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The Mt. Gretna Newsletter
No. 79 Feb. 1, 2008

The Route 117 resurfacing project may be getting a slightly later start this month, but officials expect to finish it up early and avoid most of the traffic tie-ups that some may be dreading.
“I don’t think there’ll be many delays,” says borough chief Bill Care, who’s working closely with the contractor, Burkholder Paving of Ephrata. “There’s no call for road closings. At least one lane will be open at all times, and all the work here in the center of town will be done by mid-May.”
The in-town efforts will include new storm sewers, stabilizing stream banks, clearing and drainage—work that’s scheduled to be finished May 16, just before the official start of Mt. Gretna’s busy summer season. Crews will then concentrate on portions of the highway that lie east of town to Rte. 72 and west of Timber Bridge to Colebrook.
They expect to have everything done by Aug. 4—two weeks before the Aug. 16-17 art show, traditionally Mt. Gretna’s busiest time of the entire year when anywhere from 13,000 to 20,000 visitors pour into town for a weekend of parties, family get-togethers and serious art shopping under Chautauqua’s century-old trees.
First work will probably be visible around Feb. 11 as crews begin using the construction site trailers set up near the roller rink. Once efforts in the central part of Mt. Gretna are completed, paving operations will move to outlying areas May 28 to June 11 with signs and guardrail installations scheduled June 16-30. Final cleanup work will be done between July 1 and Aug. 4,

It was perhaps more a matter of what didn’t happen than what did.
Undoubtedly, other concerns at the time took precedence. Among them: the business of keeping cottages habitable during those three bone-chilling days in December when Mt. Gretna endured its longest electrical outage in recent memory. As temperatures plummeted, oil-burning lanterns suddenly switched roles from ornamental to essential, wood-burning stoves struggled to heat entire homes, and anxious residents peered late into the night through unlit windows for a sign—any sign—of headlights from a Met Ed truck.
Amid the turmoil, few people on the south side of town noticed that, although light switches were useless and furnaces grew cold, somehow water—miraculously—still poured from their kitchen faucets. Even days into the ordeal, the water never stopped.
Ordinarily, the link between electricity and water is something that most of us seldom think about. But consider this: water gets pumped from wells or reservoirs. And what runs the pumps and keeps water flowing is electricity – a fact that those using private wells know all too well.
Yet the circuitous flow of water to those whose homes and cottages were built a century ago is even more complex. Some readers may recall that six years ago, on New Year’s Day, the water stopped altogether for 69 homeowners in Mt. Gretna Heights. For 80 years before that, Heights residents drew their water from a deep and dependable well. Day after day, year after year it did its job faithfully. But on that first day of 2002, the well collapsed. And people there suddenly were without water to drink, bathe or—more seriously—supply hydrants if fire broke out.
Emergency actions soon followed. Firemen connected a 1,500-ft. hose from the main Mt. Gretna water supply to the Heights. And for the next five months, residents subsisted on rations that cut their daily water use by half. When a new well finally began flowing at 50 gallons per minute, everyone rejoiced—and then immediately set about the task of making sure that another such failure in the future wouldn’t leave them stranded.
Mt. Gretna has three main water systems—in the borough (which encompasses the Chautauqua), the Campmeeting and the Heights—all of which use wells. The idea of connecting them had been considered in 1980, when Army engineers studied the possibility and advised that an interconnect system would cost about $100,000. That was a frightening sum in those days, and equivalent to roughly $240,000 in today’s dollars. The projected cost stopped plans for an interconnection right there. And until the Heights well collapsed 20 years later, the idea lay dormant.
Yet few things focus the concentration of entire communities more sharply than the last remaining drop from a spigot. The 1980 plan suddenly took on renewed urgency. And, typically, Mt. Gretnans found a way to get the job done at a cost far below the original estimate. About $30,000 in 2002, equivalent to something like $14,000 in the early 1980s.
Once the Heights residents linked their system to the Mt. Gretna Authority, Campmeeting residents soon did the same. That tied all three water systems together.
Meanwhile, officials decided to add one more ingredient—a generator that would cost around $18,000. They planned to install it alongside the most dependable well in the entire system, Well No. 3, near Lafayette Avenue.
But was a generator truly needed—especially at that cost? Do power failures really last for days at a time? Wouldn’t reservoir levels be adequate for short periods without electricity? Good questions all. Yet the planners decided to go ahead anyway and made the generator investment. But not until last December was it used. Not until then did the area’s interconnected system—with all the planning, all the theories—get its first test.
In the borough, Bill Care’s crews were wary. Emergency plans called for immediate actions, shutting down some reservoirs and activating others. Scott Cooling and Joey Wise kept an eye on the pumps throughout long nights as trees fell and ice-coated limbs crashed across power lines in one of the worst ice storms Met Ed had seen in the past 20 years.
And all during those nights without electricity, while Mt. Gretnans huddled under piled-on blankets in cottages absent their traditional holiday glow, the system worked: Beautifully. Exquisitely. Such terms don't come naturally to people who look after municipal water systems. But they probably describe what those responsible for keeping those systems going surely felt. Throughout the longest nights of December, the water continued to flow.
And, just as they had hoped, nobody noticed.

When they asked Stacey Pennington, owner of Cleona’s Resource Island store for teachers (and kids, too) to sponsor a talk about animals at the Hall of Philosophy nearly two years ago, she could scarcely have realized how much her life was about to change.
“We simply came out for the day to set up tables with animal books and stickers from the store. Although I’d been to Mt. Gretna before, it was the first time I’d really gotten a taste of what happens here in the summer,” says Stacey, a Myerstown native, Lebanon Valley College graduate and herself a former teacher.
She and her mom returned the next day with her two boys. They visited the playground, then stopped in at the Jigger Shop for ice cream. “It was one of those moments,” she says. “We looked at each other and said, ‘This is an incredible area.’”
By the following April, her parents had bought the former “caretaker’s cottage” on 2nd Avenue in the Campmeeting. By July, an aunt and uncle from New Hampshire had also bought a place here. Shortly afterward, the whole family was spending leisurely days on their porches—and mulling over possibilities for a business that might go into the former gift shop. “As we talked, everyone looked at me and said, ‘You could do that.’” Suddenly, Gretna Emporium—a store for “nostalgic items" and other interesting things for families to do together—was born.
Stacey and her husband John, a Mechanicsburg native who works for the postal service and for the past 13 years has helped keep things running at their Cleona store, haven’t yet settled on all that their new venture will encompass. But she hints at what’s to come: “I’d like it to be an intriguing, nostalgic shop for both Mt. Gretna residents and people who visit each summer. I want to make it inviting for people who are just coming by to watch a play, or bringing their grandchildren over for ice cream, to come up on the porch and discover things that involve the whole family.” she says.
She’s aware, of course, that everybody is into computers nowadays—even her own boys, soon to be 5 and 8. “But at the cottage last summer there was "no computer, no TV—just sitting out on the porch and playing games with the kids. Sometimes that gets lost in the family,” she says. “Everybody’s busy—I am, too. But it’s nice to just sit and play with your kids. That’s why I love selling things that get people to. . ."—pausing as she searches for the right word—“that get people to just stop.
“I think that’s also what I love about Mt. Gretna,” she says. “It just makes you slow down—and stop.”

[] How do you know there’s a fire company breakfast coming up Mar. 2?
Clue No. 1: If it’s March, July or November—those are the months when you’ll always find breakfast at the fire hall on the first Sunday.
Clue No. 2: If you’re looking for the one place in town where all your friends will be between 8 a.m. and noon, this is the place.
Clue No. 3: Follow Dale Grundon. He’s usually first in line.
The pay-what-you-want, eat-what-you-want feast includes pancakes and sausage, eggs, potatoes, pastries, coffee, and juice—all for a donation you stuff in a fireman’s boot upon entering the door.
[] Who’s this year’s Summer Calendar cover artist? All the arts council committee will say so far is that it’s a woman, “a fantastic person” but not yet widely known as a painter. That suggests, of course, she’ll be making her debut this year as Mt. Gretna’s calendar artist.
Meanwhile, as the annual intrigue builds around a publication that everybody waits for and nobody wants to be without, the deadline for submitting entries is fast approaching—Feb. 19 if you want to proofread your item before it’s published, Mar. 1 if you don’t. And if you live some distance away and wish to receive a copy by mail, send $1.40 to Mt. Gretna Arts Council, P.O. Box 513, Mt. Gretna, PA 17064. The calendar is usually published a week or so before the gala summer premier on Memorial Day weekend. Like to advertise in this year’s edition? Call Jim Burchik, 964-3834.
[ ] Yes, there will be another end-of-season party at the lake Aug. 23, a popular annual event started four years ago by sponsors (and Lindy Hop enthusiasts) Ceylon and Karen Leitzel, who first learned the dance style from Lindy Hop legend Frankie Manning himself. They not only thoroughly enjoy the event but also turn proceeds over to community organizations such as the fire company, Heritage Festival, the Bible Festival, United Methodist Church, a choral group and Lawn Ambulance.
[] Gretna Theater producing director Larry Frenock added two more gold medals to his collection this week. Both came at the Pennsylvania Figure Skating competition where he won in both the Adult Artistic and Adult Bronze Men’s categories. Enroute to the U.S. Adult National Figure Skating Competition (where, at age 51, he earned silver and bronze medals last year), he’s now getting up at 5:30 each morning to practice for the Adult Sectionals competitions in March.
[] Erin Hannigan, who grew up along Timber Road and, as a teenager, scooped ice cream here for four summers, has been named principal oboist of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. The Dallas Morning News says hers is “a sound of breathtaking beauty.” She appeared locally in 2003 as part of Gretna Music’s winter series. In the audience: a sizeable contingent from the Jigger Shop.
[] How many more weeks of winter? Only Penny, the Penn Realty Groundhog knows for sure. She’ll be out along Rte. 117 tomorrow morning—with coffee, donuts and warm greetings.

In ordinary towns, this might not be big news. But Mt. Gretna is no ordinary town.
Although everybody who winters over probably already knows it, at least half of this newsletter’s readers—including snow birds sunning themselves down South or toasting in warm western meccas—will be delighted to read that a new breakfast spot opens Feb. 28.
Damien and Mariano Orea are ushering in a breakfast menu at the Mt. Gretna Pizzeria every day of the week, from 7 to 11 a.m. And, of course, they’ll also be open every day until 8 p.m., with their regular Italian offerings.
Eggs, omelets in favorite styles, French toast, pancakes, homefries and other tasty side dishes round out the breakfast menu—one they introduced briefly last year, winning rave reviews.
Their March special: two eggs, homefries and toast for $2.45.
As for their regular Italian favorites, Damien once told us what Mt. Gretnans like best—and he’s got them all in a nearly 100-item finger-licking lineup that includes pepperoni pizzas, cheese steaks, lasagna dinners; Italian and smoked turkey subs; cheeseburgers and California burgers; tuna and grilled chicken sandwiches.
You name it, they’ve got it (tel. 964-1853). And Damien and his dad have been hard at work since they opened a year and a half ago, winning their patrons’ business—as well as their respect.

Every so often, Mt. Gretnans get a chance to show how much they appreciate their volunteer firemen. That opportunity came again last month—a fundraising dinner to buy a generator for emergency shelter in the newly expanded fire house. Final costs to install the unit came in at $13,900, a bit more than originally estimated, but, especially for older residents duirng power failures, it's essential.
Planners hoped maybe 100 or so folks might turn out for an Italian Night dinner. But during a three-hour period, over 180 stopped by—enjoying pasta and meatballs with friends, exchanging good-natured banter as they waited for tables to clear in a jammed-packed hall, and stuffing checks and cash donations into a firefighter’s boot at the door.
Those who attended contributed more than $4,200, some of it in $100, $500 and $1,000 increments. Others from out-of-state who couldn’t attend but read about the effort sent checks, boosting totals so far to over $9,000. Said Joe Shay, the fire company’s VP, “We were amazed.”

[] Ginger Pryor, who’s lived among the trees along Mine Road for the past 25 years or so, says the sound of cracking limbs and falling branches that awakened her on the morning of Dec. 16 left no doubt about what would be her next project at the Penn State Extension Office: “I knew we’d see trees uprooted, limbs shredded, and multi-trunked trees split,” says Ginger, a staff horticulturalist.
She quickly turned out an article—“Assessing and Recovery of Ice-Storm Damaged Trees”—especially to help Mt. Gretna area homeowners decide what to do about trees damaged by the three-day storm.
For a copy, stop by the extension office, 2120 Cornwall Rd. (Tel. 270-4391). Or drop her an e-mail request:
[] Photographer, artist and man-about-town Dale Grundon calls it “the best ice skating on the lake in years” and has pictures to prove it at
[] Gretna Theater's local auditions are coming up Mar. 15, with plenty of roles for both talented adults and children in a lineup that this year includes large-cast shows such as “Shenandoah” and “The King and I.” The auditions begin at noon in the Mt. Gretna fire hall. Details:
[] Violinist Adele Anthony returns to Gretna Music tomorrow night to complete her 2- concert cycle of Bach’s partitas and sonatas for unaccompanied violin. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. at Elizabethtown College’s Leffler Performance Center. A pre-concert talk by WITF’s John Clare starts at 6:30.
[] Looking for Mt. Gretna artwork even though you’re miles away? You’ll find plenty of choices online at That’s the colorful new website for artists and artwork inspired by Mt. Gretna. And if you know of an artist whose works ought to be included, drop a note to Jessica Kosoff,
[] Campmeeting president and Hershey Foods scientist Dr. Jeffrey Hurst has co-published another article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences—perhaps the world's most widely-quoted scientific journal. He was part of a team exploring the remarkable uses early humans made of cacao beans. Among their discoveries: Before it was used for chocolate, the cacao bean was first used to make alcoholic drinks for feasting, entertaining and community celebrations in 1000 B.C.-- 500 years earlier than anybody had thought. No wonder Jeff's talks on chocolate at the community library each summer are so popular.

In an age of DVDs, HDTV and TiVo, what is it that attracts Mt. Gretnans to the Hall of Philosophy on a hot summer’s night?
If you said “Old Time Movie Night” you’re right. But that’s only partly why people stroll into a hall where fans, not air conditioning, remind folks they're in a building constructed a century ago.
To be sure, one big reason is the films themselves—“Wuthering Heights,” “Stagecoach,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Babes in Arms”—all part of this summer’s lineup.
Another lure are lively talks by people like film buff Ted Martin, whose Campmeeting cottage resonates with authentic 1930s furnishings and who helped develop this year’s theme: "The Golden Year of Movies—1939," the year Technicolor first splashed across the screen.
But we think the real reason for those Wednesday nights-in-July pilgrimages to the hall has more to do with something folks first felt 80 years ago. Technical innovations aside, nobody’s yet come up with a way to beat the fun of sitting among friends, watching good entertainment and munching popcorn, says Kathie Erdman, a member of the films committee. That, and a favorite refrain she’s heard again and again over the years, “They just don’t make movies like this anymore.”

12 Different bird species—everything from Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Carolina Wrens, and Pine Siskins to Dark-eye Juncos—spotted in a two-hour walk by the Mt. Gretna Bird Club. The newly formed group has begun meeting at the Governor Dick Nature Center every Friday morning at 9 a.m., weather permitting. Afterwards, they often amble over to Le Sorelle Porch and Pantry Café.
Like to join them? Contact Sid Hostetter and Evelyn Koppel (, who’ve just moved to Mt. Gretna from Philadelphia. They love birding, walking in the woods with others who enjoy nature, and are hoping to meet new friends. He’s a retired science teacher who has spent many years in birding and finds it a popular pastime for “a fairly large group of folks.” Their first hike, in fact, attracted 12 fellow birders, all eager to walk, watch and learn.
14 Age of Mt. Gretna United Methodist Church organist and choir director Ryan Brunkhurst, featured Jan. 30 in the Harrisburg Patriot-News. “We recognized his talent, so we wondered, how can we use it,” said pastor Janet Steger. “We’re a very different community.” Added choir member Cheryl Burke, “If you close your eyes when he’s playing, it sounds like a cathedral.” See
140 Digital applications already received from artists vying to get into the 34th annual Mt. Gretna Art Show Aug. 16-17. The deadline isn’t until April 1, and artists now submit their entries electronically, via the ZAP online system (see
Show coordinator Linda Bell is impressed with digital images she’s seen so far. “There’s some very nice stuff there.”
3,000 Miles that Lancaster Avenue cyclist Robin Smith will ride this June in the Race Across America (RAAM), "the world’s toughest bike race."
Robin will be one of 250 contestants, and part of a four-person team (two women, two men) riding non-stop from Oceanside, Calif. to Annapolis, Md. in about seven days.
Supporting them will be a 14-man crew that includes a bike mechanic, massage therapist and drivers of four vehicles. Her team hopes to raise about $180,000 for charities including the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition, a fibromyalgia group, and Hershey’s Vista school for autistic children among others. For sponsorship details, contact her at
The RAAM event attracts top ultra endurance athletes from around the world. (Robin was chosen after completing the “Nightmare Ride”—200 miles in a single day—last year.) Her team will work in shifts, with the women riding 30 minutes each for four hours, then resting the next four hours as the men continue the round-the-clock race. They’ll ride over the Rockies and through higher elevations near Pittsburgh and the mountains of West Virginia. When they reach Pennsylvania, husband Shawn Harbaugh and other Mt. Gretnans will be there to meet them in towns such as Hanover to cheer them on. Says Robin: “That will be huge.”

Something tugs at the heart when people find they must give up their homes and cottages in Mt. Gretna. Bowing to the realities of advancing age, family circumstances or job requirements, they do move, of course, but usually with reluctance. And often with regrets that echo months, sometimes even years, later.
We recall receiving a note from a woman in Florida who had once lived here. She was a writer, a single woman pursuing that solitary craft most days alone in her cottage, leaving occasionally only to go to the store for groceries or to stop by the post office. Picking up the mail every day wasn’t a necessity, of course. But she made it so, for on many days that was her only contact with people.
A year or so after she left, she sent us a note, describing the unexpected joy of being in a new post office and having someone—a lady she’d met in church—call out to her while she was standing in line to mail a package. It was a post office she rarely visited because her mail now came to a small cluster mailbox outside her Florida apartment. “I suddenly realized how much those daily trips to get my mail in Mt. Gretna had meant,” she said. “Here, except on rare occasions like that one, nobody knows my name.”
So strong is the pull of Mt. Gretna that some people, even when it’s time to move, never really move away. Reenie and Joe Macsisak, the former gift shop owners, needed a smaller place to look after . Last fall, they moved across town to the apartments, opposite Soldiers Field. Since we had also switched locations about the same time, Reenie and I found ourselves talking one morning about others who had moved—yet stayed put—pleasantly anchored by the magnetic force that often envelopes Mt. Gretnans.
Our list of people who’ve moved from one side of Mt. Gretna to the other quickly became, for a town so small, surprisingly long. It also included people who’ve simply moved down the street, or from one neighborhood to the other. Arline Althouse, a former Chautauquan, now glimpses the sun coming up over Mt. Gretna from a different vantage point, along Valley Road. Others who’ve made a similar switch include Bob Andrews, the former deli operator who once lived in the Heights. Also, Bob and Mary Ann Krause, Dave and Darlene Eckert, Edie and Stan Hollinger, Eleanor Lynch (who moved from the Heights when daughter Karen was only two), and Fran Bova, a former Campmeeting resident. Joyce Ebright gave up her historic “carousel house” alongside the Playhouse to build a new home, but not far away, in Timber Bridge. Then there is Lynn Phillips who, before she was married, owned a cottage along Brown Avenue and now lives in Conewago Hill with her husband, Dr. Ed, a former school superintendent at Cornwall-Lebanon. Others include Peg Byford, Peggy Seibert, Sandy Roman, and Fay Sides.
Still others have moved but stayed in the same areas. Jim and Judy Cassel simply moved from Timber Road to Valley Road. Deborah Clemens (who’s moved from the Heights to Campmeeting and now Stoberdale) and daughter Jessica Kosoff (now a Chautauqua resident) are among those who’ve moved several times, but nearly always in Mt. Gretna. Then there are Emi Snavely and Carl Ellenberger, who moved from the Campmeeting and Chautauqua to arrive finally in their home in Mt. Gretna Heights.
But no one has felt the unrelenting hold more strongly, perhaps, than Chris and Emily England, who fell in love with Mt. Gretna 12 years ago. As their family grew and circumstances changed, they’ve lived in six different locations (all but two of them in Mt. Gretna—on Yale, Harvard and Lebanon avenues, and briefly in Timber Hills). Although they also have a home in Connecticut, their full-time residence is now their kids’ favorite—“the round house” in Chautauqua.
Such considerable evidence of just how hard it is to say good-bye to Mt. Gretna struck the other day when we stopped in to visit Jack Bitner, who shared with us a photograph and story that now has been posted on the Web at
Perhaps no one has ever had a stronger affection for Mt. Gretna than Jack himself. The author of “Mt. Gretna: A Coleman Legacy,” Jack is known to most of us today as the town historian. But as his son reminded everyone at his 90th birthday celebration last year, his most noteworthy contributions have been in aerospace engineering.
The photograph that attracted Jack’s interest had been discovered by Batdorf Avenue resident Steven Layser, who found it on eBay nearly two years ago. It came from a collection of unrelated photographs in an estate sale and showed one of the three railroad engines that ran on the Mt. Gretna Narrow Gauge Railroad near the turn of the century. It passed through town, arcing its way around Lake Conewago and chugged up the mountain to Governor Dick. But severe financial losses that rocked Europe’s capitals and sent shock waves through the rest of the world in 1893 had hit railroad stocks, including those linked to the narrow gauge railroad here, particularly hard. So the photograph Jack showed us was of Engine No. 12 making its last run up to Governor Dick, on a morning in September just after Mt. Gretna Park had closed for the season.
Pictured in the photo—a small 3x5 black and white print that had been tucked in a drawer and forgotten—were a boy of about eight and, standing on a platform at the rear of the train, a man, neatly attired in a suit, hat and a tie. The man was only 37 years old, seemingly fit and standing erect. But his proud appearance belied both his physical afflictions and profound disappointments. Overwhelming financial losses had decimated his once-vast fortune, an amount judged to have been even greater than that of J. P. Morgan or F.W. Vanderbilt. A bank he had owned, factories, and several railroads were collapsing.
Yet on this crisp morning in September 114 years ago, he had summoned a photographer to the station in Mt. Gretna. He and his young son Robert boarded the train as its only passengers. They paused briefly, allowing the photographer to take pictures. Then the whistle blew, the engineer released the brake and the train climbed up Governor Dick for the last time.
From there, it would be all down hill—for the railroad, for the man, and for the dream he had nurtured for more than a decade. Mt. Gretna had been the place where he had invested perhaps only a small part of his considerable wealth but an enormous share of his extraordinary generosity. Perhaps a more selfish man would have survived the crisis, a wiser man might have shielded his investments. But this was, after all, the place he loved best, a “sylvan paradise,” as Jack Bitner wrote, “where he was happiest.”
Three months after that train ride to Governor Dick, he would be forced to pack up and leave, headed for a tuberculosis sanitorium in Saranac Lake, N.Y., where he would spend the rest of his days. Robert Habersham Coleman, the man whose dream inspired Mt. Gretna, would never return.

Kindest regards,
Roger Groce

P.S. Thanks to the many folks who help create this community newsletter—answering our questions, checking our spellings as well as our facts, and passing along news of interest to Mt. Gretnans near and far. Over half of our readers live in other cities and states. Many share printed copies with friends and neighbors who lack access to the Internet. Others simply keep up with the news from a place they love by checking the online version at, a site our friends at Gretna Computers maintain for readers throughout the world.