” in the Lenape’s language/present day Jim Thorpe), located in the Lehigh Valley. Packer was a very successful business man and ultimately gained control of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. He also founded Lehigh University. In 1861, his mansion was completed and sits near the bottom of Packer Hill.

When his son, Harry Packer, got married, Asa built another mansion up the hill for his son. It was completed in 1874. About 20 years ago, the mansion became a bed & breakfast.

The town and its neighbor eventually merged were renamed Jim Thorpe, in honor of the world renowned Olympic athlete who died in 1953. The town was hoping to boost tourism and struck a deal with Thorpe’s wife to rename the town.

Finding the Inspiration for Disney World’s Haunted Mansion

In the early 1970s, the Imagineers were looking for a concept for the Haunted Mansion that best suited Liberty Square in the upcoming Magic Kingdom in Florida. Imagineers traveled to Jim Thorpe and found what they were looking for in the Harry Packer mansion. I tried to find out what led the Imagineers to Jim Thorpe and/or how they found out about the mansion but I wasn’t able to find specifics or dates beyond the early 1970s.

Like I said earlier, Asa Packer’s mansion is at the bottom of the hill.

Asa Packer Mansion

Just up the very steep hill (and I do mean steep hill) is the Harry Packer mansion. The exterior, not the interior, was the basis for the attraction.

Harry Packer Mansion

Harry Packer mansion

Mansion exterior

Mansion exterior

Mansion exterior

Disney World’s Haunted Mansion

Haunted Mansion

Haunted Mansion

Haunted Mansion

We did not go inside the mansion but we spent a good bit of time walking around the exterior. We compared and contrasted the mansion and could definitely see the resemblance, especially looking at it from the middle. It was a very unexpected surprise to find “Disney” there, so far from “home”. HUGE thanks to my friends for taking me there. 🙂

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Deb Wills, founder of AllEars.Net, is an internationally recognized expert on Disney vacations ranging from Walt Disney World to the Disney Cruise Line, Disneyland and Adventures by Disney. For many years she participated in events designed to raise funds and awareness in the fight against breast cancer, which she herself survived in 1986. She now raises funds for FORCE - Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, to increase awareness of hereditary cancers.

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11 Replies to “Finding Disney in Unexpected Places: Jim Thorpe, PA”

  1. We live about 25 minutes from Jim Thorpe. Beautiful place any time of year, but especially the fall and Christmas. Next time you are in the area, PLEASE go INTO the mansions. Both Asa and Harry’s are spectacular. Harry’s (aka the Disney one) is very creepy, but outrageously beautiful. Asa’s on the other had had remained locked up and UNDISTURBED for YEARS!! No one had ever broken in or stole anything, so there is clothing, spectacles “eyeglasses”, EVERTHING is original to the house. It is basically like you left your own house with the contents in for about 70 years. The place is truly amazing. BTW, if you want a great lunch, the Emerald Inn on Main Street is fantastic, too!

  2. Great post! My family is from and lives the neighboring town, Nesquehoning, so I’ve been visiting Jim Thorpe my whole life. I found out about the Packer Mansion’s connection to Disney years ago and always thought it was a great piece of information. Awesome post.

  3. I’ve been to Jim Thorpe many times and have taken the tours of the mansion. Tour Guides “should” be informed of the connection with The Haunted Mansion….can you imagine the surprised look on the faces of the tourists?

    1. They do! Just took the tour yesterday of the Asa Packer Mansion and it was mentioned! Hence why I am looking it up today lol

  4. Ashley, I enjoy reading your blogs and this one really touches home! My husband, children and I are lovers of all things Disney and knowing that Imagineers took ideas from our area just makes every Disney experience that much more special. Did you know that one of Walt’s original animators was from a little town called Nesquehoning PA (just a short drive from Jim Thorpe)? Just goes to show you that Disney runs deep in the coal towns of Northeast PA! Thanks for another great blog!

  5. Hey! I also live in the area (about 20 min from Jim Thorpe). I recently found out about the Disney connection to the Haunted Mansion about a month or two ago. I haven’t been up that way in awhile but I definitely want to go check out the Harry Packer Mansion! I also graduated from Lehigh University so I was doubly excited about this connection! I can’t wait to go see it in person! It’s a shame there isn’t much info on how they came to find this place in the beginning. I bet it would be really interesting to learn about! Thanks again!

  6. I never knew that! I only about an hour from there in PA and have been in that area numerous times. Now I need to take a trip to see it for myself! Thanks for sharing!