5 Questions for 5 Mechanicisburg Leaders

By Jadrian Klinger and Jen Merrill; Photography by Jadrian Klinger

Mechanicsburg Historical Sites

Irving Female College(12 S. Filbert Street)

The Irving Female College was the first female college in Pennsylvania to grant degrees in arts and science. Founded in 1856, the school was named after famed author Washington Irving, who also served on the school’s board of trustees. The building is now home to the Irving Manor Apartments.


Lincoln Cemetery 
(West Winding Hill Road)

Also known as the Upper Allen Freed Slave Cemetery, Lincoln Cemetery is the burial ground for approximately 80 African-Americans, including 12 Civil War soldiers who served in the United States Colored Troops. Local legend says the cemetery was originally used by escaped slaves who fled the south in search of freedom.


Frankeberger Tavern 
(217 East Main Street)

George Frankeberger was one of Mechanicsburg’s first residents who opened a tavern to offer cattle drovers a warm meal and place to stay for a small fee. The building, built in 1801, is thought to be the oldest building in the borough.


Union Church(47 E. Main Street)

Dating back to 1825 and holding the title of the town’s oldest public building, the Union Church was often used as a meeting place until local congregations could afford their own place of worship. In fact, the Union Church never had a permanent pastor or congregation.


Stationmaster’s House(4 Strawberry Alley)

Built in

1863 for just over $5,000, this two-story building was constructed for stationmaster George Zacharias and his family. It served as a baggage building for the Cumberland Valley Railroad and Railway Express Agency before the Mechanicsburg Museum Association began restoring the home into a typical middle-class 1860s family home.


5 Questions for Bob Buhrig –

President of the Downtown Mechanicsburg Partnership


What is the Downtown Mechanicsburg Partnership?

Downtown Mechanicsburg Partnership, formerly Main Street Mechanicsburg (MSM), was formed in November 2004 with a focus on downtown revitalization.  The creation of a historic district was completed in 2006.  Updating the 30-year-old comprehensive plan

of  the

borough was completed in 2007.  Improving traffic flow by way of a traffic signalization project is presently underway. The Downtown Mechanicsburg Partnership has four major committees, which comprise the activities for our organization: Promotion, Design, Organizational Development


Economic Restructuring.  An action strategy has been created for each committee outlining goals and objectives along with a timeframe for completion for each objective. Mechanicsburg has the tools to continue to succeed. The downtown’s program of revitalization and promotion is led by a well-organized, committed group of volunteers, organizations, business owners and government officials. Mechanicsburg’s volunteers share a unified focus on fostering successful partnerships and promoting opportunities to ensure that our traditional commercial and residential core continues to be attractive, livable and business friendly. We truly are “Yours to Discover!”


What makes Mechanicsburg a great place to live?

Our people make Mechanicsburg a great place to live.  There are so many wonderful and talented people who live and/or work in Mechanicsburg.  Our town has something for everyone and is a great place to raise a family.  We are so very close to cities like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington and New York while enjoying the benefits of a wonderful and safe town in which to live and work.

What is Mechanicsburg’s biggest challenge?

It is always challenging to get the good word out about a treasure like downtown Mechanicsburg.  People do not always realize that we have tons of free ample parking, wonderful and unique shops, true craftspeople and artists and are safe and convenient. Sharing this information with the masses is a continual challenge and, in my opinion, the biggest challenge downtown Mechanicsburg faces.


What is one thing that those not living in Mechanicsburg might be surprised to know about the borough?

Mechanicsburg is a wonderfully historic town.  Many people may not realize that Mechanicsburg was the northernmost town to be occupied by the Confederate Army during the Civil War.  Our history is rich and runs deep, making Mechanicsburg a wonderful place to discover our past.

What do you predict for the future growth of Mechanicsburg?

At almost every monthly meeting, we discuss the evolution of technology in our historic downtown.  Currently, plans are moving forward to increase the use of and access to technology in downtown Mechanicsburg.  This will greatly enhance our downtown by more closely drawing together our historic, retail, artistic and modern/connected sides.

5 Questions forJeff Palm –

Executive Director of Mechanicsburg Chamber

of Commerce

What does the Chamber do for Mechanicsburg?

The Mechanicsburg Chamber of Commerce strives to promote the commercial and community interests of the Mechanicsburg area. As an association of local businesses and residents, we are committed to creating and supporting a stable and ever-growing area to live and work. With events and programs for the residential and business community, we make every effort to be the resource for information, communication


networking. We are here to promote economic growth and contribute to making the Mechanicsburg area a strong community.  The Mechanicsburg Chamber helps to directly provide community activities like the Halloween Parade, Streets of Treats, the New Year’s Eve Wrench Drop and Jubilee Day™.


For those who may have never attended Jubilee Day, describe it for the uninitiated?

I’m glad you didn’t ask me to describe it in three


because that’s impossible.  Jubilee Day™ takes a small-town Main Street and turns it into a fairgrounds for a day and then back to the small-town Main Street.  For 85 years, Jubilee Day™ has built itself up to


the largest, longest running one-day street fair on the East Coast, but I think it may encompass the whole country.  We bring in over 300 vendors of arts and crafts, food, retail goods, civic and nonprofit organizations, businesses promoting themselves and add in musical groups, carnival rides and a petting zoo to offer a full day’s worth of entertainment with that truly “Americana” feel.  It’s an event where if it can be deep fried and/or shoved on a stick, you’ll find it, and the mayor declares that calories on that day do not count.  I liken it to going to the beach and the boardwalk without having to clean the sand out of your shoes.  The sights, the sounds, the entertainment and 70,000 of your closest friends make it a unique event for a town of 10,000 on a normal day.  The social aspect of the day definitely makes it a


dream.  And for that one day, all roads lead to Mechanicsburg, and the situations of the rest of the world may not exist on the front burner, but it is a day of fun.


What makes Mechanicsburg a great place to live?

It goes back to all roads lead to Mechanicsburg, literally.  With the proximity of transportation systems, Mechanicsburg provides the access to the


but can continue to have that small-town America feel with a downtown business district that even has the neighborhood hardware store.  There are the family owned/run boutique and specialty stores, but the greater Mechanicsburg area still provides the nationally known businesses that most demand, so there is the best of both worlds.  Mechanicsburg offers that sense of community and neighborhood that many look for.  There is a “this is my town” sense of pride where people look out for each other and want the best opportunities to keep that feeling.  The school systems help promote this also, where children can grow up with their friends the whole way from pre-K to graduation.  This helps to build an identity and a pride that comes with it.  That’s what builds a community.


What is one thing that those not living in Mechanicsburg might be surprised to know about the borough?

First, Mechanicsburg is more than just the borough.  Mechanicsburg is comprised of the borough and all, or portions of, five surrounding townships – Hampden, Lower Allen, Monroe, Silver Spring and Upper Allen (actually a portion of Monaghan Township in York County falls into this).  We consider anything with a zip code that the United States Postal Service gives Mechanicsburg as part of our focus – 17055, 17050 and 17027 (Grantham), 17072 (New Kingstown).  Some may not realize that Mechanicsburg was actually named for the mechanics that settled here.  At first, it was the mechanics that repaired the wagons heading west during the expansion of the 1800s and continued with the expansion of the Cumberland Valley Railroad system.  It’s fitting that you would find mechanics in Mechanicsburg at the crossroads of so many transportation systems of Pennsylvania.


What do you predict for the future growth of Mechanicsburg?

I see the continued decline of agriculture as the focus of the surrounding landscape of the townships and the growth of residential development.  With the growth of residential lands, the expansion of all the services that are demanded by incoming citizens and the enlarging families will continue to add building blocks to the solid economic foundation that has been established.  We should see the continuation of recognizable nationally known outfits, but also an increase


those niche and boutique businesses that come along with an expanded population.  New people can bring new ideas.

5 Questions forJack Ritter –

Mayor of Mechanicsburg


What makes Mechanicsburg a great place to live?

I’ve been here all my life.  I was raised here and went to school here.  I love the town.  And I think that the friendliness of the town is what makes it, neighbors helping neighbors.  The people make the town.  And I think it’s the opportunities here to be part of all the activities that are going on – athletics, library, museums, lots of spin-off things that the churches are doing to get people involved.


What is Jubilee Day like from your perspective as mayor?

I like the sights and the sounds and the fun food.  When I get to work in the morning, I always say that the mayor’s office has a proclamation that calories don’t count that day.   There are pancakes, funnel cakes, crab cakes, rides, exhibits, vendors, music.  I think what’s fun is seeing friends, being out on the street and running into somebody from school, or somebody you hadn’t seen for a while.


What is Mechanicsburg’s biggest challenge?

I don’t think people like to think about it, into the future, but I think consolidation.  That’s probably the biggest challenge we have in Mechanicsburg.  The consolidation of the fire departments, which is being talked about, and most likely will happen, but also the consolidation of school systems, the surrounding school systems, consolidations of police services with surrounding townships.  Consolidation, I think, is the key to longevity, but people don’t want to think about that right now.  There’s a natural desire to keep things as they are, to keep things as they were or even to keep things as they wish they had been.  I think consolidation is going to break that up.  It’s not going to happen quickly, but I can see it in the future for Mechanicsburg and the surrounding environment.


What is the future growth of Mechanicsburg?  Can Mechanicsburg grow with consolidation?

We could grow, as other people could grow


consolidation.  The borough has a defined space and our tax base is not growing.  A lot of people that sleep here don’t work here.  So that’s something to also consider, along with transportation.  I know that that’s discussed from time to time, with the rail.  Better transportation to transport people in and out.  But we love our cars – we love our heated seats and radio systems.  And that makes it hard for people to jump on public transportation.


What is one thing that those not living in Mechanicsburg might be surprised to know about the borough?

I think Mechanicsburg has a rich history.  We have Jubilee Day™.  That’s just one day out of the year, but that’s quite a day.  I think the friendliness of the town is surprising to people.  The neighbors that like each other and that get together for barbecues.  I’ve seen people in these recent snowstorms – they’re all out shoveling snow, and some guy will drag his grill out to make hotdogs. Then someone else will make hot chocolate, and they’ll have a party out in the snow.  This is neighborhood fun.   I don’t think you see that in some places where the houses are sitting on one-acre blocks.   You don’t get to really know who your neighbors are.  I think the close proximity of homes helps to make that.

5 Questions for Richard Snelbaker – President of the Mechanicsburg Museum Association


What are the interesting and important historical assets of Mechanicsburg?

The complex of railroad buildings that relate to the Cumberland Valley Railroad dating back to the 1800s, which house a trove of memorabilia providing a record of the past. It supports the museum’s motto – “Keeping Our History Alive.”


Why is it important to preserve and recognize Mechanicsburg’s history?

To provide credible evidence of our past.


What is the biggest challenge for the Mechanicsburg Museum Association?

Maintaining a healthy balance sheet without taxing power.


What do you predict for the future growth of the Mechanicsburg Museum Association?

There is plenty of room for new members of the Mechanicsburg Museum Association at a membership rate of $35 per year, which provides a number of benefits. We always need help!


What makes Mechanicsburg a great place to live?


atmosphere with convenient access to city resources.

5 Questions forSue Erdman,
 Library Director for Joseph T. Simpson Public Library


Describe your average day as the director of the Joseph T. Simpson Library.

What I love most about my job is the constant variety of work and the fact that there is always work to be done. Most of my time is spent communicating with staff, patrons, board members, Friends of the Library members, donors and the community along with planning, fundraising and coordinating special events.  Much of my time is spent working with five library committees that keep the library-focused, forward-thinking and operating smoothly.


For those who may have never visited, describe the Joseph T. Simpson Library.

Warm and welcoming in a charming, historic building. Built in the 1840s, the library is located in a renovated grain warehouse that was used as a hospital during the Civil War. Many of the wooden beams and columns are original to the building. The design maintains the historic flavor of the building while providing modern-day library services.


What makes Mechanicsburg a great place to live?

Mechanicsburg is rooted in tradition but embraces progress. We are progressive while preserving a traditional hometown feeling.  We have excellent schools, a vibrant and thriving public library and a tremendous spirit of volunteerism in our community. From our volunteer fire departments to churches to community organizations to schools, there is a large, committed cadre of volunteers passionate about their volunteer work and devoted to making Mechanicsburg “A Good Place to Live.”  Mechanicsburg is a culturally diverse community with neighbors helping neighbors but can also be described as a classic American town. We have many parents active and involved in their children’s education and activities. Mechanicsburg has great town pride and people committed to volunteering for the greater good of Mechanicsburg.


What is your biggest challenge as director?

Striving to continue offering quality library services on a very limited budget. Funding levels are uncertain from year to year, which hinders service expansion opportunities, and the cost of technology services and electronic resources continues to rise. Fundraising is a year-long activity every year.


What is your proudest moment as director?

Providing a positive and supportive environment that has inspired half a dozen employees to enroll in graduate school and earn a master’s degree in library science. Also, planning and overseeing a very successful golden anniversary celebration in 2011 in honor of the library’s 50th anniversary. A year-long series of programs, events and special activities were held during this celebration and an endowment fund for the library was established.