Mt. Gretna Tour of Homes & Gardens
Saturday, August 2, 2014, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Always the first Saturday in August.)
Enjoy a fascinating glimpse into the architecture and style of Mt. Gretna’s iconic homes. A self-guided walking tour includes homes and gardens of contrasting sizes and styles, some homes almost a century old; others just finished. Each summer Chef du Tour Realtor Emi Snavely selects a different collection of homes reflecting the various styles and tastes of Mt. Gretna homeowners. The result is a delightful day in the shady, nostalgic surroundings of Mt. Gretna.
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Houses on the 2014 Tour
Want an authentic glimpse of what the first Mt. Gretnans saw more than a century ago? This cottage looks almost exactly the way it did in 1892. The siding is distinctively “Gretna Green,” popular in the days when Lois Hopkins’ grandfather, a doctor, had it built 115 years ago. It has remained in the family since then. No cottage in Mt. Gretna has been owned by the same family for as long—a distinction that “The Hahnemanian” is likely to keep. Waiting to continue the lineage are three daughters, their children and four great-grandchildren—some of whose toys, now scattered about the cottage, stake their youthful owners’ someday claim to “Gammy’s house.” For Lois Hopkins’ family, both past and present, The Hahnemanian has always been a summer place. Her grandparents used it for vacations lasting five or six weeks—and traveled from Steelton, where her grandfather had set up his office after completing medical studies at Philadelphia’s Hahnemann Hospital. His office desk now is part of the cottage’s furnishings, done in a purposely relaxed style that Lois calls “hodgepodge.” The wooden screen doors and doorknobs are original. And those little bumps in the screens? Lois isn’t ready to fix them, nor to erase the memories they evoke. “I’ve got great-grandchildren who push,” she says, and those dents testify that for generations of children and grandchildren, the emphasis here has been on relaxing, family and fun. Except for a 1923 construction project to add bedrooms (now four) and a library, the cottage remains almost exactly the way it was when her grandfather built it. “I haven’t gussied it up,” Lois says.
Before and After
Imagination is what it takes to appreciate this house built before 1900 and mercifully never ‘improved’ to the point of destroying its original soul. Owners Bob and Tammy Travitz have it in abundance. Within days of their purchase in early July they hired carpenters, designers, and furnishers, canvassed antique malls and the annual Gretna “large item” pickups, and made detailed plans in their heads to make this old house livable and comfortable but still original. They are obviously experts themselves as we witnessed in their “One Fine Landing” on last year’s tour. Topping it all with an antique-style Big Ass Fan (several also slated for the Playhouse) and naming it “While We’re at It” they will add bathrooms, new kitchen appliances, and an outdoor shower while keeping most of the colorful “oil cloth” on the floors, ancient panel doors, diamond dormer windows, hooks on walls, head-level bead-board partitions between bedrooms, and several old cabinets. A look up at the vaulted ceiling might remind you of a Renaissance cathedral (though the low first-floor ceiling suggests a crypt and invites escape to the typical Gretna porch). The intention is for you to return next year to see the results, though Bob and Tammy’s energy might result in a finish between the time this was written and this year’s tour. But we hope not because seeing what they started with makes the renovation process all the more amazing.
Nestled off of Brown Avenue on a large wooded lot is a private treasure with clapboard siding, cheery red trim, and bright wraparound porch. Built in 1911, it boasts a brownstone path leading to a brownstone terrace. The entire interior is wood panel. Likely, the cottage name derives from the massive keystone that centers the fireplace arch. The downstairs contains a living room, dining room, kitchen, pantry, and lavatory. The second floor is comprised of three bedrooms, the coveted sunroom, and a full bath. This is a truly authentic Mt. Gretna cottage.
Veni, Vidi, Vixi
After a difficult move from California, Palmyra native Chris Hanna, scoured Mt. Gretna for a diamond in the rough. “I was just drawn to this house somehow, so I had the carpets pulled up to reveal chestnut floors, a wonderful porch, and irreplaceable wooden walls. I was smitten.” After a long renovation through the brutal winter, it was clear it was a gem just waiting for someone to restore it to a well-loved place…which it now truly is. This home was made for entertaining with a large deck to the side, a large kitchen, and a porch complete with lights and the requisite paper lanterns.
Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society
Ten years ago workers lifted this cottage 12 feet into the air and carved out space for a basement archive and fireproof cement vault. If it now looks like simply another cottage in Mt. Gretna, those who restored it will consider their labors a success. Among its most important roles today is helping modern-day owners who plan to restore their cottages here. The museum is also a repository for audio and video histories – memories recorded in the voices of Mt. Gretnans who helped shape the area’s history. Amplifying that heritage are furnishings and dinnerware from the former Conewago Hotel and Mt. Gretna Inn, as well as Playhouse playbills. Visitors will also find a handmade Campmeeting cottage dollhouse, decorated in the Mt. Gretna style with working electric lights. The museum also houses military memorabilia, drawn from the area’s more than 50 years as the summer headquarters of the Pennsylvania National Guard. For other details, contact the Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society (www.mtgretnahistory.org), P.O. Box 362, Mt, Gretna, PA .
Wonder in the Woods
Built in 1950, this cottage abuts an enchanted pond in the Heights. Its outdoor space rivals the indoor with its impressive collection of antique horses and a sunny addition. Stop by and talk to Perry Good of Beginning at the converted sun porch, one roams through the flourishing outdoor space, each hosta getting gradually larger with every turn until you arrive at the lush green backyard. Taking a few steps more, you find yourself in the midst of a meticulously arranged teddy bear garden, looked over by a large mama bear. Barbara and Bob have built a wonder in the woods.
Heights Community Building It is the central hub of Mt. Gretna Heights, a neighborhood built in the 1920s and 1930s that has since become a haven for artists, writers, musicians and other talented residents. For over 70 years, this building has been the setting for weddings and receptions, birthday and retirement parties, classes in everything from watercolor painting to cooking with herbs, book reviews, flower arranging, dance instruction (including ballet, lyrical, hip-hop and modern) and—more recently—wellness, yoga and tai chi. It is also a place where neighbors gather for social occasions and to conduct the affairs of their community. Inside this rustic building is space for up to 100 people. Beneath the vaulted ceiling is a huge fireplace, built with stones taken from the five-story Conewago Hotel, following its demolition in 1940. Completed in 1942 and thoroughly remodeled in 2001, the building is operated and maintained by the owners of approximately 70 homes that make up the Mt. Gretna Heights community.
English Country Cottage
You MUST take a shuttle van for this home. Shuttle vans leaves from the pizzeria, across from the post office. Look on the dashboard of the van for the tour stop # to make sure you are getting into the appropriate shuttle.
In a well hidden enclave of Gretna, there is an English Country Cottage, with sweeping gardens, a fountain, charming window boxing spilling over with flowers and plants, and a delightfully layered interior. In keeping with the English cottage theme, the upper floor is authentically and exquisitely appointed. Arched windows and doors lead one through rooms filled with heirlooms and art. A honey colored bead board and black granite kitchen leads out onto a deck overlooking the woods and expansive lawn. Downstairs, however, is all Mt. Gretna with Flat Rock tables and chairs, and an enormous fireplace of local stacked stone. It is a space simply created for Gretna entertaining.
Serenity House and Vintage Kitchen
a parsonage, this home exudes serenity and calm. After being greeted by the sweet pink porch, this Campmeeting Cottage will bring you into another era. It is meticulously archived in 1940-50’s furnishings and fittings. Upon entering, you find yourself in a tidy sitting room before entering a spectacularly scaled kitchen; spacious and quite warm: it’s as though you stepped right back into the past with a slightly modern sensibility. Each item in this large kitchen has been painstakingly collected over the years. It’s an impressive assembly of period pieces in a worthy setting. The fixtures and rooms recreate this period seamlessly. The love of flora and fauna is clear in the container garden in the back of the house. The pots are flowing over with azaleas and bougainvillea’s surrounding a chimera and a charming seating area.
Chautauqua Hall of Philosophy
This is the heart of a community striving to live up to their mission: “advancement of literary, scientific, intellectual, physical, and social welfare and the promotion of cultural and religious activities, recreation and entertainment.” Plans for building the current Hall of Philosophy began in 1908, with the announcement that Rorer Hall would be torn down. The building’s exterior, inspired by classic Greek architecture, has remained unchanged since it was erected, and the interior has experienced minor alterations over the years. The Hall of Philosophy will also serve snacks, baked goods, drinks and light lunch items from 11:00am until 2:00pm. Proceeds benefit the PA Chautauqua. The Hall of Philosophy will be open from 9:00am – 3:00 pm today.
The Anne Hark Cottage
It’s hard not to feel the spirit of Anne Hark as you stroll down the stairs to the poet’s get-away. The verdant walk leads you to a priceless view of Lake Conewago. The cottage is just what one would think, filled with books, a completely reconstructed fireplace, a darling loft, and kitchen; lovingly restored. The porch was made for reading and musing. There is a coziness, peace, and flow to this little place that belies the spunk of the writer who was known for her forward thinking and fearlessness. This is a rare historic cottage.
JB’s Old House
You MUST take a shuttle van for this home. Shuttle vans leaves from the pizzeria, across from the post office. Look on the dashboard of the van for the tour stop # to make sure you are getting into the appropriate shuttle. Built in 1974, this home was featured in Better Homes and Gardens, and it is obvious why. Not your typical Mt. Gretna cottage, it exudes a slightly more contemporary gracious living style. The kitchen is warm and graceful with cherry cabinets, Brazilian cherry floors, and luxurious granite countertops. On the second floor is a bright and sunny office and art loft with a view of the gorgeous outdoor space. This property is very private although it is on a street with many other homes. One of the best features is the view from the dining room of the mossy woods and gardens…magical.
“One of the best porches in Mt. Gretna because you can visit without intruding.” says owner Bob Wilson. Adorned with lights, paper lanterns, and Adirondack furniture it would be hard to argue. The friendly, expansive porch has hosted 44 guests. The skylights usher in those precious moments of light. From the street, brownstone stairs lead you to a brownstone wall which leads further to a backyard garden. Carefully tended by Linda, it showcases the best of the flora and fauna that this shady region can nurture.
A cooperative effort: Emi brings home trees and plants. Don Snively, a retired horticulturist, then plants, rearranges and prunes them, and, with the aid of a deer fence, keeps them alive. Carl’s only contribution is a tree, now about three feet tall, grown from chestnuts he collected during daily walks to the post office. (A century ago, Mt. Gretna’s forests were mostly chestnut trees.)
“I didn’t know what to do with the bog” behind the garage, says Emi. But her years of real estate experience have honed an instinct for seeing possibilities. That’s also true for Carl, a physician who turned small gatherings of fellow musicians 36 years ago into what became Music at Gretna (www.GretnaMusic.org). Among the plants Emi has chosen are colorful outsized astilbes, that now dominate, and hostas, a “butterfly bush,” a curly willow tree and an ornamental pine. Also abounding are rhododendrons and azaleas, which turned up on their own. “Whatever comes in from the forest that’s natural, I leave alone,” she says.