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Some numbers in our culture take on lives of their own. They take on figurative meanings outside of their literal defintion.
Take a ‘million’ for instance.
It’s great to have a million bucks, but it’s also good to look that way.
‘A million miles away’ is a phrase that conjures up ideas of endless distances.
And a million gallon pool? Well, that just sounds cool.
So how much is a million gallons? What does this oversized basin actually look like? And most importantly – can one go swimming in this million gallon pool?
There was a time when Mount Gretna was home to a Million Gallon Pool. But that time seems like a million years ago, and its creation may not have been a million dollar idea.
Sue Hostetter is a past chairperson of the Mount Gretna Area Historical Society with a working knowledge of the Million Gallon Pool.
“I would think it was the biggest pool in Lebanon County at the time,” said Hostetter. “It was advertised as ‘The Million Gallon Pool.’ But the advertisements didn’t say if there were other million gallon pools around. It was advertised as one of the best and largest pools in the state, with the water changed daily. It was advertised as the cleanest and most modern pool in this part of the state.”
Mount Gretna’s Million Gallon Pool was much larger than typical municipal and public pools.
As a point of reference, it takes over seven gallons of water to fill a cubic foot of pool space. The pool at Knoebel’s Amusement Resort in Elysburg contains about 900,000 gallons of water, while the standard Olympic-sized pool holds 660,000 gallons.
“Yeah, for that day and age, it was a lot of water,” said Hostetter. “It was a huge, rectangular pool. But it was not as big as the Conewago Lake [in Mount Gretna]. It was pretty big. You can fit a lot of people into a million gallon pool.”
Adding to the lore of Gretna’s Million Gallon Pool was the fact that it really wasn’t around all that long.
The pool was situated northeast of the triangle caused by Butler Road intersecting with Route 117 in Mount Gretna. If one examines that area closely enough today, he or she can vaguely make out the remnants of where the Million Gallon Pool once stood.
“The people who swam in the pool are mostly deceased,” said Hostetter, who secured much of her knowledge about the Million Gallon pool from Jack Bitner’s book “Mount Gretna: A Coleman Legacy.” “They’re not around any more. My father swam in the pool and he said there was a lot of iron in the water. Because of the iron in the pool, the water stained his skin.”
Constructed in 1925, the Million Gallon Pool opened on July 4, 1926. It was the centerpiece of a small amusement park built by Abraham Lincoln Kauffman as a way to compete with Robert Coleman’s Gretna Lake and park, just a few hundred yards west on Route 117.
“At the time, Robert Coleman already had a park,” said Hostetter. “Abraham Lincoln Kauffman thought, ‘If he can do it, why can’t I?’ That’s why he acquired the land, but he was maxed out with his funds. It was really sad because he set out to do a good thing, but he was over-extended.”
Kauffman’s concrete Million Gallon Pool was equipped with all the amenities.
It featured a small pier, a long beach house, lifeguards and most likely a diving board. Patrons could rent their own wool bathing suits for 50 cents, or bring their own and be admitted for 25 cents, while the use of the bath house was free.
“I think what sticks out to me is just the size of it,” said Hostetter, a 65-year-old resident of Mount Gretna. “Just to say you swam in a million gallon pool would be fun. I think that roller coaster would be amazing as well. It depends on what you like, but you can swim a long way in a million gallon pool.
“My dad grew up in Elizabethtown and he went there to swim,” continued Hostetter. “People came from all around. The railroad stopped there, so if you could get to the railroad, you could get to the park. I’m sure people came from Lancaster and Dauphin County. It’s hard for me to imagine all that was there.”
Kauffman also built a rollercoaster and a merry-go-round on the 60-some acres surrounding the Million Gallon Pool. Although it didn’t last long, “Kauffman Park’ was very popular during its heydays.
“Kauffman built a roller coaster that was bigger than the ‘Comet’ at Hersheypark,” said Hostetter. “But it’s hard to imagine where the rollercoaster would’ve been. I don’t think people do know about the Million Gallon pool. The people I talk to don’t know much about it.
“It wasn’t open that long,” Hostetter continued. “I don’t think people talk that much about it. People know about Conewago Lake. But when I tell people there was a million gallon pool in Mount Gretna they say, ‘Where?’ It was kind of a blip in Mount Gretna’s history.”
Not long after it opened, rainy weekends and financial hardships forced Kauffman to close the Million Gallon Pool. By 1928, the Farmers Trust Company bank had taken ownership of Kauffman Park, and later the name was changed to Laurel Park.
Not long after that, the Great Depression gripped the United States. Today, the land that was once home to the Million Gallon Pool is private property.
“It was a beautiful dream, a beautiful vision,” said Hostetter.
“Unfortunately, circumstances beyond [Kauffman’s] control occurred and it didn’t last very long. It was built in the beautiful setting that is Mount Gretna. He made use of natural resources and it was built in a natural setting. I wish I had seen it.
“Someone once said that Mount Gretna is not a place, it’s a spirit,” concluded Hostetter. “When I have people come into the visitors’ center, some will say, ‘What is this place?’ It was founded as a religious retreat. The community is so vibrant, so active, with visual arts and performing arts.
“Some visitors ask, ‘Do people live here?’ When I answer ‘yes’, they ask ‘What do they do in the winter?’ But that’s why you move here, that’s what makes it unique. In the winter, it’s pretty darn quiet.”
But if one listens hard enough, he or she can still hear the sounds of water splashing at the Million Gallon Pool.
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