Mt. Gretna Newsletter
Mt. Gretna, Pa.
"Not a place, but a spirit." Marlin Seiders (1927-2008)
On a Saturday afternoon in late
September, Ruthann and Bob Epperson pause to savor a quiet moment by
Mt. Gretnans know . . .
Sometimes, the best thing to
do is just find a bench somewhere and sit down. Not too many people do
in Mt. Gretna we have dozens of benches. In fact, on a day when there
wasn't much else to do, I once counted over a hundred of them.
Sometimes, especially when the post office is closed and summer is
over, counting benches can be the highlight of your whole day.
Some of the best benches are the ones that overlook
the lake. I don't know why people don't use them more. They're just too
busy, I suppose. As I've gotten older, I find that not much good comes
from being too busy.
Benches do more than provide a place to sit. They're
like rocking chairs on a Chautauqua porch on a summer afternoon, or
maybe a bowl of hot oatmeal with friends on a cold winter morning. Like
the Amish buggies that occasionally (if only rarely) pass through town,
they're reminders for us all to slow down. And sometimes, to stop
Nobody sitting on a bench ever looks anxious, or
worried or in a hurry. Maybe that's why they invented benches in the
It also may be why we like to put them everywhere in
Mt. Gretna, a place where people generally "take things by the
smooth handle," as Thomas Jefferson advised.
I was out walking the other day when I noticed a
couple seated on a bench alongside the lake. They looked as if they
were enjoying their afternoon, just sitting there, talking and looking
out at the birds and the leaves and the water. I had decided to slip
quietly away when they turned and invited Winston and me to join
Bob and Ruthann Epperson, whom we met for the first
time, are relative newcomers to Mt. Gretna. They bought a cottage on
Harvard Avenue about five years ago. They come up as often as they can.
They come for the quiet, for the trees and for a
feeling that most of us who live here permanently find is rarely
Others who choose to buy homes and cottages in Mt.
Gretna, even those who live here only part of the time, seem to grasp
that as well. It's a feeling that nourishes the soul, but never quite
reveals its essence.
We talked for a time about the things that all of us like
about Mt. Gretna, and about those things that none of us can ever quite
"We invite our friends here," said Bob.
"Some of them have come, but others find that they cannot. Those
who don't come often tell us that they looked up Mt. Gretna online.
"Then, the next time we get together, they say,
'We read about Mt. Gretna on the Internet.
Now we know why you like
Bob, a gracious listener with a gentle voice, turned
to us, shook his head and smiled. "'No you don't,' I tell them,
'No you don't.'"
Nearly 45% of Mt. Gretnans filed
appeals and await decisions
As taxes soar
300% to 500%, owners weigh their options and adjust to new realities
People who own properties in the older, historic sections of Mt.
Gretna learned this summer there's sometimes a downside to the steady
uptick of ever-increasing real estate prices.
After paying taxes under a formula that went
unchanged for 40 years, owners who grew accustomed to modest annual tax
bills ranging from perhaps $800 to $2,000 suddenly discovered that
their taxes will jump 300% to 500% next year.
"Many people got
spoiled," says Fred Schaeffer, one of Mt. Gretna's veteran
realtors and himself a licensed appraiser. "The bottom line is
that most of the older homes and cottages, whether for seasonal or
year-round living, were assessed at unrealistically low tax
values" set in 1972.
NEW ASSESSMENTS TOO HIGH?
Yet he's quick to add that the new values -- under a court-ordered
countywide reassessment -- are now too high. One reason, says
Schaeffer, is that sales prices here have declined 25% since 2005. The
new values, he feels, don't match up with current market
"Today's prices don't match assessed values."
"Most of the new assessments I've looked at were for seasonal
cottages valued in the $300,000 range. But properties here aren't
selling for $300,000. The going rate for a year-round cottage in
average condition is $240,000 in the older section, with most seasonal
cottages selling for under $200,000," he says.
Another reason for the
discrepancy, he explains, is that the county's assessment was done on a
"mass market" appraisal. "That's different from a
regular property appraisal," he says. "They go back about 40
years, put in all the sales, and a computerized program makes the
But when an individual appraiser does
the analysis, comparisons are with properties sold in the past six to
12 months. Schaeffer says that in his appeal work this year, he has
cited sales made in late 2011 as well as 2012.
Appraisals typically cost around $400, he says, but
adds: "I don't want to give anybody the impression that I'm
looking for more appraisal work. I've got all I can handle. My primary
job is selling real estate."
GRETNANS FLOOD ASSESSOR'S OFFICE
One result of the new assessment is that Mt. Gretnans flocked into the county assessors office to file appeals this summer
in advance of the Sept.1 deadline. Lebanon County's chief assessment
officer Dan Seaman says that nearly 45% of property owners in Mt.
Gretna Borough, for example, filed appeals this year and now await
decisions. Notices of what the assessors' review will bring could begin
going out as early as the first week in October rather than
mid-November as originally planned.
chief Seaman: "Unfortunately, some are being hit hard."
The number of appeals that property owners across the county have filed
confirm that Mt. Gretna was hit hardest by the reassessment. Only about
10% of property owners throughout Lebanon County appealed their new
assessments. But Seaman adds that owners elsewhere in the county were
already paying about 15% of market values. Mt. Gretnans, on the other
hand, were averaging somewhere between three and five percent.
"Over the years, one of the problems was that
we couldn't adjust assessments to keep up with increases in market
values," says Seaman. "Now with the reassessment, it's a
whole lot different. Unfortunately, some folks are getting pretty hard
hit," he said. Seaman points out that Mt. Gretna was hit hardest
because housing prices increased more here than in other taxing districts.
FOR THOSE WHO DIDN'T FILE APPEALS
Seaman also expects additional appeals next year, once people learn
what adjustments their neighbors received this year. He suggests that
those who missed the deadline
headed here next year? Could be, if 2012 claims receive
for 2013 should now wait
until January to file their appeals for 2014. "By that time, all
the decisions made this year will be in the computer, and you'll be
able to see them at the courthouse," he said.
Although the initial shock has worn off and most
seem reconciled to the new valuations, many still wonder why county
officials waited 40 years to order a reassessment. Many taxing
districts, they point out, revise their formulas every ten years to
keep pace with changing market values.
"This wasn't our mistake," said a
Princeton Avenue resident. "Why couldn't they have phased it in
gradually?" She and others wonder whether there might be an
alternative plan, one that would allow for staggered payments such as
Mt. Gretna Borough itself received when a $200,000 overpayment in
Earned Income Tax revenues was discovered a few years ago. The borough
now has 20 years to repay those misdirected funds under a settlement
known as The Grumbine Plan.
"That sort of thing doesn't happen with
assessments," says Seaman. "There may be some obscure way to
do something like that, but I can't see how. You'd have to equalize
everything, and it would be difficult."
FOR BUYERS, SELLERS
Meanwhile, Schaeffer says the reassessment's full impact on Mt. Gretna
is still unknown. So far, there's been no rush to put local properties
up for sale. Currently, 26 homes are on the market. "That's about
normal," he says. But that could change next spring, when most new
listings for Mt. Gretna cottages and homes usually occur.
What effect could that have on prospective
buyers and sellers? "That's anybody's guess," says Schaeffer.
"The new taxes could potentially take some buyers out of the
market. If sellers feel the new assessment is unrealistic and decide to
sell, they probably ought to do so in early spring. Yet if more homes
than normal suddenly come up for sale and it results in a buyers'
market, that could bring prices down. On the other hand, if you're a
seller and decide to wait a year before putting your home on the
market, you might be doing so at a lower price. So my advice to sellers
is to look at conditions next spring and then decide. All things
considered, spring is usually the best time to sell."
expresses community pride.
wins its place on National Historic Register
The Mt. Gretna Campmeeting, which traces its heritage to 1892, finally
won a spot on the National Register of Historic Places last month.
was the culmination of a journey that began six years ago, a determined
effort by nearly a dozen volunteers who pooled their time and talents
to photograph, classify and categorize 255 individual structures --
everything from century-old cottages to hand-operated water pumps --
throughout the Campmeeting grounds.
honor, six years in the making.
Tom Meredith led the effort to create maps, write narratives, assemble
inventories, take pictures and handle numerous other details needed to
fulfill the application's requirements. Approvals were needed at both
the Pennsylvania Bureau for Historic Preservation in Harrisburg and the
National Park Service in Washington, DC.
word of the approval finally arrived Sept. 4. "I'd hoped it might
come a week earlier, when we'd have had a few more people to share the
good news with," says Tom, who just celebrated his 91st
birthday. He hopes the Campmeeting Board will develop plans for a
ceremony next Memorial Day, to formally recognize the award.
He also wanted to express thanks to his committee, which included
photographer Madelaine Gray, Timber Hills residents Ted and Esther
Mefferd as well as Campmeeting property owners Jim and Linda Campbell,
Chris and George Resh, and friends of the project Nancy Brooks and
Aniko Gayhart. "I simply couldn't have done it without the whole
group," says Tom.
How does he feel now that the work is over? "I tell some
people that I don't feel any different, but the truth is I now wake up
in the morning and realize I can schedule what I want to do rather than
get right to the keyboard and start pounding away on something,"
says Tom, a writer and editor most of his life.
Still, he's not quite done with delving into historic register affairs.
He has volunteered to serve as a consultant to a recently formed
committee already at work on gaining similar recognition for the
Pennsylvania Chautauqua in a campaign headed by Earl Lennington.
(center) with some of his team members,from left: George and
Chris Resh, Nancy Brooks, Jim and Linda Campbell, Ted and Esther
Mefferd and Madelaine Gray.
glad to see all the enthusiasm this has created in the
Campmeeting," says Tom. He hopes that what he's learned in his
work for the Campmeeting may help speed things along for the
Meanwhile, many in the Campmeeting have shown their enthusiasm through
banners that proclaim both a sense of sense of community pride and
their appreciation for the latest honor.
Enthusiastic local residents created banners in two different designs.
Ben Wiley (firstname.lastname@example.org) has order and shipping
details on the National Register of Historic Places-themed banner
(upper left photo). For details concerning the Campmeeting themed
banner (shown in photo, top right), contact Kelly Weaber (email@example.com).
From high-fashion hairdos to champion heifers, she's
at home in both worlds
Ever since the mid-80s, people in Mt. Gretna have thought of Diana Lynn
Orley as, well, the
Orley with husband Cliff and their latest winners, the 2012 New York
State Fair Grand Champion female and her calf.
Dawn Blauch photo
to the stars." That's because she began creating elaborate period
hairdos for actresses at the Mt. Gretna Playhouse back in the days of
the famous Shaw Festival at the Playhouse. Working in dressing rooms
without air conditioning and creating hairdos for perspiring actresses
stuffed into heavy Victorian gowns with real corsets was a challenge.
"We pulled it off, but it wasn't easy," she says.
Yet what many Mt. Gretnans don't know is that since she was 13,
Lynn has also thrived in an altogether different world -- one
where heifers are the stars and women are, well, scarce.
For the past 35 years, she and husband Cliff have run Keystone Cattle Services, one of the cattle
industry's best. Together they've collected some 3,000 awards, ribbons
and trophies for their championship cattle at shows throughout the U.S.
and Canada. The Orleys, in fact, are three-time winners of the coveted
Charolais National Challenge
Trophy, a rare honor in the cattle industry. They also offer consulting
services to other breeders throughout the country.
At the New York State Fair a few weeks ago, they added to their long
string of awards. Placing first in their categories were, at right, a
Charolais which became the Grand Champion Female winner and her calf,
both from the Orleys' well-manicured Spring Meadows Ranch (left) near
Colebrook. Which also happens to be the location of her salon, a favorite of many
well-coiffed Mt. Gretnans.
Yes, the new president of the Mt. Gretna Mens Club
is, by jove, a woman
This would surely come as a shock to many of her
distinguished predecessors. That stalwart assembly -- stately gentlemen
of their time -- had come to the Hall of Philosophy on a hot afternoon
in August 1926 to found a new social club. Although created around the
game of tennis and with only male members, it would courteously allow
"the other sex" to use the courts at certain times and days.
Despite the onset of political awareness, the formula worked for years.
Yet now, for the first time since it was created 86 years ago, the Mt.
Gretna Men's Club has both a president and a vice-president who are
Sandra Moritz, a Temple Avenue resident and recently retired
coordinator of health services
name isn't a priority
for Cornwall-Lebanon School
District, took the reins as president last month. She succeeds attorney
Bill Brandt, who had held the post since the death of Dr. Ray Kinch in
So naturally our first question for Sandy was whether a
name change was in prospect for the 120-member organization.
"I'm sure that's a question many are
wondering," she said. "But I have three other people who are
officers (including vice-president Suzanne Nye) as well as the members
themselves. So it's not really up to me."
Rather than a name change, Sandy's top concerns are to
preserve the grounds and courts for future generations, revive
children's tennis clinics and sponsor other programs to attract new
In addition to tennis memberships, the club offers social
memberships that allow use of such facilities as the picnic pavilion,
shuffleboard courts and barbecue pits.
"I just want to make sure the grounds will always be
here, that the courts are kept in good shape for people to enjoy,"
says Sandy. "Those are my priorities."
She invites membership inquiries at 717-269-3989 or by
Another feather in the cap of a former Mt. Gretnan
William Ecenbarger (left), the writer who once lived on Brown Avenue,
has another new book in the works.
Due out next month is Kids for Cash, which tells how judges in
a rural Pennsylvania county took $2.8 million in cash kickbacks for
sentencing children to a private detention facility.
The book exposes a corrupt system that ruined the lives of children and
led to the judges' conviction on racketeering, fraud, tax violation,
money laundering and bribery charges.
Ecenbarger is a Pulitizer Prize and George Polk-award winning
investigative journalist who covered the case for The Philadelphia
Inquirer. He now lives in Hershey.
Eyes," a 2013 calendar for those who share her love of deer
and artist Susan Afflerbach (right), one of the exhibitors at La Cigale Gallery on
Route 117 in Mt. Gretna, has
just published a 2013 calendar.
An ideal gift for anyone who shares the photographer's
devotion to deer and natural surroundings near Mt. Gretna, "Through Innocent Eyes" features close-up,
sensitive photographs that convey her love for the fawns, does and
bucks that inhabit the woods surrounding her home in nearby Spring Hill
Another cycling expedition
for the Campmeeting's Team Bradley
There's a reason people like George and Chris Resh didn't
see much of their neighbors, Sixth Street cottage owners Jeff and Nancy
Bradley, this summer.
Jeff, a former high school teacher who once placed 39th in the
Boston Marathon, was out on his bike again.
He's the guy who pedaled across the U.S.A. two years
ago. This past summer, he and Nancy made the 2,672-mile trip from the
southernmost tip of Florida (right) to the northernmost top of Maine.
Throughout the journey Nancy drove the support van as Jeff
pedaled and, between stops,
chronicled their 40-day
At left, Team Bradley celebrated their triumph in Bar Harbor with an
ice cream treat.
Joey's wise tips on closing
up your cottage for the winter
Closing up her
6th Street cottage for what may be the last time, Kate Paine prepares
to head for New England, where she's the new director of global
innovation for Ben & Jerry's ice cream empire. But she and Rod
Kobach, both natives of Pennsylvania, say Mt. Gretna's the place
they've liked best.
If there's a knack to getting the most out of a century-old cottage,
Joey Wise probably knows as much as anyone about how to do just that.
He's a maintenance specialist who each year shares with us his tips for
Mt. Gretnans -- with their special problems of cottages sheltered from
the sunlight, uneven terrain for vulnerable stepladders, leaves that
jam in latticework and outdoor faucets susceptible to winter
freeze-ups. All are part of the joys of cottage ownership. Hence,
Joey's tips for 2012:
Make gutters and downspouts your No. 1 priority. Even if you
have gutter screens, gutters can get clogged. If remnants of leaves and
other debris clog your drains, rain, snow and ice can back up under the
shingles to bring water into your house. (Joey strongly recommends a
3-foot-wide snow shield for anyone planning to replace their roof.
"It's almost a miracle product," he says. "Water may
back up under your shingles, but it can't come into your house with
these shields. They were used first in New England but only recently
have become popular here.")
Rake leaves away from the foundation to allow adequate
ventilation around your home. That will deter wood
Joey Wise: How
to stop trouble before it starts.
"Homes have to breathe, both around the base and in the
attic," he says.
Turn off water lines to outdoor faucets and disconnect hoses.
Joey says only about 20% cottages have frost-free faucets (which he
recommends for homes that are occupied year-round).
Check trees with limbs that hang over your roof. Last October's
surprise snowstorm damaged a lot of branches that may soon become
Clean your chimney of creosote, especially if you burn
unseasoned wood. Also, put fresh batteries in your smoke detector.
"You'd be surprised at the number of alarms that we discover with
Have your furnace serviced at the start of heating season.
(Winter is a good time to get your air conditioner checked so it will
be ready for spring, he adds.)
Check for cracks in caulking and weather stripping around
windows and doors.
When he's not on the job for
Mt. Gretna Borough, Joey Wise runs a home repair and maintenance
service. Email or call him at 717-304-3343.
Rhoda, something special's sure to follow
Looking for a way to inject a little extra, and early,
holiday spirit into your life this year?
Rhoda Long has an answer that will also lift the spirits
of Mt. Gretna's volunteer firefighters: Book a trip to the 85th
anniversary edition of the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio
City Music Hall in New York Wednesday, Dec. 5. For a preview, click here.
For this occasion, Rhoda has changed the trip format from
previous years. Instead of a matinee, she's opted for the 5 pm show.
"That gives everyone time to visit their favorite
stores and sights in Manhattan. Since the show is over at 6:30 pm,
they'll have time to stroll past Rockefeller Center, see the Christmas
displays and grab a bite to eat before boarding the bus at 8pm,"
Cost for the bus and the show is $115. Although
most will probably want to see the show, Rhoda has a plan for those who
don't (for them, the cost is only $50). As in previous years, all
proceeds go to the Mt. Gretna Fire Company.
Since the bus sometimes fills up early, it's a good idea
to act quickly, advises Rhoda, a veteran trip organizer with an
unerring instinct for 100% sellouts. Call her at 717-304-0248, or email
Why isn't something being done to hide that new pumping station
from public view? It's a shame to have something like that on a main
thoroughfare leading into a place like Mt. Gretna, especially since
they put it so close to Route 117. I thought they were going to have
shrubs or bushes or trees surrounding it by now.
We talked with West Cornwall Township supervisor Glenn Yanos, who's as
unhappy with the result as most other people. "Nobody likes the
way this thing turned out," he said, and he hopes to have a
well-thought-out plan underway by next spring.
"Several people in the community urged us to take our time and do
the right thing rather than the expedient thing," he said.
"So we're looking for the best ideas we can find, especially from
people with experience in landscape and design."
master gardeners, landscapers and other volunteers with ideas: The
sewer authority wants your suggestions to create an aesthetic barrier
around the pumping station completed last June on Route 117, Mt.
Gretna's main thoroughfare.
He says that the West Cornwall Sewer Authority is finishing up final
details of this project and will have time in November to start
"We welcome people to our meetings" (held on first Tuesdays
of every month at the township offices, 73 S. Zinns Mill Rd., at 7
Yanos adds that they'd hoped to locate the pumping station 20 or 30
feet back from where it ultimately wound up. An original plan, approved
by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, got changed
by the Army Corps of Engineers. "That left us less space to plant
trees, shrubs, bushes or vines," he says.
Yanos says he'd wanted to build a wooden pavilion around the structure,
like one he'd seen near the historic town of Antietam, Md. He
adds that the authority "had hoped that a green chain link fence
would help soften the appearance, but unfortunately it didn't. We're
not experts. We'd like to hear from people who have ideas that can make
this more appropriate from an aesthetic point of view for a place like
Mt. Gretna," he says.
Q. What happened to the bridge on Rexmont Road near Cornwall Iron Furnace? I like to use that road
when I drive over the back way from Mt. Gretna to Cornwall Manor and as a
The bridge may
remain closed "for months," say officials.
shortcut to Tony's Mining Company, one of my favorites. Do
you know when the road will be open again?
Cornwall Borough manager Steve Danz told us Sept. 28, "We have no
clue when the road will reopen. We are now in the process of picking an
engineer. We're anxious to get this thing started."
Danz says a highway superintendent discovered in August
that the bridge was structurally unstable, and officials closed it
immediately. (Rexmont Road remains open, however, to PRL Industries and
its subsidiary, Brenner Machine Co.)
Danz hopes to get bids out this year so construction work can be completed
sometime in 2013. He expects the costs to repair or replace the bridge
could run between $300,000 and $400,000.
Why isn't there a map of Mt. Gretna that shows not just the
Chautauqua and Campmeeting but all the places of interest, including
the rail-trail, the Governor Dick Tower and Nature Center as well as
streets and lanes on both sides of Route 117?
Good question. Now that you've raised it, maybe some enterprising group
will make it a project, perhaps as a fundraiser.
season begins, here's a timely tip from Moumba
This season's in color
Moumba is back again this year with a reminder to wear
orange for the next few months whenever you're walking along the rail
trail or near state game lands.
Christi Reistad of Timber Lane, the 5-year-old American Mastiff returns
with a reminder that squirrel and ruffed grouse season starts Oct. 13
and even earlier (Oct. 6) for eligible junior hunters.
also be out for wild turkey season Oct. 27 and for the big event, deer
season, which begins Nov. 26.
That's a time
when hikers, cyclists and joggers sometimes wisely opt to stay out of
the woods altogether, says Moumba.
Marian S. Potteiger (1921-2012)
Marian S. Potteiger, who had lived at the Timber Hills Apartments and
was a familiar figure in Mt. Gretna, died at age 91 Sept. 6 at Hershey
Born in Lebanon, she was a member of Mt. Gretna United Methodist Church
and had worked at Hershey Foods. She was known as an avid collector of
coins, vases, hats, dolls and jewelry and enjoyed writing, cooking,
gardening and antiques. A complete obituary appears online.
& Other Stuff
Mt Gretna Lakeside 2011 Madelaine Gray photo
MT. GRETNA PIZZERIA switches to new
hours for the winter season Oct. 1: They'll offer soups and dinner
specials this fall and coffee all day long. Also breakfasts Wednesdays
through Sundays starting at 7 am. Closed Mondays and open Tuesdays at
11 am. Normal closing time throughout the week is 8 pm. Tel. 964-1853.
THE WINTERITES launch their 63rd season Tuesday, Oct. 2
with a catered luncheon by Chef-on-the-Go Becky Briody at noon in
the Mt. Gretna Fire Hall. Cost: $15. Call Donna Kaplan,
964-2174, for reservations.
Monthly meetings (except in January) continue through
April, usually with guest speakers. The only other noon meeting is a
potluck holiday luncheon in December. All other sessions begin at 1 pm
and include desserts but no luncheon. Annual dues: $10. All Mt.
Gretnans, men as well as women, cordially invited.
MUSIC ON THE PORCH with Patsy Kline, Sunday, Oct. 7 from 1 to 4
pm. Come with a lawn chair and just listen or bring your fiddle, banjo
or bass and join the bluegrass jam at Governor Dick Park Nature Center. Questions?
FIRE COMPANY'S BLOCK SHOOT, a Mt. Gretna tradition
that's a fundraiser for the fire company and fun for the whole
community even if you don't have a shotgun. Saturday, Oct. 13, noon to
5 pm. Drawings, prizes, hot dogs and more... including that legendary
ham and bean soup with rivels (and if you have to ask "what's
rivels," you're simply not from around here).
GRETNA THEATRE GALA, Saturday, Oct. 13 at the Hotel
Hershey. Celebrate Gretna Theatre's 85th anniversary with a
champagne reception, 20 tables of silent auction items, wine, dinner,
dessert plus wingspan winner drawings, entertainment and the live
auction of jewelry to travel adventures and the opening of a treasure
chest filled with $1,000 cash. Details online or call
BOW WOW MEOW HALLOWEEN PARTY, Friday, Oct. 19, starting
6 pm at the Timbers Bar with 7:30
pm dinner. Organizer Peggy Seibert says this annual $60 per person
benefit for the Humane Society of Lebanon County is always a top
favorite of Mt. Gretna residents (even with last year's surprise snow,
the place was packed). This year's theme: 1970s disco (costumes
encouraged but not required) with a silent
auction, dancing, and sparkling conversation says Peggy, who invites
questions at 269-6343.
HALLOWEEN PARADE, an event you've got to see to believe.
Marchers far outnumber spectators in this, one of America's tiniest
parades. But pound for pound more fun than anything else you can do on
Friday night, Oct. 26, starting at the Jigger Shop at 6:30 pm and
stepping off down Route 117 toward the fire hall promptly at 7
pm. For a taste of what's right with America, come see for