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Mt. Gretna Newsletter No. 49 July 5, 2005



What does the price of oil have to do with smoothing out the bumps along Route 117? Soaring costs of petroleum-based asphalt, leaping nearly 50 percent in the past year, would seem to dampen any hopes of getting our major thoroughfare fixed anytime soon in this era of extreme budget-squeezing. Because their coffers are empty, small towns all across America are relegating decaying roadways like ours to Band-Aid solutions.


But wait. Here in Mt. Gretna, there may be a light at the end of our tree-canopied corridor.


Transportation planners and municipal officials were here last week to peer into what now seems dimly in the distance but could, with a bit of luck, become a shining reality in the next two years: Converting Route 117 into Lebanon County’s first Scenic Byway, a totally resurfaced route complete with bicycle paths four-to-six feet wide on both sides, stretching from Route 72 to Colebrook.


Tom Kotay, recently retired from PennDOT and now working for Lebanon County’s planning team, thinks Route 117 would be an ideal candidate for the scenic byways program, which seeks to preserve and improve roads based on their cultural, historic, natural, recreational, archaeological and scenic qualities. So do county transportation planner John Fitzkee and PennDOT’s new Lebanon County manager John Smith, who now sometimes travels through Mt. Gretna on his way to work. Smith is proposing that Route 117 be rebuilt in 2007.


They met last week with borough officials and Earl Meyer, Lebanon County’s planning chief.


Tom, who grew up in Lebanon County, says the process through which federal and state funds are released for such projects is “complex,” but he seems to know his way around the labyrinth of grants and other funding sources. “Combined with the rail-trail project, this would make a nice loop route in the Mt. Gretna area,” he says. Borough manager Bill Care agrees. “For an area like ours, it’s perfect,” says Bill, a competitive cyclist who was himself seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver on Route 117 four years ago. “With increasing numbers of bikers, runners and hikers, a project like this would be one of the best things to happen here in a long time,” he says.





Mt. Gretna history buffs are ecstatic over their latest find: A military ammunition truck that once rumbled along Mt. Gretna’s roads, fields and byways --- recently discovered sitting in a garage only three miles away.


Preserved in its original condition --- with kerosene lamps and an operating manual listing every single part down to nuts, bolts, springs, shovels and buckets, the 1918 Dodge could, if all goes well, be on permanent display here at the historical society’s planned museum. Historian Jack Bitner, turning 88 this month yet scarcely able to contain his enthusiasm, hopes other donors will pitch in to help cover the cost of acquisition, estimated at $12,000.


Still in its olive drab color (and pictured at, the truck has about 4,000 original miles on its odometer. It was a part of the Mt. Gretna military scene until the encampment here moved to Ft. Indiantown Gap in the 1930s.


“Time is of the essence,” says Jack, who knows a vintage Mt. Gretna artifact when he sees one and thinks this would make a jim-dandy centerpiece for the museum someday. He’s asking donors to send their tax-deductible contributions, earmarked for the “1918 Mt. Gretna Ammunition Truck,” to: Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society, P.O. Box 362, Mount Gretna, PA 17064.





Is something up at Verizon’s Mt. Gretna cell tower? More cellular companies planning to add their antennas and begin service here? No one’s talking right now. But when we asked last February, Verizon said flatly, “no other wireless carrier has expressed interest in leasing space.”


Yet when we posed the same question last month, the official response came in decidedly more measured tones. A Verizon official said that any leasing arrangement “would be a confidential business agreement if/when it occurs. The site is available to other carriers, but that is all I can state.”


Which, in a world of CorporateSpeak, we interpret to mean, “Something’s up. But we’re not talking until it’s in the bag.”


Ah, for the good ol’ days, when people talked like they did on “Gunsmoke,” down at the Long Branch Saloon.





Inspired by Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, our headline suggests that real estate is sometimes what you make of it. Yet with all the digital gadgets Shakespeare lacked that now are at our disposal, nobody can say for sure whether there are more Mt. Gretna cottages for rent nowadays than ever. It seems that way as you walk around and discover “For Rent” signs where you least expected them. But if so, why?


Realtor Fred Schaeffer, a 21-year veteran of the business, counts about 25 to 30 cottages now on the rental market, including those offered privately. Although he has not been actively involved in rentals for some time, he suspects the number is up a bit from years gone by.


Fred says it’s only a guess, but he thinks more second-home buyers today are looking at their cottages as income-producing investments, rather than strictly for personal use. He cited 13 Campmeeting cottages currently for rent (at weekly prices ranging from $400 to $700) and nine in the Chautauqua, at rates ranging from $650 to $810 a week.





With lavish Big Band sounds, wine from a popular local vintner, and an enviable cachet as THE social event to close out last year’s summer season, you’d think organizer Ceylon Leitzel would have thought of everything for this year’s Big Band Bash at the Lake Aug. 27. Even Thursday night swing dance lessons, starting this month.


Now, however, comes word that he’s added yet another attraction.


Consulting astronomers and astrologers, Ceylon promises something that hasn’t been seen in the last 5,000 years and won’t be glimpsed again for perhaps another 60,000 years.


For as the band plays through the evening of Ceylon's big bash, Mars will be drifting to its closest point to Earth, becoming the largest object in the sky, almost as bright as the moon itself. “Nobody alive will ever see this again,” says Ceylon, the consummate promoter.


He still has a few tables left at the lake, and plenty of space for folks to bring their own lawn chairs to relax under the stars while glimpsing Mars. The gala affair will continue from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m., as the Red Planet ascends toward its zenith.


Everyone’s invited to bring their own snacks, nonalcoholic drinks, even their own wineglasses. Call 964-1829 to reserve a space. Cost: $18. Ceylon’s throwing Mars in free.



IN BRIEF (45 words or less)


[] The Campmeeting’s community picnic, previously scheduled for July 30, has been postponed to some time in 2006. We’ll pass along the date for next year as soon as it’s set, so you can put this popular communitywide event back on your calendar.


[] Pancakes and sausage are on tap at the firehall this Sunday, July 10. The fun, food and fellowship continue from 8 a.m. to Noon. And the cost? Whatever you decide to give our firefighters. You won’t find a better deal on the planet.


[] Governor Dick officials adopted a forest-stewardship plan that stresses curbing deer and removing invasive plants. In a compromise that met general approval, they set aside, at least for a few years, any plans to thin out trees on a 110-acre tract within the 1,105-acre park.


[] Now seeking volunteers to help root out invasive plants, plant new trees and pitch in on other chores needing attention in the park, Governor Dick’s board hopes to enlist the support of those 400 concerned citizens who recently signed petitions, says secretary Carol McLaughlin.


[] That speed trailer on loan here along Route 117 has had a definite impact on motorists. Police Chief Bruce Harris hopes to buy one to keep permanently. Depending on size and other options, costs range from $8,000 to $12,000. He’s hoping for a $5,000 grant.


[] Reactions Linda Bell gets as a Stop/Go sign gal? “People sometimes are shocked to see the borough secretary out on the road. They don’t realize there are only a few of us. And sometimes it takes us all to get a job done.”


[] With lantern slides from the army encampment in 1898, memorabilia enthusiast Jim Brown, 203 Brown Ave. (and Towson, MD), seeks old Mt. Gretna photos and a copy of a newspaper published here in 1892 to add to his collection.


[] What’s a “talking stick?” A democratizing device passed around Indian campfires. While they held it, anyone could speak, even youngsters. Chris Resh teaches you how to make one at the Library July 27, at 7 p.m. Sounds like a great tool for assuring domestic tranquility.


[] Veteran firefighter Scott Galbraith urges everyone to show street address numbers conspicuously on their homes. “Walking through Mt. Gretna, I notice many homes where numbers are hidden or nonexistent. High visibility benefits everyone: those needing --- and those delivering --- emergency services,” he says.


[] “The Buried Treasure of Mt. Gretna” author Charlotte Valentine will speak at the Library July 20 at 7 p.m. Charlotte says her book is helping “spread the word that Mt. Gretna is a magical place.” Remember When Gift Shop has copies: 964-2231, e-mail


[] Shelby Applegate invites visitors to her 203 Valley Road studio. “Stop by, stroll through my gardens. Artists can come paint or sketch,” she says. “I sometimes remember to put an “OPEN” sign out. Ring the bell or call ahead (964- 2342 ) to be sure I’m there.”




30 Years the Timbers Dinner Theater has been doing musical revues since the Briody family first opened for business 45 years ago. This season’s offering starts July 12 with “Jump In,” featuring the music of Mt. Gretna’s Andy Roberts on piano and keyboards, Dave Lazorcik on drums, and newcomer Mike Kondrat on bass. And the tunes you’ll hear? “Kids,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “We’re in the Money,” “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” “Cheek to Cheek” and others. Dinner starts at 6 p.m., the show begins at 8 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays, with matinees on Wednesdays and sometimes Saturdays, too. Buffet or menu dining, starting at $22.50. The shows run through Sept. 3. Reservations: 964-3601.


43 Percent increase in auto accidents caused by debris falling off other vehicles in the past four years, according to this month’s Reader’s Digest magazine. Mt. Gretna travelers Roger and Carol Groce swerved to avoid a wheel headed straight toward them on Interstate 95 last December; the abruptly unbolted wheel hurtled from a car traveling in the opposite direction at 80 mph. Gordie and Joan Lehman struck a ladder falling off a truck near Jacksonville, Fla. in May, smashing a radiator and disabling their auto for a full day.


72 Incandescent streetlights remaining in Mt. Gretna Borough --- all aging, with no replacement parts available. They’re among the last of that type still used in the Met Ed system (only the City of Reading, with 51, also has a few remaining incandescent lamps).

Because our antique lights will need to be replaced someday, community officials now are beginning to explore what’s available, seeking alternatives that harmonize with the area’s historical character and traditions.

They’ll consider, of course, the varieties of streetlights Met Ed offers and installs free. But if they don’t like what they see, they’ll be forced to buy and maintain fixtures on their own, an expensive, time-consuming option. “Nothing’s going to happen immediately,” says manager Bill Care. “We just know that someday we’ll have to replace them, and we want to be ready.”


100 Transactions per month averaged since last October at Jonestown Bank's ATM, located under the porch at Le Sorelle cafe. Operations VP Joe Liebo expects use to surge this summer, just as it did when the bank had a smaller ATM model inside the former Mt. Gretna Deli. He says 200 transactions a month is "good performance" but doubts the costly machine installed outdoors will ever pay for itself. "We did it more as a community service," he says. "We like the idea of being associated with Mt. Gretna.”


450 Heritage Festival patrons so far this season, singing and dancing to Doo Wop and Bluegrass music at the first two concerts. Next in the series: Tom Meredith, recounting “Early Days in the Campmeeting” in a July 16 program sponsored by the historical society. The series concludes July 30 with The Lebanon Big Swing Band. All programs start at the Tabernacle at 7 p.m.


10,000,000 Impressions planned in Gretna Theater’s current ad campaign, running in newspapers throughout Central Pennsylvania. Part of the big push essential in this era of growing competition for the entertainment dollar. Folks wondering why theater attendance seems off nowadays may find it useful to recall that when the Playhouse got started, it was one of the few entertainment choices available. American Music Theater, Sight & Sound, Dutch Apple, the Strand and the Whitaker Center didn’t exist. Neither did TV, iPods or the Internet. Nor air-conditioning, now so essential to some moderns they’re putting air-conditioners on golf carts. Even the movie industry, faced with sagging box-office revenue, now is offering money-back guarantees if you don’t like their films, The Wall Street Journal reported last week. In the entertainment business, it’s a tough, tough world out there.


[Editor’s Note: For a glimpse into what Gretna Theater was like nearly 60 years ago, hear Jack Graham’s presentation “Gretna Theater: The Coghlan Years,” July 29 in the Hall of Philosophy, starting at 7:30 p.m.]




[] One of the highlights of my teenage years long ago was working as a waitress at "The Inn." I was excited to learn in your newsletter that a reunion of employees is planned. Who is organizing this event? I want to get more information. Is there any attempt to contact former employees or is word being passed informally?


<> George Resh is organizing the event and encourages all former employees to attend the “Evening of Memories of The Chautauqua Inn,” Friday, Aug. 12 at 7:30 p.m. in the Hall of Philosophy. George says three or four speakers will get the discussions started. Afterwards, everyone will be invited to share comments, questions and memories.


Historical Society president Fred Buch encourages all former Inn employees, including those now living in other cities, states and countries, to contact him at, with their street and e-mail addresses and telephone numbers. The society may hold similar programs in the future. And they are building a list of prospective oral history interviewees.


Fred adds that the society also needs sponsors to cover the $500 cost of professionally videotaping the August reunion.


[] Where are those Wednesday night movies being shown? I understand they have some great old classics in the lineup.


<> Indeed they do, and you can catch them at the Hall of Philosophy, next to the Jigger Shop, starting July 13 at 7:30 p.m. The series begins with “The Jolson Story,” rated as Hollywood biography at its best and nominated for six Academy Awards in 1946. Tunes like “Swanee” and “Sonny Boy” are two of the show stoppers in this MGM musical. That’s followed on July 20 by “The Jazz Singer,” another Jolson tribute, with "Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye", "Blue Skies", and "Mammy." Great entertainment? Nothing you’ll see on Wednesday night TV even comes close.




Are we like Los Angeles, which Dorothy Parker called “100 suburbs in search of a city.”


It sometimes seems so, especially to people who call the borough office and are shocked to discover that, officially speaking, they don’t live in Mt. Gretna.


In spirit, of course, we’re all Mt. Gretnans. Ours is a village too tiny to get hung up on formal boundaries, especially when volunteers gather to get something done. Or when there’s a police or fire emergency (just dial 911, and you get a response from whoever’s closest).


But technically speaking, our collection of seven different neighborhoods (Campmeeting, Chautauqua, Conewago Hills, Mt. Gretna Heights, Stoberdale, Timber Bridge and Timber Hills) fall into three distinct municipalities.


Now and then, a refresher seems in order, notably on occasions such as last month, when some folks thought “Large Item Collection Day” applied to everybody everywhere, not just those in Mt. Gretna borough. So, in the spirit of clarity (we hope), here’s the way things stack up:


People who live South of Route 117 (Campmeeting, Chautauqua, Mt. Gretna Heights and Stoberdale) fall under either the borough or West Cornwall Township. Those west of Pinch Road live in the borough. Those east of Pinch Road live in West Cornwall. For both, their school district is Cornwall-Lebanon.


Mt. Gretnans living North of Route 117 (Conewago Hills, Timber Bridge, Timber Hills) are officially part of South Londonderry Township. Their children go to school in the Palmyra School District.


Got that? Good. It’s something we have to write down from time to time to keep it all straight ourselves. Of course, nothing’s ever simple. There’s a tiny sliver of land where the Carousel once stood in South Annville Twp. (it touches the area just in back of the store). Then there’s the matter of those 205 homes in the borough. They’re also part of the Pennsylvania Chautauqua, which owns most of the public land but leaves street repairs up to the borough and water delivery up to the Mt. Gretna Authority. But that’s just too confusing, so we’ll save it for another day. All we know is that it must have made sense back in 1892. And something about its bewildering, inefficient charm has a certain appeal, even today.


Kindest regards,


Roger Groce

P.S. We continue to be indebted to the many people who help make this newsletter such a satisfying pursuit. . . to those who send us the news, ask the questions, and provide the guidance on everything that transpires in this tiny community so abounding with talent, dedication and goodwill. . . also to those who help keep friends and neighbors informed by forwarding copies wherever in the world they happen to be. . . and finally to Keith and Robin Volker, whose technical skills enable us to post back issues on the Web at To one and all, our heartfelt appreciation.




{::} Need someone to check your cottage while you're away? Bob Sims of “Your Watchful Eye” donates 10 percent of his monthly fees from new clients to Mt. Gretna's Arts Council. Tel. (717) 665-7348 or 575-2375; e-mail:


{::} Tuesdays are Mt. Gretna Fire Company Night at Farmer’s Hope Inn on Route 72, just north of the turnpike. Tell them you’re a Mt. Gretnan. Owners Tim and Terri Brown cheerfully send 10 percent of your bill to our firefighters. Tel. (717) 664-4673 or 273-4500.