About neuroscience and music (mainly classical). Exploring the relationship of music and the brain based on experience of two careers.

June 8, 2013

How (and Why) to Visit Mt. Gretna

by Carl Ellenberger, MD

Let's say you saw a concert or an artist you might like to hear on our 2013 summer schedule, violinist Sarah Chang (July 3) or The New Black Eagle Jazz Band, Elliott Carter's Woodwind Quintet (yo! chamber music snobs), Miñas, The Tamburitzans or The Capitol Steps -- or Stephanie Blythe with Les Violons du Roy and Bernard Labadie in Elizabethtown on October 14, only a short drive away.

But you live in Baltimore or Philadelphia, or even Shrewsbury. What do you do? Well, here's what I might do if I didn't live right in Gretna.

First I would decide how much time I have, in particular, whether I would I like to rent a cottage and stay for a week, or just visit for a day or two. Both choices are quite reasonable. Trips from Baltimore or Philly are easy, about 90 minutes on scenic routes. Concerts end before 10 pm in plenty of time to drive home. To choose a date for your visit look here and here.

Advantages of renting a cottage for a week: they are cheap; they put you right in the middle of the place where you can walk anywhere, and you can cook. Activities go on all day. Disadvantages: cottages are not as numerous as those at the 'other' Chautauqua in New York State, or as easy to find, and they may be booked during popular times, such as "Art Show Weekend," the third weekend in August. A few cottage owners remain in the 19th century and require your own linen. Rentals are typically from Saturday to Saturday, but most owners are adaptable. Or you could stay in Hershey and take your kids to Hershey Park or in Lancaster and take them to the Strasburg Railroad and Central Market, all about 30 minutes from Gretna.

To find a cottage I assume you can Google but you could start hereAnd now there's Yelp*. The old-fashioned way is to call: Emi Snavely, doyenne of the Annual Gretna Tour of Homes (August 3), 717.270.1515, or Penn Realty, 717.964.3800.

What if you just have a day or weekend? Pack a bathing suit, set your GPS for 17064 (or see a map at gretnamusic.organd park in the lot along the road between the post office and the famous Jigger Shop Ice Cream Parlor. The Visitor Center is the tiny fairy building (not to be confused with the nearby 'fairy garden' Gretna's most popular attraction) just a few feet from the Jigger. They have maps, schedules, and lists, either for a human to hand you or in racks on the porch. Three lunch possibilities are visible within 50 yards, as is the Historical Society in a refurbished cottage next to the Playhouse. In the Playhouse you could possibly catch an open rehearsal (Sunday afternoons), a sound check, or even a matinee theater production. 

But the most interesting activity is to put on walking shoes and stroll around the winding streets and paths, and chat with denizens watching you do that from their porches. You will see ancient Chautauqua buildings like the 'Hall of Philosophy,' 'Scientific and Literary Circle', and the Playhouse, only the latter a modern (well, slightly) replica necessary after the original collapsed like a soufflé in 1994 under snow and ice. There is also the Campmeeting Tabernacle, a slightly smaller version of the Playhouse built in the 1890's (by a different sect employing the same builder) and recently elevated to the National Register of Historic Places. It "still looks almost exactly as it did 100 years ago." Equally as interesting are the cottages, some unchanged for over 100 years, others remodeled to serve as year-round homes, and a few McMansions. I bought a modest winterized cottage in 1973 when living on an assistant professor's salary. On your walk you can rest at playgrounds or picnic areas.

You can walk to the lake but the entrance to the swimming area is on its far side, so to swim or sunbathe it might be best to transfer your car to that parking lot. The other reason to get back into your car is to travel to the Timbers for dinner (taking you through the newer sections of Gretna) but it is closed on Sundays as are some of the restaurants in this region on the outskirts of Amish buggyland. Check out Sunday and other dining possibilities here and on Yelp.

For lodging for a night or two -- Yelp, again. But start with the elegant Mt. Gretna Inn. Because Hershey and Lancaster are both tourist meccas you can find innumerable lodgings and other attractions there and along the roads to them, both 20-30 minutes away.

Anyone who answers 717.361.1508 will be more than happy to guide you and answer questions.

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