On a back trail through the boulders and trees of Governor Dick, the mountain that rises east of Mt. Gretna, there sits a few foundation lines and a plaque. This is all that remains of the “Tower House,” a six-story residence constructed by oil magnate and philanthropist Clarence Schock.
The eye-catching structure was finished in 1938 and remained near the mountain’s summit for several decades before being demolished in 1974. Its remote location and frequent periods of vacancy prompted an increasingly intense string of vandalism and break-in incidents that ultimately culminated in its destruction.
Clarence Schock and Governor Dick
The “Tower House,” also known as “Déjà Vu,” was the creation of prominent oil businessman Clarence Schock. Schock was born in 1865 in the town of Mount Joy in Lancaster County. After several years of higher education as a young man, Schock returned home to help his father’s ailing coal business, adding lumber, kerosene, and gasoline to the lineup of products. In the ensuing decades, Schock managed to expand the business into a regional powerhouse, with distribution centers in Philadelphia, Carlisle, Reading, and many places in between.
In 1941, Schock bought the capital stock of his now-multiple businesses and created SICO Company, which stood for Schock Independent [Oil] Company. Schock eventually transformed the organization into a non-profit corporation with $1.5 million in assets, though a new SICO Company continued to sell fuel oil for decades. The primary aim of the new nonprofit was to provide funds for education. According to the Mount Joy Historical Society, the nonprofit, renamed the Clarence Schock Foundation, had funded almost $11 million in scholarships by 2000.
Schock is known to Mt. Gretna residents as the former owner of a large 1,105-acre parcel of land on Governor Dick, a purchase made in 1934 with the intent to preserve it. In fact, it’s the Clarence Schock Environmental Center on the side of Governor Dick at 3283 Pinch Road that provides trail use and the informational plaque that is installed at the site of the Tower House’s foundation.
“Clarence had a love affair with Governor Dick,” said Frank Eichler, former SICO President, in a phone conversation with LebTown. Eichler personally knew Schock and his wife, Evetta, during his career at the company, where he began as an office clerk in 1950 and made his way up to the top.
Eichler speculated that Schock’s busy work life and lack of children prompted him and Evetta to devote time and energy into Governor Dick and create the Tower House as a retreat deep in nature.
Some sources state that the structure had seven floors, which is refuted by photographs and a 1954 column published in the Elizabethtown Chronicle written by Schock himself. According to this column, Schock constructed a first tower on the site in 1935. Wondering if there might be a better view somewhere else on the property, he built two other towers, one 100 feet away and the other 400 feet away, to assess his options. His first choice remained the best and the other towers were torn down.
In the winter of 1935, additional rooms were added the base of the tower, eventually resulting in a structure with a six-story tower and a three-story residential addition. According to Schock, each of the first three levels consisted of two rooms, while the upper levels of the tower were one room each. The wooden structure was finished in 1938 and included bedrooms, bathrooms, a kitchen, reading rooms, and an observation deck.
Eichler explained that the kitchen and dining area occupied the first level and that the bedroom was located on the third. “Clarence could go up to the top floor and see back to his home in Mount Joy,” he added.
Movement between floors was initially accomplished through a “continuous climb ladder system,” in the words of the Environmental Center, though an electric lift was eventually installed (a contraption described as “rickety” by Eichler). A 140-foot well was drilled for the house at a distance of 300 feet away and an electric pump and pressure tank was used to draw water up into the entirety of the structure.
The unusual house was a favorite destination for locals, who (for unspecified reasons) gave it the nickname Déjà Vu. Schock welcomed friendly visitors to the property and installed a second well and pump for public use at the summit.
Though Schock loved Governor Dick, he and Evetta only used the house infrequently as a summer retreat. Select guests, often educators, were invited to the house on occasion. The Schocks stopped staying at the house by 1949 due to advanced health problems and age.
Vandalism and Schock’s death
Break-ins at the house began even before completion, with the first happening in 1936. Since it was only occupied intermittently during the summer, intruders had ample opportunity to target the remote structure during the rest of the year. Kitchen utensils and tools were among the items stolen, though Schock recalled that sometimes the house was merely used for parties.
In the summer of 1953 a party of young people took possession of the place and evidently had something in the nature of a wild party. They left behind in the living room on the first floor empty bottles of soft drinks, potato chips and other debris, including stumps, some of which were colored with lipstick, indicating that the house-breakers who occupied the place included teenagers of both sexes.Clarence Schock
2 Sept. 1954, Elizabethtown Chronicle
Throughout August of 1953, Schock advertised the house in the Lebanon Daily News as a free rental for a “middle-aged couple […] provided they do not smoke and are willing to act as caretakers of the premises.” Interested parties were to write to Schock at his Mount Joy address. By the 27th of the month, however, Schock had decided to deed the entire 1105-acre property to the Donegal School District, which serves Mount Joy and several other Lancaster communities. Prior to this, Schock had attempted to deed it to the state, which had refused due to Schock’s provision forbidding hunting and firearms on the property.
In July of 1954, West Cornwall Township Constable John Kratzer and a hired watchman apprehended four male teenagers attempting a break-in, one of the few incidents that ended with the culprits caught. Other vandalism on Governor Dick was also all too common. The public water pump was broken and its two troughs were “shot up by youthful vandals.”
As a result of the repeated vandalism and break-ins, Schock became, in his words, “deeply interested in the subject of juvenile delinquency[.]” Eichler stated that he believed Schock hoped that better education — a major goal of his philanthropy — would go some ways in preventing the behavior he was seeing happen on his property. He had often used direct mail campaigns to promote causes or inform on issues, and his last one prior to his death focused on this very topic.
On May 29, 1955, the 89-year-old Schock died in his hometown and was subsequently buried in Mount Joy Cemetery. According to Eichler, Clarence and Evetta requested to be oriented facing Governor Dick. Following his death, furniture in the house was removed by the recently new property owners, who continued to attempt to ward off intruders. It was largely ineffective.
In 1960, SICO Co. chair Robert Schroll and custodian Clayton Aument discovered that all 72 windows had been broken, all toilets had been damaged, and all floors were dirty with excrement. Extensive cleanup and repair work took place, and the house was used once again as a summer retreat by both the Schroll and Aument families.
Vandalism continued nonetheless. The 21 windows on the first floor were boarded up to prevent entry, costing $480. The two doors allowing access to the ground floor were lined with steel, bolted, and reinforced with oak two-by-fours. Both modifications failed to stop intruders, who were seemingly more determined to break in with each new security measure. After the doors were secured, intruders cut down a tree and used its trunk to access the second floor balcony. From there, they battered a hole in the floor, descended to the first level, and used large rocks to bash in the reinforced door from the inside out.
One night at around 10:30 p.m., Aument and two guests encountered three men and one woman outside the front door. Aument switched on floodlights and attempted to talk with the would-be intruders, but they ran off into the woods. At another point, residents returned to find that a fire had been set on the first floor.
In 1974, after sustaining thousands of dollars in damages, the Tower House was demolished by the Donegal School District. Officials made the decision due to the fear that a fire would be set and burn down the house and possibly the forest; after all, incidents of vandalism on the property had showed no signs of stopping. In the same year, the Mt. Gretna Snowmobile Club began acting as patrollers and caretakers of the area.
It is a sad irony that the land and property that Schock had wished to belong to the public became an target for some of the public’s worst behavior. It’s worth noting that graffiti has frequently been an issue at the concrete summit tower of Governor Dick, which the SICO Company built in 1954 under the orders of Schock.
But, though Schock’s spectacular house has long since fallen, his vision for the mountain has not met the same fate. The Clarence Schock Memorial Park has not been associated with the Clarence Schock Foundation since 2015, but the park remains largely the kind of space Schock had wanted it to be: a public space for education, recreation, and the appreciation of nature.
Tower House or not, the splendor of Governor Dick is still well worth protecting.
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