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The Mt. Gretna Newsletter

Mt. Gretna, Pa. "Not a place, but a spirit."       Marlin Seiders (1927-2008)

No. 146    

PRELIMINARY                                                                                                              January 1, 2014



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 Day.
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 morning."     

   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 ago.
   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. Gretna Newsletter:
   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 Co 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 "structurally deficient."

   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 single-lane closures.

   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.

Tranquil scenes like this suggest a tempo preferred by the Campmeeting's founders

   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.

Closely grouped cottages in Stoverdale set a pattern for the future Campmeeting. 

    (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 story.)
    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 collections.

Even before 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.

 A sign encourages winter visitors with a yen for history to set up special appointments  

   "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 Jonestown.
   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 rail-trails nationally.
   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.


Other newsletters of interest:

Mt. Gretna 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

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 

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 

Gretna Music bulletins -- E-mailed updates on concert events, schedule changes and other news. See "Join Our Mailing List" at FOUNDER Carl Ellenberger's blog (highly recommended): Check for updates online at
Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society Newsletter -- Online at 

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.

Governor Dick Park Newsletter -- Online and by e-mail. See 

Cornwall Police 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 

South Londonderry Township Newsletter -- of primary interest to Mt. Gretnans in Timber Hills, Conewago Hill and Timber Bridge; online at 

Campmeeting Newsletter -- Available online and mailed to residents of the Campmeeting.

Mt. Gretna Heights Newsletter -- e-mailed to Heights residents. Contact Michelle Shay,   




   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 Hostetter.
   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 up."
  "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 town.  
  We're expecting flamingo photos from atop the Eiffel Tower, Mt. Everest and the Taj Majal before the summer begins.  Add yours to the collection.
   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.
    Roger Groce  

    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. Gretna.

  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 you then.

   My privacy policy is simple: E-mail addresses on the subscriber list are never shared, sold, rented or traded with anyone else for any purpose whatsoever.








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