“What is this place?”
That’s a question we often get at the Mount Gretna Visitors Center, or
“My car slows down on its own when I approach Mount Gretna.”
What makes people love visiting Mount Gretna (other than ice cream)? One could go into a lengthy explanation, but the resulting answer can be short: preservation of history. Trees are one of the main components that belong in the category of “need to be preserved at all costs.” In Mt. Gretna: A Coleman Legacy, Jack Bitner quotes from letters and newspapers written in and around 1883 at the time Robert H. Coleman founded Mount Gretna as a station for his Cornwall & Lebanon (C&L) Railroad. From a letter written by Hugh Maxwell, the Treasurer of Coleman’s company
“…We came to a place thickly wooded and more thickly overgrown with underbrush…a wild garden of a forest and seemingly a road to mountain solitude.” In naming our village, the company Secretary, John Jennings, commented that “’Governor Dick’ had some distinction, and that name would give the idea of a mountain place which he thought desirable to keep in view and would say ‘Mount Gretna’.”
In 1889, off of his C & L Railroad, Coleman built a narrow gauge railroad (NGRR) for day excursions around the ”town.” When Coleman spoke, people listened. In March of 1889, he gave the order to have a narrow-gauge engine built and tracks (just 2’ wide) laid and in operation by that July 4th. He got his wish! That included a popular route heading west along the lake and then south up the mountain to Governor Dick, in total, about 3.5 miles. Certainly, a visit to Mt. Gretna most likely included a ride on the NGRR. Tickets to the top were .25 and to the rifle range just .10. In that first season, 34,000 passengers rode the NGRR. Governor Dick was a popular destination for the PA National Guard who were encamped at Mt. Gretna’s Soldiers Field. In 1894, the run to Governor Dick was discontinued due to maintenance and safety issues.
Mount Joy native, Clarence Schock, who, in 1954, purchased over 1,100 acres of the lands that include Governor Dick, had a connection to Mount Gretna. His wife Evetta’s family owned a cottage on Brown Avenue. Clarence and Evetta would have their chauffeur drive them from Mount Joy to Mount Gretna for weekend retreats. To this day, the cottage has been kept in its original condition. Interestingly, Clarence gave instructions that he and Evetta were to be buried in the Mount Joy Cemetery with their gravestones facing Governor Dick and Mount Gretna.
Today, Mount Gretna Area Historical Society maintains a display of Governor Dick photos.
Quoting Jack Bitner,
“Whatever Mt. Gretna is today as a haven in the midst of an ever more frenetic world – and whatever it will be in the future – is provided in large part by bordering State game lands, and on its eastern and southern flank the perpetual safeguard provided by the Schocks’ generous gift.”
by Sue Hostetter, Mount Gretna resident and Chairman of the Mount Gretna Area Historical Society