Two decades of Heritage Christmas started with one person’s idea

PAT FRIDGEN
Lori Coover Lashley is credited with starting Heritage Christmas in Greencastle. From her idea to do something “big” and the generous help of many volunteers for the last 20 years, the annual event has become an anticipated holiday staple by members of the community.

In 1991 Lori Coover Lashley never thought forward to what Christmas in Greencastle would look like two decades hence. Therefore, it took her by surprise when she was notified that the Greencastle-Antrim Chamber of Commerce was going to mark the 20th anniversary of Heritage Christmas in 2010, with many of her original ideas cemented in tradition. The time flew by faster than she realized.

As the new director of the chamber that year, and a self-proclaimed Christmas person and believer in the value of a strong downtown, Lashley embarked on a mission to create something special about the holiday. She and the late Pat McCracken, owner of The Shamrock Shoppe, put their heads together.

"She and I got together to plan a blowout event," said Lashley. "I was always a big proponent of downtown, the heartbeat of the community. We tossed out ideas to get people downtown to shop, and to give back."

They asked the Merchant Association what made Greencastle different. The answer was its Scotch-Irish heritage. Thus the name for the celebration.

The two formed a committee, which also included Connie Shoemaker Hartman from Citizens National Bank, the late Elaine Kauffman from The Frame Shop, and the late Donna Hoskins from Artcraftree.

From their meetings sprang most of the traditions that remain a part of the three-weekend community event each December. Other volunteers joined in to make the area around Center Square a welcoming place on Friday evenings and Saturdays.

The first Heritage

Christmas

Lashley laughs today about the antics that were part of the organizing. McCracken had initiated the tree lighting ceremony the year before, but Lashley wanted a smaller tree for St. Nick's house, which was built and donated by Henry Stouffer and painted by high school seniors for their community service project.

Several committee members drove to Wayne Baumbaugh's farm to get a cedar tree. Lashley lay on the ground with a saw to cut it down.

Hartman and Lashley lined up horse and buggy rides, which became the drawing card for visitors each year. Wanting a 45-minute ride available and guessing horses walked two miles per hour, the pair drove around town to figure out the proper length route.

"Some of the things we did, it's just hysterical now," Lashley said.

They rounded up performers for various activities: Russ and Dody Clever as Belsnickels, Terry Musselman to play dulcimer outside while a harpist played inside Creative Moments, a Dickensian juggler and Samuel McHenry of Fairfield to stroll the sidewalks on bagpipe. Another staple became Shirley Stout as Apple Annie.

"There's no other perfect character for that role," Lashley said. Stout still appears as the benevolent lady.

Hartman recounted a memory as well. “I recruited Frank Mowen as Town Crier. The bank had some costumes from the Bicentennial, and one looked just right. Frank borrowed it every year and we finally told him to keep it.”

Their efforts paid off. Churches joined in, offering popcorn balls, rock candy, cookies and cocoa. The Boy Scouts sold Christmas trees, the Lions Club had citrus, Rotarians played Santa, and other organizations came to the streets with goods and goodwill.

"The response was wonderful," Lashley recalled. "People embraced Heritage Christmas and the cold didn't stop the momentum."

“I remember Friday nights walking around Center Square in my garb, a long skirt and cape, checking on vendors,” said Hartman. “Planning Heritage Christmas was a lot of work, but a lot of fun too. The community enjoyed it then and still does.”

The businesses in the now-defunct Merchant Association contributed financially. They benefited from the crowds.

"People don't have time to waste," Lashley said. "They shop, meet the merchants and develop a relationship. It was well-received and just kept going."

Hartman now works for Susquehanna Bancshares in Millersville. Lashley lives in Greencastle and is regional sales director for Extended Stay Hotels. She served the chamber until 1998, long enough to realize her idea had taken root.