We are fortunate in Mt. Gretna to have quaint old cottages, some petrified since before the turn of the 19th century, but scrupulously maintained to stay that way by loving owners, only some of whom are in a chain of inheritance connected to the original owners. Other owners relate stories of stumbling into the place--variously called "Camelot," Shangri La" or "Culture Gulch," the latter by the Philadelphia Inquirer--by accident, immediately falling in love with a lonesome neglected cottage and pouring their heart and soul into its restoration. Floors at a slant, walls in which the same layer of chestnut serves as both inside and outside, furniture and appliances (and one entire house) from the Sears Roebuck catalog in 1925, and a plethora of Amish quilts.
Some of the durability may relate to the chestnut trees which predominated in the Gretna forest until summarily wiped out by a blight early in the last century. At least those trees that survived immolation in the fires at the nearby Cornwall Iron Furnace that forged cannons for George Washington.
One day walking through the Campmeeting kicking acorns along the way I suddenly noticed I was kicking chestnuts. Looking up I saw two adolescent chestnut trees behind the Tabernacle that somehow had escaped the blight, perhaps the only ones that did. I carried about 25 home and now I have a chestnut tree in our garden (as if we didn't already have enough trees!) soon to celebrate its fifth birthday. Maybe by the time it comes of age a cure for the blight will be discovered.
You can find similar neighborhoods in Chautauqua NY, Petoskey, MI, Pacific Grove, CA, and many other former sites of stationary Chautauquas, most preserved in the same way. They served the purpose of summer schools before colleges and 'festivals' got into that business. Representatives from some of them are meeting now in Mt. Gretna, The Chautauqua Trail organization, for lectures, performances, and just hanging out. Their Sunday Service in the Playhouse, July 28, is open to all. Rumor has it that Abe Lincoln will speak.
The Mt. Gretna Campmeeting, where most of this year's open homes are situated, is celebrating their "Listing" in 2013 on the National Register of Historic Places. The Mt. Gretna Historical Society can show you a lot of history and is Tour stop #3.
|Drawing by Bruce Johnson, also responsible for our 'bass-in-the-trees' logo|
Why am I happy to see more than a thousand visitors tramping all over town once a year, maps in hand? It is our way of getting support from the large segment of the public that would never think of contributing to classical music or jazz, endeavors which, like opera, symphonies, and museums, receive less than 50% of their operating costs from ticket sales. In past decades much of our traditional support has disappeared: corporations keep their profits, foundations turn to the hungry and sick, governments cut spending. Large opulent performing arts centers, like 8-bay fire halls, continue to proliferate, but they don't make the art that helps us be more human.
The Tour is on Saturday, August 3. Tickets in advance are cheaper. Visit gretnamusic.org to see where you can buy them near you.