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The Mt. Gretna Newsletter

No. 78 Adding Warmth When It’s Needed January 10, 2008 8:22 PM


Time was when Mt. Gretnans endured 60 hours without power and nobody much noticed. Pete Light, the retired dentist who’s lived atop Conewago Hill for most of his more than eight decades, says that when electricity failed in the 1920s and 1930s, it didn’t make any difference.

For one thing, few people lived in Mt. Gretna in those days. After September, most cottages were unoccupied. Those who remained put their trust in kerosene lamps and wood stoves rather than in Mr. Edison’s still dubious invention. The town’s only transformer, supplying current to a solitary streetlight near the tennis courts and a handful of homes, was more a symbol of curiosity than constancy. Many regarded it with the same skeptical looks that, only a few years ago, hybrid cars received from passing motorists.

All that has changed, of course. As years passed, new generations came to Mt. Gretna—bringing lifestyles wholly dependent on electricity. Several who were born here chose to remain (see “Numbers,” this issue). Among them are people who generate their own kind of energy—even when Met Ed falters.

Often, you’ll find them among fire company volunteers. Throughout December’s three-day ordeal, they worked long into the night, forgoing friends and family in the days before Christmas to help neighbors, tackle trees and electrical lines buckled by the ice storm, and give temporary shelter and comfort to Mt. Gretna’s older citizens. As hours without power turned into days without heat, those whose years number 100 or more found that life-threatening fears can suddenly loom large. Warm shelter becomes critical.

Karen Lynch, a fire company volunteer for more than 30 years, is among those energetic folks who were born here. “I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” she says. She loves the people, the town, the spirit of helping. December’s sudden anguish sharpened her awareness of those virtues. “I saw my neighbors inviting older people into their homes, which are heated by wood-burning stoves. Things like that happen here all the time. The storm simply brought another reminder.”

That’s one reason Karen and others at the fire company are holding a special fundraiser this month—an Italian night dinner to raise money for a larger generator needed for their new 2,300 sq. ft. addition. The old generator, installed years ago, won’t be adequate in the expanded quarters. Officials expect that a new generator could cost around $10,000. But it will provide heating and air-conditioned shelter year-round during emergencies.

“Many people have difficulty breathing when it’s cold,” Karen says. “They can’t stand to be without heat for days at a time.”

Although an Italian dinner is a new venture, she and her friends are confident that Mt. Gretnans will turn out for this all-you-can-eat, pay-what-you-want buffet on Jan. 19. They’ll be offering a feast prepared by Chef-on-the-Go Becky Briody, complete with pasta, Becky’s special sauce and meatballs, salad, Italian bread, drinks and desserts from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Why are they doing it? What prompts firefighters who respond to 130 or 140 emergency calls in a typical year to hold yet another fundraiser? On top of three community-wide breakfasts, a pig roast in September, lunches for the increasingly popular block shoots, the Halloween parade party and visits with Santa for children?

“Generators are expensive,” says Karen. Yes, and human generators—those who bring caring, concern and warmth in time of need—are irreplaceable.


[] Chautauqua officials are “very close” to signing a lease with a new tenant who’ll begin operations this year at the former gift shop. Officially known as the Literary and Scientific Circle, the facility will take on a new role this year—one that we’re told will “fit in” with Mt. Gretna’s tastes and traditions. An announcement is expected shortly.

[] Weather permitting, Feb. 4 is the date for Mt. Gretna’s road resurfacing project to begin on Rte. 117. Burkholder paving crews will start in the center of town, getting much of the work done before summer’s crush. They’ll work in groups of six to 18, usually from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., although occasional late evenings may extend to 7 p.m., says Burkholder’s Dave Powers.

“During most of the work, we’ll have traffic controls—including flaggers. And there could be some short travel delays when we have the road down to a single lane. But we plan to have all the work in town completed by Memorial Day, which would allow us to continue on the outskirts without interruption to Mt. Gretna’s summer schedule,” he says.

Dave promises that no work will be done during art show weekend. In fact, he expects to forgo weekend work altogether as long as they can finish the job by their scheduled Sept. 5 completion date.

[] Mt. Gretna newcomers soon discover two reference works that quickly ascend to the status of personal essentials.

The first is Jack Bitner’s “Mt. Gretna: A Coleman Legacy,” which, even though it is no longer in print, is nevertheless available from the 90-year-old author himself. Jack likes nothing better than spending afternoons on his expansive front porch along Muhlenberg Avenue, chatting with people discovering Mt. Gretna for the first time.

The second is the "Calendar of Events," compiled annually by Arts Council volunteers—chiefly, renowned chocolate authority Dr. Jeffrey Hurst and wife Deborah, the town’s librarian. Together, they piece together assorted bits of information, weaving them into a comprehensive, indispensable whole.

The compact 80-page guidebook serves as a beacon for charting one’s way through the often bewildering array of summer offerings. Miraculously appearing every year in time for the grand summer premier, the calendar heralds the launch of another season. The deadline for submitting entries for the 2008 calendar is fast approaching—probably in mid-March. So if you have something you’d like to include, it’s wise to send it in now (P.O. Box 513, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064.)

[] Postmaster Steve Strickler is thinking up ways to encourage folks to make sure post office box numbers appear in their Mt. Gretna address. The postal service is gradually switching over to automated mail sorting equipment. The machines look first for P. O. box numbers on an envelope. If there's only a street address, the mail goes into a bin that he and Kathy Dugdale must sort by hand.

What this means is that once automated sorting equipment gets installed here, mail addressed to your P. O. box will arrive first thing in the morning. But mail with only a street address will take longer, even if it's in a first-class envelope.

Steve thinks he may set up a big display board in the lobby to show what a properly addressed, machine-sortable envelope ought to look like. Meanwhile, he’s fairly sure that the new system will eventually get here. Cornwall started sorting mail automatically several years ago. Campbelltown switched to automated sorting equipment last year. Both offices are smaller than ours.

Roughly 65 percent of the envelopes and packages arriving in Mt. Gretna already have post office box numbers, Steve estimates. But he thinks we'll need to be at the 85- to 90-percent level to qualify for sorting machines. The changeover to automated sorting could come as early as this year.

[] “The Mt. Gretna Suite,” an original composition by Dr. Daryl Hollinger, will be on the program here this year during the Harmonia Music Club’s annual celebration of American Composers Month. The Nov. 8 afternoon concert will take place at the Hewitt-McAnney home, 1 Princeton Ave. Hollinger is dean of the chapel, organist and an adjunct faculty member at Lancaster Theological Seminary.

[] Cicada Festival organizers have booked their fifth act for the 2008 season. Ceylon Leitzel says “The Philly Horn Band” has been bringing its multimedia light show—with nine musicians (including three drummers)—to sellout audiences. The Motown, disco and top 40s hit music group joins a lineup that includes the popular Hershey Symphony (which sold out in its first appearance here two years ago) and Phil Dirt and the Dozers—Cicada’s “most-requested” favorite.

The week-long festival opens Aug. 5 with “Beetle Invasion” and also includes the “Summer Harmony” men’s chorus.

Tickets will go on sale in late February at, but ticket orders—processed according to earliest postmark dates—won’t be filled until the box office opens in June.

Biggest misconception about the Cicada Festival? People sometimes think that their $8 ticket purchase covers all costs, says coordinator Laura Feather. “But at least a third of the all-volunteer festival's budget depends on donations. They often overlook that 'tax deductible donation' spot on the order form, as well as the SASE request to defray postage costs,” she says. "But every little bit helps, even five dollars."


Visitors arriving in Mt. Gretna for the first time—and supposing that a quaint little town might be a great place to buy a cottage—are often in for a surprise.

It is natural for newcomers to assume that Mt. Gretna is influenced by more or less the same conditions affecting real estate markets everywhere. Thus, although maybe not expecting to find a bargain, they might reasonably hope to have a bountiful selection of properties to choose from. Such assumptions, they soon discover, teeter on the slipperiest of slopes.

For Mt. Gretna is not like most other places in the country, or even in Lebanon County. And nowhere is that truer than in the mercurial world of real estate. What applies to the rest of America has little currency here—a fact that yields a decided home court advantage to local realtors who know their stuff.

Few homes and cottages ever come up for sale. In all, a little more than 25 last year, roughly the same number as the year before. Historically, about 37 of Mt. Gretna’s 725 homes and cottages change hands each year.

Nor do most people buying properties in Mt. Gretna do so with the hope of making a quick profit. What motivates most buyers is the chance to tap into an altogether different flavor of life—memories for their children, a turn away from the hurly burly of metropolitan areas and sprawling suburbs, a chance to spend time among others who share their appreciation for culture, recreation and quiet.

That is why some families never give up their cottages. The Hannemanian, on Glossbrenner Avenue in the Campmeeting, has been in Lois Hopkins’ family for over 115 years. With its distinctive Gretna Green shingles, it looks almost exactly the way it did when her grandfather, a doctor, had it built in 1892. “I haven’t gussied it up,” she says. Lois’ children, a long line of grandchildren, and now a growing roster of great-grandchildren are patiently waiting their turn to take it over.

So whenever one reviews Mt. Gretna's real estate marketplace, sampling statistics gathered over the past year, account must be taken of the lives, joys and satisfactions that attend to the business of buying, owning and enjoying a cottage here.

That, as in every year’s real estate statistics, is what is filters through the unadorned totals of the past year. Twenty-seven homes and cottages were sold in 2007, four fewer than they year before according to the unerringly precise tallies of realtor Fred Schaeffer.

For nearly a quarter century, Fred has charted Mt. Gretna’s property sales, even those made privately. Last year, they ranged in price from $95,000 to $295,000 in the Campmeeting, from $230,000 to $370,000 in Timber Hills, and from $182,000 to $430,000 in Chautauqua.
Winterized cottages remain the most popular, Fred says, with the median price of the 13 that were sold last year—in both the Campmeeting and Chautauqua—now topping $300,000.

So what would our mythical visitors conclude from all this?

Well, for one thing, they’re not likely to find a “bargain,” although the occasional “handyman’s special” is always a possibility. But bargains below $100,000 are rare. And, having found one, new owners lavishing love, labor and devotion can sometimes transform it almost magically.

But that’s not where the real payoffs occur. In real estate spreadsheets, sandwiched between the totals for purchase cost, repairs, taxes and other data, there’s no column for Enduring Happiness. But there probably ought to be.


5 Thursdays in July this year -- probably the best discovery greeting organ music devotees as they flipped through the 2008 calendars their insurance companies, hairdressers and fuel oil companies provided last month.

Thursdays in July are when organ music wafts over “the Point,” that triangle opposite the post office, at the intersection of Pinch Road, Rte. 117 and Princeton Avenue. There, for the past decade, organ concerts at the home of Peter Hewitt and Walter McAnney have attracted performers and patrons from throughout the country, adding yet another distinction to Mt. Gretna’s summer arts schedule.

This year, Peter has filled the five dates with names both proven and promising. Todd Davis is coming from Carlisle, and Lancaster’s Peter Brown will be here as well. From “San Francisco by way of Juilliard” will be Keenan Boswell. Another Juilliard student added to the schedule this week is Joseph A. Arndt. Gary Garletts, from the Main Line in Delaware County, has also committed to be here, says Peter.

14 Native-born Mt. Gretnans who continue to live here as adults.

Our roster doesn’t include such venerable names as Pete Light, Pat Attwood, Peg Hicks Byford, Pat Pinsler, Mary Ellen McCarty and others who were born elsewhere but spent their early childhood years here – often during winters when they were the only kids in town.

No, our listing is confined only to those who, after the stork first deposited them in Mt. Gretna, remained or returned. They include fire company volunteer Karen Lynch, who was born in the Heights and moved to Timber Hills at age two and now lives in the Campmeeting; Jessica Kosoff, one of Mt. Gretna’s most energetic volunteers; Jigger Shop co-owner Drew Allwein; Le Sorelle co-owner Stephanie Lamont Bost and her sister Jessica Lamont; Judy Schweingruber and her sister Kim Miller (widow of beloved composer and arranger Rodney Miller, who served 22 years as the Timbers’ co-musical director); Patty Zentz Reichenbach (daughter of former Hideaway owners Skip and Dottie Zentz); computer specialist Tom Shay who grew up on Timber Road and recently returned to live in the Heights on Maple Avenue; Sarah Minnich, who now enjoys a versatile career as both a chef and professional painter; Janelle Ditzler McLeod, whose husband is “the pressure-washing guy” seen everywhere around town nowadays; and Rachel, Becky and Tap (Roberts)—all of whom grew up in the Timbers Dinner Theater traditions spawned by their dad, the late John Briody.

17 Power outages affecting Met Ed customers in Mt. Gretna last year—eight of them coming in the storm which started Dec. 16 and coated trees and electrical lines with inch-thick ice that glistened in the chilly early morning sunlight.

Ice storms are one of the toughest hardballs Nature can throw at a utility company, along with heavy, wet snows and high winds. Tornados, another devastating threat, “usually leave a smaller geographic footprint,” says Met Ed’s Dan Logar. (December’s storm affected 51,000 of the utility’s 70,000 Lebanon customers, 94 percent of whom had service restored within 48 hours. It took nearly three days, however, before everyone in Mt. Gretna had power. (See Dale Grundon’s photos:

Using crews from Ohio and New Jersey, Penelec and contractor firms, Met Ed put a small army to work: 639 linemen, 300 support staff, 150 dispatchers, 123 tree crews and 17 foresters. They repaired 240 poles, 400 crossarms, 75 transformers and 21 miles of wire, the company reports.

Why did emergency crews sometimes suddenly stop working even though they were already in Mt. Gretna? Safety rules limit the number of hours they can stay on the job. Met Ed finds that its “16-hour work, 8-hour rest” schedule lessens fatigue, accidents and injuries. “Most crews start work during daylight hours and continue until around 11 at night,” Dan notes. “The crews are generally more productive during daylight, when problems are visible and can be repaired more efficiently. But we also had crews working overnight—starting in mid-afternoon and continuing until around 7 the next morning.” The utility set up a staging area at the Lebanon Expo Center so line crews could get material and fuel without returning to the central office.

Was this storm worse than others? “This one caused more damage than any I saw in Erie during the 1980s or in York when I was there in the mid-90s,” says Dan. “It wasn’t confined to Mt. Gretna. We also had significant damage in Lebanon city and the areas around Grantville, Bethel and Stouchsburg.”


The Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society will dedicate its new headquarters along Pennsylvania Avenue this spring, probably in late May or early June, and will soon launch a special gifts campaign.
“We have been assessing the need for a fund campaign throughout the past year. We realized that we needed a better final figure and the help of a consultant,” says society president Fred Buch, who helped found the MGAHS four years ago.

Dr. David McBeth, a semi-retired Mechanicsburg consultant who helped guide the Ephrata-based
Cocalico Valley Historical Society in its successful campaign to raise over $1 million recently, will help direct the efforts of local volunteers.

Everyone on the Mt. Gretna society’s board of trustees has already made contributions or pledges to the special gifts campaign, whose goal will be announced shortly.

The society’s new facility (see will house two display rooms, a handicap-accessible restroom and a small kitchen on the first floor. The lower level includes an office and vault; heating, air-conditioning, and humidity control equipment; and a research library which will also be usable by handicapped persons on the first floor.

The building’s second floor remains in “almost original 1895 condition,” with neither heating nor air-conditioning. But, like the rest of the building, it has new wiring and a security system. The upper level will be developed “as we obtain original Mt. Gretna bedroom furnishings,” says Fred.


[] Tap Briody Roberts, who helps manage the Timbers Restaurant and Dinner Theater founded by her father more than 40 years ago, will speak on “The Briody Family” at the Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society meeting Jan. 27. She is one of three daughters and a son who followed in the footsteps of the legendary John Briody, a well-known area restaurateur who once ran “Briodys” (later, the Mt. Gretna Hideaway), was a former managing producer of the Mt. Gretna Playhouse, and became known as the genial host at the Timbers, one of Central Pennsylvania’s most popular dinner theaters. The program begins at the fire hall at 2 p.m.

[] Winston Churchill may have been among the first to write about painting as a pastime, but Barb Fishman – whose Lakeview Drive “studio in the trees” has been an artist’s haven for over 20 years—shows exactly why it’s a pursuit that holds so much pleasure for so many.
She’ll explain watercolor techniques at the Feb. 5 gathering of Winterites, a group that’s been meeting at the fire hall on first Tuesdays in October through April since 1949. Originally a group only for women, it is, we’re told, increasingly popular with men. The program begins at 1 p.m.

[] Why, of course Mt. Gretna’s pizzeria (964-1853) will be open for business on Superbowl Sunday. That’s the busiest pizza night of the season, and owner Damien Orea, for one, isn’t about to miss it. Damien admits he's not much of a football fan, but when it comes to such things as pizzas, cheese steak hoagies, lasagna dinners, chicken tenders and corndogs, he knows his stuff. Damien and his crew will be waiting to serve Superbowl fans and all others planning to be home by the fireside—throughout the day on Feb. 3.

[] Mt. Gretna resident Lou Schellenberg and art show co-founder Reed Dixon are among 27 artists now featured at, online gallery of the Lancaster Arts Hotel. Ms. Schellenberg is an associate professor of art at Elizabethtown College. Dixon, who formerly owned the Lancaster Avenue cottage “Into the Woods,” now lives in Lititz.

[] Nobody conducts a Polar Bear Amble like Audrey Manspeaker, Governor Dick Park’s imaginative teacher, lecturer and guide. Join her at the Nature Center for a midafternoon, hour-long hike through the park Jan. 19, starting at 12:30 p.m. You’ll learn more about nature, have fun that’s free and discover another great reason to get out of the house during the height of winter. Details: e-mail or call 964-3808.


[] Someone seems to be remodeling the old First Baptist Church along Ironmaster Road near the village known as Burd Coleman. Can you tell me anything about it?

<> Details are sketchy, but the project is promising. The prospective developer, we discovered after many phone calls this week, turns out to be noted preservationist and designer David Drummond, who hopes to convert the 105-year-old church into a private home. If the project evolves along the lines of Drummond’s other works, the restored structure will likely wind up on the pages of a national magazine.

An 1880s farmhouse he recently converted in Lititz was Country Living magazine’s 2007 Home of the Year. See

Country Living describes Drummond as a “British-born aficionado of American furnishings," an antiques dealer who also sources antiques and period pieces for feature films. He launched his career by dressing showrooms for Ralph Lauren in New York City and later began designing movie sets. His first film was the 1985 Oscar-winning “Out of Africa.”

Reached in Atlanta this week, Drummond apologized for being unable to discuss the church project in detail, although he recognizes the venture already is drawing much curiosity. “Everything’s in flux right now,” he said. “I don’t have a completion date in mind, or exactly what I will do with it. It’s a beautiful property. I walk around it and think that I might want to live there someday.” A Lancaster New Era article last year noted that Drummond often “compares his love ‘em and leave ‘em style of renovation to dealing in antiques. He lives with a project for a while, then passes it on.” Currently he is living in an 1870 brick Victorian in Brunnerville.

The Ironmaster Road church served a black congregation ever since it was built in 1903. It was rededicated in 1976 but probably hasn’t been used for worship services for more than 20 years. The historic brick building is now being cleared of debris—discarded furnishings, hymn sheets, handheld fans, church posters—that now fills two huge dumpsters with reminders of its past.


Robert Byford, 218 Valley Rd., passed away Nov. 6 at the age of 86. He was the husband of Peg Hicks Byford, longtime Mt. Gretna resident whose father, Lt. Col. William Little Hicks, was the last commander of the Pennsylvania National Guard here before it moved to Ft. Indiantown Gap.

Byford was a native of Winchester, Mass. and had been in hotel management throughout his career. The couple met when Peg was attending school in Boston. They were married 59 years and owned a Campmeeting cottage (which has been in the family for more than a century). Seven years ago, they gave up their home in Massachusetts and moved to Mt. Gretna permanently. Children include daughters Robin May of Mt. Gretna and Cathy Lilly of Lansdale, Pa., and a son, William Byford of Boston.


No matter how cold it gets or how deeply it snows, Mt. Gretnans will find free coffee and donuts waiting for them along Rte. 117 starting around 9 a.m. on Feb. 2. That’s Groundhog Day, of course. And Penny, the Penn Realty groundhog, will be there in freshly laundered fur to make her third appearance in as many years. “It’s about time Mt. Gretna had a groundhog,” someone once told Penn Realty staffer Peggy Seibert, who insiders swear is the guiding spirit behind it all. Yet everyone knows that Pennsylvania’s groundhog tradition sprang up years before Peggy was even born. However that doesn’t stop anybody—least of all Peggy—from getting a great deal of fun out of it all.
Even before the Saturday festivities begin, for example, Penny probably won’t be able to contain herself and will meander across the street on Friday. There, she’ll likely come whiskers-to-face with an especially sophisticated daycare crowd at Mt. Gretna's United Methodist Church. Last year, after shaking paws with most of the children, she met one who announced—with an authority that only four-year-olds can muster—“There’s a man inside that suit. I know. I’ve been to Disney World!”

With kindest regards,

Roger Groce

P.S. As we acknowledged last month, many folks create the Mt. Gretna Newsletter. This month, we add our appreciation to people helping us ferret out obscure details in this issue: Virginia Minnich, Suzanne Balmer, Mel Spicer, Charlotte Allwein and Deborah Clemens, who added to our knowledge of people who were born here and remained. West Cornwall Township’s Carol McLaughlin, Pastor George Mackey of Lebanon’s First Baptist Church, Ironmaster road resident Mike Hostetter, the Lebanon County tax assessor’s office, county planning commission staffers, Cornwall Borough secretary Janelle Salem, folks at the recorder of deeds office and half a dozen others who helped us finally track down the story of that historic church in Cornwall. Also, Peg Hicks Byford who provided historical details and mentioned the passing of her husband; Peggy Seibert who could be—just could be—“Penny,” who shows up each year on Groundhog Day; Dan Logar, a man who always has the answers at Met Ed; Dave Powers, the congenial director of operations at Ephrata’s Burkholder Paving Company; and Donna Kaplan, who’s recently volunteered to help with proofreading and fact-checking chores.
Our thanks also to others who share printed copies of this letter with friends and neighbors lacking links to the Internet. Also to those who pass along story ideas, news to share, and questions they’re curious about. And remember, thanks to the folks at Gretna Computers, you can always find copies of this letter on the Web at