It’s easy to forget that the cozy hamlet of Mt. Gretna was once a military encampment, but an upcoming dedication of newly-purchased land will soon illuminate that era of history.

The land itself, a portion of what is officially known as Soldiers Field, was purchased by the Pennsylvania Chautauqua in 2018 and is planned for dedication on Saturday, July 27. The event, which kicks off a weekend-long historical recreation of camp practices and drills, begins at 10am. Later that day at 4pm, the Sons and Daughters of the Spanish American War Veterans will host a ceremony at the 16 Regiment’s marker.

Soldiers Field, running from the corner of the Conewago Lake to Timber Road and Mt. Gretna Road (117). Currently, the land is a mix of forest and field. (PA Chautauqua)

As a “living history” weekend, visitors to the field will be able to experience life as it was for the Camp Hastings soldiers before they were sent off to war. Visitors can also check out the new exhibition on the Spanish-American War in the Mt. Gretna Historical Society, open on weekends from 1pm to 4pm.

The National Guard’s first appearance in Mt. Gretna was in 1885, when General P. S. Gobin’s brigade camped in the area. It was in military use in varying degrees for several decades before the Guard moved to Fort Indiantown Gap in the northern region of the county, ending the Mt. Gretna encampment in 1935.

Mt. Gretna’s Camp Hastings, the summer training grounds for the National Guard of Pennsylvania in the late 1800s and early 1900s, played an important role in the era of the short Spanish-American War of 1898. The Guard was called to mobilize to the camp in April of that year, preparing and training soldiers to head into the conflict.

Field Music band from Trenton, New Jersey, at the Mt. Gretna camp circa 1912. (

The war would last only a few months, but it ended poorly for the Spaniards—the Americans took the last of the Spanish Empire, including their colonies in the Pacific such as the Philippines and Guam, and asserted further dominance over the Caribbean.

For more information, head over to the Mt. Gretna Historical Society webpage or Facebook page. More information specific to the PA National Guard’s history can be found here.

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Josh Groh is a Cornwall native and writer who began reporting for LebTown in 2019. He continued to regularly contribute to LebTown while earning a degree in environmental science at Lebanon Valley College, graduating in 2021. Since then, he has lead conservation crews in Colorado and taken on additional...


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