With Soldiers Field purchase, Pennsylvania Chautauqua secures a legacy for historic military training site

3 min read Posted October 5, 2018

Last week the Pennsylvania Chautauqua announced the successful acquisition of Soldiers Field.

The land had previously been owned by Eastern Enterprises, a local company run by physician Gene Otto III, whose family has long held significant land in the area. The Otto family will continue to own and operate the Mount Gretna Lake and Beach.

The acquisition was prompted this past summer when news broke that the land would soon be subject to development by Eastern Enterprises. In some ways, the purchase culminates a decade of pressure building up over the issue of further development in this area of Mount Gretna.

A September 30, 1972 advertisement for Eastern Enterprises.

The total cost of the property is $1,036,000 with closing fees. Although the Pennsylvania Chautauqua hasn’t raised that full sum yet, they have been committed more than $850,000 over the three year purchase period, and with an extremely high rate of fulfillment, the PA Chautauqua Board of Managers and PA Chautauqua Foundation have committed to fill whatever budgetary gap ultimately remains through a loan or other measures.

The Pennsylvania Chautauqua, a National Historic Place, is owned by the couple hundred residents of Borough of Mount Gretna, which serves as the municipal governing body for the area.

Donate to the Soldiers Field acquisition here

Soldiers Field got its name from its historic use as the summer home of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. Here are some pictures of the site when it was used for military training, before operations moved to Fort Indiantown Gap in the 30’s.

The narrow gauge seen rolling through the woods on the road to (or from?) Mount Gretna. Taken by prolific Lebanon photographer Luther Harpel in 1906.
National Guard camp in 1912. Unknown photographer.
Physical exercise and rills in July 1918. Also taken by Luther Harpel.

The military history dates back to when Robert Coleman granted the land (and cleared it) for use by the Pennsylvania 3rd Brigade. Lake Conewago dates back to around this time when the Conewago Creek was dammed.

With Soldiers Field such a big part of the Chautauqua and Mount Gretna’s history, future generations will benefit from the continuity provided by the open space. With the land, the organization hopes to organize an open space activity park featuring programming such as walking/fitness trails, bird watching, picnic areas, connections to the Lebanon Valley Rails to Trails network, and activities for children.

To get involved, donate, or learn more about the Pennsylvania Chautauqua, visit their website.

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