A small group of people on a bus, a baker’s dozen to be exact, riding through the rolling Pennsylvania countryside on a beautiful Spring morning. There’s a quiet murmur of chatter among some of passengers, others gazing out the windows, still others dozing. A sense of anticipation as we travel from Lafayette Hill to Elizabethtown, PA.
Ahh, look at this bucolic scene … a small herd of grazing black cattle, some nibbling on the grass, others reclining in the cooling shade of a sprawling tree. One of the cattle hauls herself to her feet and lumbers off slowly across the meadow, with a small calf following languidly behind its Mama.
Many sights to behold as we traverse beautiful Pennsylvania. We’re speeding along a highway and then slow down as we enter a small village and drive slowly along its two-lane road. Taking in the view, we see a small cottage snugly nestled in the hillside. Flower boxes hang from two of its downstairs windows with a lovely array of pink, yellow and red blossoms spilling out their colorful beauty to the enjoyment of passersby. We see folks sitting outside a small café enjoying a morning coffee. A bookstore is already welcoming some browsers, and we smile as we watch two small girls careening happily down the sidewalk on their bicycles.
Back on the highway again as we continue our journey.
A sight to behold as we finally reach our destination and drink in the beauty of the trees, flowers and lovely old stone buildings dotting the campus at Elizabethtown.
We are taken on a tour, ably conducted by our tour guide, Joe Fink, who along with his wife, Juneen, have been Elizabethtown residents for more than four years. Their daughter, Jan Harms, has been employed at Elizabethtown for 15 years as an event manager.
Joe informs us that the sprawling campus is approximately 1,400 acres, and boasts 16 miles of roads and 12 miles of walking paths. The resident population is approximately 1950 people. Depending on the season, the number of campus employees varies up to 1,579 people. There are about 300 acres of lawn to be mowed and extensive maintenance is required for the gardens, trees and plant displays. When Fall arrives, some 1,000 chrysanthemums are planted replacing the annual flowers on campus. In November, 25,000 flowering bulbs are planted and burst into bloom in Spring.
Joe takes us to visit the Farm Market featuring a variety of its own produce as well as produce from local farms and suppliers. The Market totes up about 5,000 customer transactions per month. Residents and outside customers are encouraged to pick their own apples, peaches and pumpkins and to cut their own sunflowers.
We drink in the beauty of the orchard which houses 16,000 fruit trees and harvests peaches, nectarines, pears, sweet cherries, plums and apricots.
The Orchard View Café, which opened in 2015, is connected to the Farm Market and has outdoor seating. The Café sells hamburgers, fries, soup, etc., and features several flavors of Penn State ice cream.
Elizabethtown has approximately 500 acres of farmland 280 of which are planted with barley, corn and grass hay. The remaining acres are for the cattle. The farm crops are used to feed a herd of 170 crossbred cattle that graze the pastures throughout the farm. Excess farm crops are marketed locally and calves from the cattle are sold through state and regional sales.
We enjoy having Joe show us the goldfish pond at the top of Serpentine Road. He noted there’s also a fishing pond for residents and resident guests only.
We stop to visit the Veterans Memorial Grove which was created as a memorial to the 268 Pennsylvania Masons killed in WWI. Joe explains to us that 268 oak trees were planted in the grove to honor these Masons. The Grove was rededicated in 2007 to honor all veterans who died defending our country, and an Eternal Flame Monument was dedicated in 2014. Joe said in November, a field across from Veterans Grove will have more than 7,000 Americans flags posted by the National Sojourners and Masonic Village residents to pay tribute to soldiers who have died since 9/11.
We arrive at the cemetery established in 1911. Joe tells us the cemetery was dedicated in 1918 and during the memorial service it was termed “God’s Little Acre,” a German phrase used in reference to Moravian churchyards/graveyards.
The cemetery contains 1,800 graves, 62 of veterans, one of whom served in the Spanish-American war. The gravestones are set in circles and are in decade order. One is impressed by the strength signified by the small, low-set rectangular stones, each a mirror image of the other and each forming a part of an unending circle. There’s a simple engraving atop each of the gravestones containing the person’s name, date of birth and death. You silently take in the hushed and peaceful scene and lower your head in prayerful tribute.
Our visit is comes to an end and after enjoying lunch, we depart Elizabethtown and head back to Lafayette Hill. Tucked into our hearts are fond memories of a warm and sunny Spring day touring with Joe, all the while drinking in the beauty of the campus and its surroundings. A lovely day, well-spent.