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Mt. Gretna Newsletter
Gretna, Pa. "Not a place, but a spirit." Marlin Seiders (1927-2008)
January 1, 2014
NOTICE TO ONLINE READERS:
Owing to an early
deadline for the online edition, the following is a slightly condensed
version of the regular January Newsletter sent to readers on New Year's
If you would like to receive a copy of the final version by email, drop us a note with "JAN. 1 EDITION" in the subject line.
Now begins Mt. Gretna's 122nd New Year
With five measurable snowstorms that
started early in December and continued through a surprising sixth
storm that landed without warning early in the morning on the day after
Christmas, a scene like this seemed an appropriate way to open the
first newsletter of 2014 from Mt. Gretna.
This same picture, in fact, taken a few years ago
along 2d Street in the Campmeeting by photographer Madelaine Gray, is
the one she chose to make the centerpiece of her personalized Christmas
cards this year.
"Mt. Gretna creates a magic during
snowfalls," says Ms. Gray. For this scene, she donned her tall
winter boots to trudge through the deep snow and "get a photograph
with good light and blowing snow coming through the trees early in the
With photographs like this, it is easy to
understand why her work appears all over the world -- in galleries and
in magazines, on calendars and in books, and at outdoor art shows
across the country (including the one that takes place here every
August, not far from her front door).
She has become one of America's favorites and certainly
one of Mt. Gretna's ever since she moved here from Maryland a few years
Other enticing scenes appear throughout this issue, views
and settings captured by engaged and imaginative readers who throughout
the year send us an endless flow of new perspectives, new ways to
appreciate Mt. Gretna in all seasons.
From them, from us, and to all who share this unique
community, our very best wishes for a wonderful New Year.
These are the folks, volunteers all . . . and all with
exceptional talents, rare devotion and affection for the place they
live or frequently return to. . . who help produce The Mt.
Sara Ellis, Donna Kaplan, Nancy Besch, Vanessa Groce, Joe
Shay, Bill Care, Linda Bell, Bill Shoals, Jane Mourer, Kim Miller
Gardner, Debbie Clemens, Debby Erb, Evelyn Koppel, Tom Mayer,
Judy Bojko, Bob Hertzler, Madelaine Gray, Earl Lennington, Susie
Afflerbach, Stephanie Burris, Max Hunsicker, Elaine Baum, Fred Buch and
finally (and especially) my wife Carol -- who puts up with
late-night phone calls, sudden writing inspirations jotted down in
mid-conversation, late dinners and early disappearances into the inner
sanctum where embryonic impulses of yet another idea for the Mt.
Gretna Newsletter are sketched out).
End of the line for a 73-year-old bridge
The road to Colebrook will close
this month, but perhaps only for six weeks or so, to allow crews to
remove and replace this bridge. Originally built in 1941, it is now
officially classified as one of Pennsylvania's 577 bridges that are
Engineers hope to have the road open again
sometime early in March if the weather cooperates. They expect detours
will go up around Jan. 20, a few weeks later than originally planned.
PennDOT says the contract calls for all work,
including road paving after a new precast box culvert is in place, to
finish up by April 25. Since wetlands surround the area, however,
construction on the bridge itself must be completed by March 31 to
avoid interference with the active bog turtle season. The only work
permitted after that date will be final roadwork when temperatures
conducive to paving will allow short-term flagging operations with
During the construction phase, local traffic
to Colebrook will be detoured around Butler and Mine roads (shown on
the map in green). Truck and through traffic will use Routes 322 and
241 (shown in red). The portion of Route 117 shown in blue will be
closed to traffic.
Heim Construction, a 65-employee Pottsville, PA
firm, is handling the $313,000 project.
A rare glimpse into where it all started
It began with a phone call. Susan Hostetter,
one of the Chatauqua's newest residents, wanted to alert the president
of Mt. Gretna's historical society to an upcoming auction of some
40,000 postcards -- over 400 with scenes of Mt. Gretna -- part of a collection
from the estate of Jerry Hostetter, her late father-in-law.
She and husband Drew wanted to be sure they would become
part of the society's permanent collection and offered to buy them.
scenes like this suggest a tempo preferred by the Campmeeting's
You can bet that got Fred Buch excited.
But as head of the Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society,
something else in that auction held even greater promise:
Six postcards Mr. Buch had never seen before, scenes from the settlement
in Stoverdale, located 20 miles away and a forerunner to the
Campmeeting before it was moved to Mt. Gretna in 1892.
"We've got to have those," said an
ecstatic Mr. Buch. Not even the late historian Jack Bitner apparently
had ever glimpsed those photographs. It was a chance to have
"people who live in this community today know more about how this
place came to be," says Mr. Burch.
Had it not been for Stoverdale's
"worldly" neighbors (who indulged in such things as horse
racing, card playing and other activities unsettling to those in the
United Brethren Church), Mt. Gretna's future would have been altogether
different, says Mr. Buch.
The postcards purchased by the Society (with the
help of a generous financial gift from the Hostetters and volunteer
bidder Barney Myer), show scenes not unlike the Campmeeting in its
earliest days. That's because the Campmeeting founders, fed up with
noisy neighbors, moved their entire settlement from Stoverdale, near
Hummelstown, to establish the Campmeeting in Mt. Gretna.
grouped cottages in Stoverdale set a pattern for the future
(The move also set in motion what would
become a recurring confusion between Stoverdale the former settlement
and Stoberdale, the community founded by Jake Stober which now
encircles Mt. Gretna's popular Hideaway Tavern. But that's another
In any case, Mr. Buch is now delighted. He believes
that among the 424 postcards just acquired are many that have already
been captured as computer images from Morris Greiner, Roland Nissley
and Karl Gettle, the three local residents said to have the largest
they started a campmeeting in Mt. Gretna, Stoverdale folks loved life
by the water.
But the ones of Stoverdale, he suspects, are truly
rare. Few people have ever gotten a glimpse into the pre-1892 lives of
Mt. Gretna's earliest settlers.
The scenes suggest they were people not unlike those who
come here today -- for leisure, the opportunity to live life quietly in
an artistic setting, and to appreciate natural surroundings.
Mr. Buch and his Society colleagues are eager to
share their latest find with others. They encourage phone calls to set
up appointments to stop in at the Pennsylvania Avenue headquarters
during the winter months for a view of the new cards as well as other
parts of their growing collection.
encourages winter visitors with a yen for history to set up special
"Don't feel that you're putting us out
to open up for special visits or to do some research in the
library," he says. "That's what we're here
for." Volunteers like Pat Pinsler help arrange
special visits. A note behind lace curtains at the front door says it
all, and they mean it.
"Don't feel you'll be obligated if you call to stop by,"
repeats Mr. Buch. The number is 964-3858.
Yes, the cards are the story of an entire group
of people who wanted to go where it was quiet. Thank
heavens for occasionally rambunctious neighbors. They can sometimes
alter the course of history.
Contrary to the impression conveyed during at the Nov. 23 meeting of
the Lebanon County Commissioners, Sunoco Logistics' proposed
construction of an additional gas pipe line will not cut through
Governor Dick Park.
Park officials say the existing pipeline route, which any
additional line would closely parallel, actually crosses well to the
north of Governor Dick Park's 1,105-acres in Mt. Gretna.
That comes as welcome news to those concerned about potential
environmental impact to the forest, considered by many to be one of Mt.
Gretna's most valuable -- and fragile -- treasures.
Lebanon Valley Rail Trail founder (and Mt. Gretna area
resident) John Wengert has launched a $430,000 capital campaign to help
fund a northern extension of the rail-trail to Swatara State Park near
The 15.5 mile trail runs through Mt. Gretna and, with
125,000 users annually, has become one of Central Pennsylvania's most
popular recreational sites. It also serves as an exemplary model for
Mr. Wengert, who grew up in the family business (Wengert's
Dairy) started by his grandfather, now manages a dairy plant in
Lebanon. He returned to the area in 1996 after serving at the
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy headquarters in Washington, DC. Contributions
go to LVRT
Inc., PO Box 2043, Cleona PA 17042.
Updates -- Issued as
warranted to alert local residents to such conditions as temporary road
closings, utility repairs, shelter advisories for adverse weather, lost
pets and other matters affecting residents of the seven neighborhoods
served by the Mt. Gretna post office. Send an e-mail request, with
"LOCAL UPDATES" in subject line, to RogerTGroce@live.com.
This Week in Mt.
Gretna -- Issued during
the summer; a week-by-week listing of local events, sent by e-mail on
request. To add your name to the mailing list, e-mail email@example.com
Mt. Gretna Arts
Council Newsletter -- Now available only online (no mailed copies). Updated
to include news concerning groups dedicated to the arts in Mt. Gretna,
Calendar of Events, Summer Premier and Arts Council scholarships.Click here
bulletins -- E-mailed
updates on concert events, schedule changes and other news. See
"Join Our Mailing List" at http://gretnamusic.org/ FOUNDER Carl Ellenberger's blog
(highly recommended): Check for updates online at http://gretnamusic.blogspot.com/
Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society Newsletter -- Online
Mt. Gretna Bible
Festival Newsletter -- Mailed in the spring and fall without charge. Send
request to Bible Festival, P.O. Box 408, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064.
Park Newsletter -- Online and by e-mail. See
Department E-Mail Bulletins -- issued as warranted to update residents on events of
community interest, including crime alerts. To add your name to the
mailing list, e-mail request to firstname.lastname@example.org
Londonderry Township Newsletter -- of primary interest to Mt. Gretnans in Timber Hills,
Conewago Hill and Timber Bridge; online at http://southlondonderry.org/
Newsletter -- Available online and mailed to residents of the
Heights Newsletter -- e-mailed to Heights residents. Contact Michelle
About 60 noses pressed against big windows at
the Mt. Gretna Fire Hall Dec. 14 to catch a glimpse of Santa's arrival
on a fire truck.
Among them was one belonging to three-year-old
Hunter Koppel (right), grandson of Valley Road residents Sid and Evelyn
It was a festive occasion, complete with chicken nuggets,
macaroni and cheese, cookies, punch, oranges and toys for the
youngsters -- many with an agenda already in mind.
Hunter may have been momentarily perplexed as he
pondered Santa's "what do you want for Christmas" question,
but not for long. He quickly rattled off specific instructions: "Not
the Hungry Hippo game, just the missing marbles," said Hunter.
"Oh, and an orange cat named Marvin."
A few years ago Chautauquan Thatcher Bornman (who
shifts between assignments as Santa, Big Junk Day hot dog roaster and
the Great Pumpkin on Halloween) showed up for duty in a red suit and
big, black boots at the Mt. Gretna Nursery School where he lifted onto
his lap a four-year-old boy who wanted a not a toy tank, but "a
real tank, so I can drive around in it."
Thatch had to think quickly. "Well, son, I'm afraid
I can't do that. It's too big to fit in the sleigh and too heavy for
the reindeer to lift off the ground."
The youngster was undeterred. "You know what, Santa?
That's okay. My dad and I will drive to the North Pole to pick it
"If you're going to be Santa," says Thatch,
"you'd better be on your toes."
Globetrotting cyclist and entrepreneur
Bill Gentile, left, just joined the legions of area residents planning
to take the Mt. Gretna flamingo on worldwide travels this year.
Mr. Gentile, owner of Gretna
Bikes in Lancaster and exclusive North American distributor of a
powerful bike lighting system developed in Europe, is an enthusiastic
sportsman who'll join others in taking the friendly flamingo to distant
corners of the earth to raise money for the Mt. Gretna Fire Department
and spread the word about America's least-known best small
We're expecting flamingo photos from atop the Eiffel Tower, Mt.
Everest and the Taj Majal before the summer begins. Add yours to
To join the fun, stop in at La Cigale, donate $100 or more
to the firefighters and pick out your personalized pink flamingo. No
two are alike.
Maybe it's not exactly a topic for a New Year, but
I've been thinking lately about that old bridge on Rte. 117 they're
going to tear down this month. It's on the list of Pennsylvania's 577
"structurally deficient" bridges and, maybe its only
distinction after seven decades is that it finally made it to the top
of somebody's list.
They'll send the wrecking crews out in late January
to start the tear-down process and erect a new bridge in its place.
You're probably saying, "What bridge?"
Chances are you never even noticed it on the
way to Colebrook, but it's been there 73 years.
And no doubt what got me thinking about the
old bridge is that it faces a sad end to an undistinguished career.
As far as I know, there were no ribbon-cutting
ceremonies when it opened to traffic in 1941. No photographers took a
picture of the first car to cross over. And it never had a name.
It was the kind of bridge Simon and Garfunkel would
have breezed right past, too. It wasn't a bridge over troubled waters.
Heck, nobody knows if the stream that runs under it even has a
name. I'm told it's a tributary of the Conewago Creek.
But there it sat for over 70 years, right outside
one of the most artistic communities in America and, as far as I can
tell, no artist ever painted a picture. None of our musicians ever
wrote a song about it. And in a village filled with creative people
given to romantic impulses, nobody ever packed a picnic lunch and
spread a tablecloth alongside it. And you can bet nobody ever kissed a
pretty girl there on a moonlit night.
Things like that happen in Mt. Gretna, but not on
From an old bridge a fresh reminder.
a bridge that nobody ever notices.
So what prompts this sudden impulse of nostalgia,
other than the fact that it's the same age as I am (and suspicion grows
daily that I'm becoming structurally deficient, too) is the notion that
even when things get old they often have something useful to offer.
He's not as old as I am, but one of my favorite
characters is Russ Gibble, the 60-something roofer who has been a
supervisor in West Cornwall Township for over 30 years. He just won
re-election to another six-year term. Mr. Gibble's victory was close,
and among his trademarks is a distinguished beard. He's also a crackerjack
roofer and spends a lot of time on the rooftops of Mt. Gretna.
Anyway, he edged out his challenger by just six
votes, and you might say he won by a whisker. But what I like best
about him is a few years ago when they were talking about replacing the
old Mt. Gretna Roller Skating Rink with townhouses, Mr. Gibble balked.
"I go roller skating there every week," he said. "I
drive a 40-year-old truck, and I like old things." The townhouse
idea got scuttled. And Russ Gibble won a spot in our hearts.
I like old things, too. And maybe old bridges, like
old people, have something to teach.
All in all, that bridge added something special to
our lives. It lengthened an uninterrupted ribbon of highway through
some of Central Pennsylvania's most scenic and serene woodlands. It
also gave Mt. Gretnans a shortcut to Collins Grocery, where you can
find just about everything you need, whether you're baking a cake or
fixing a pot roast dinner. It shortened the time to Elizabethtown and
the train to New York City. And it served as part of the habitat for
bog turtles (which is why contractors will have to scurry to finish the
new bridge before turtle activities start up again around March 31.)
While construction is underway this winter, we'll
have to detour around the western portion of Rte. 117.
We'll manage to do that, of course, and by spring
the minor inconvenience will have faded from memory.
But maybe we shouldn't so quickly forget. Maybe the
lasting gift of this unremarkable old bridge is its reminder of things
unnoticed: things -- and people -- that add a quiet, rhythmic cadence
to our lives.
P.S. This is where I usually remind readers that
this newsletter is utterly unofficial, not written for any political or
profit-making purpose. I just enjoy writing, talking and corresponding
with about 2,000 people around the world who also happen to like Mt.
It comes out more or less monthly, but next month
I'll be off on another project and will skip the February edition. Lord
willing and the creek don't rise, I'll be back in March. Hope to see
on the subscriber list are never shared, sold, rented or traded with
anyone else for any purpose whatsoever.
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