• National Christmas Center
  • Herr's Mill Covered Bridge
  • Harrisburg, Lincoln & Lancaster Railroad

On January 7, 2018, the National Christmas Center of Paradise, Pennsylvania, closed its doors. For over 19 years, this 22,000-square foot beloved tourist destination shared the magic of Christmas, both religious and secular, its memories, its history, and its traditions with thousands of visitors.

Jim Morrison, founder, curator, and historian of the center, along with his business partner, Dave Murtaugh, began a search for someone who could purchase the center’s Christmas collections and keep the spirit of Christmas alive by continuing to share these treasures with others. Their prayers were answered, and the search ended when, in October, 2018, Stone Gables Estate purchased the entire Christmas collection, one of the largest collections of historical Christmas memorabilia in the United States. Morrison, who is referred to as the “Keeper of Christmas,” comes with the collection to Stone Gables Estate. He will continue to play an integral role in the resurrection of the National Christmas Center at Stone Gables Estate.

In early 2019, the Christmas collection was carefully packed, loaded onto numerous tractor trailers, and transported to a climate-controlled storage area where it will be monitored, cleaned, restored, and put into full working order until its new home is ready. Several rare nativity scenes from the National Christmas Center will be displayed this Christmas in The Star Barn. One exhibit to be included is a 23-piece life-sized and hand-carved basswood Nativity.

The National Christmas Center will be housed in 40,000 S.F. of the future
restored Barns of Belmont. The main 120 x 60, four-and-one-half story
1867 Belmont barn and its associated structures, located along Fruitville Pike in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, were threatened by impending development. In 2014, Stone Gables Estate acquired these structures. The buildings were carefully disassembled in 2015, cataloged, and moved into temporary storage. The Barns of Belmont is a multi-year endeavor. The two main Barns of Belmont and the National Christmas Center are projected to be completed and opened by November, 2023.

There will also be several new and exciting collections added, all
under the watchful eyes of Santa Morrison.

The Herr’s Mill Covered Bridge, also known as “Soudersburg Covered Bridge,” was originally located in Paradise Township on S. Ronks Road in Paradise, Pennsylvania. It spanned the Pequea Creek.  The original two-span double-Burr arch bridge was built in 1844 by Joseph Elliot and Robert Russell for $1,787. The bridge’s truss style was designed by Theodore Burr in 1804 and is the style used for the bulk of the remaining covered bridges in Pennsylvania. In 1875, the bridge was rebuilt by James C. Carpenter at a cost of $1,860. Its original overall length was 178 feet; its opening height was 12 feet, 11 inches.

In 1955, Hurricane Hazel took the roof from this bridge and dropped it directly across the creek intact. The covered bridge was bypassed in 1971 when Township Route 696/S. Ronks Road was moved several feet west and replaced with a modern concrete bridge to accommodate increased traffic, emergency vehicles, and heavier farm equipment. The Herr’s Mill Covered Bridge underwent renovations and repairs in the 1970’s. It was painted red on the outside, the traditional color of Lancaster County covered bridges.  Both approaches to the bridge were painted in the traditional white color.

In 1980, it was added to the National Register of Historical Places. The Pine Grove Covered Bridge and Herr’s Mill Covered Bridge were Lancaster County’s only double span covered bridges. On November 17, 2014, the Herr’s Mill Covered Bridge was damaged by fire.

The Herr’s Mill Covered Bridge was deteriorating and in imminent danger of falling into Pequea Creek when it was rescued. In September, 2018, the Herr’s Mill Covered Bridge was sold by the owner of Mill Bridge Village and Camp Resort to DAS Companies, Inc. A 210-ton crane arrived on September 4, 2018 to fortify the bridge which was almost lost in August, 2018 flooding. Everything, including the limestone abutments, was removed for reuse in the reconstruction of the bridge at its new location. The two-span bridge will be reassembled as two covered bridges at Stone Gables Estate.

In April, 2019, one span from the original Herr’s Mill Covered Bridge was reconstructed/restored at Stone Gables Estate as the first covered bridge. It is being used for horse and carriage, hitch wagon, and modern vehicle traffic crossing Conoy Creek. The second span will be reconstructed/restored at a future date on the site as the second covered bridge. Additional train track will run through this bridge over Conoy Creek.

The opening of the first of the two covered bridges to the public was April 22, 2019, with the reenactment of the Lincoln Funeral Train passing by the bridge.

Lancaster County is currently home to 29 covered bridges, more than any other county in Pennsylvania.

Stone Gables Estate is home to the Harrisburg, Lincoln & Lancaster Railroad which features a replica of an 1868 steam locomotive, pulling replicas of the 1848 Pioneer Coach and the 1865 presidential private car, “United States,” which was used as Lincoln’s Funeral Car.

Passengers get an opportunity to ride the train through the center of the 275-acre Stone Gables Estate, passing hand-cut and stacked original stone wall through the woodlands with 250 to 350-year-old “witness” trees along the rail line. The line was chartered in 1835 as the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt. Joy & Lancaster Railroad. Construction for this line was completed in 1838. It was sold in 1860 to the Pennsylvania Railroad. The tracks were removed in 1903 when the new Pennsylvania Railroad mainline opened through Elizabethtown, which today is the Amtrak line running between Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

LOCOMOTIVE FACTS
    Full-size operating steam locomotive.
    Exact replica of a locomotive built in 1868 by Schenectady Locomotive Works in New York for the Central Pacific Railroad in Sacramento, California.
    Operates on Standard Gauge tracks used in the United States.
    Burns oil in the firebox in order to boil water which makes the steam.  The original locomotive burned wood.
    The car behind the locomotive carries the fuel and water, known as the “Tender.”
    This type of locomotive is known by its wheel arrangement, 4-4-0, which is called the “American Standard” type and was the most commonly used from the 1850’s through the 1870’s.
    Locomotives of this era were all outfitted with elaborate brass or bright work with elaborate lettering and painting.
    This locomotive was built in 2009 by Dave Kloke of Elgin, Illinois.
    Between 2009 and 2015, this locomotive was rented by tourist railroads around the country to operate for special events.  Special trailers were built to haul it.
    Purchased by Stone Gables Estate in 2018 for operation on yet-to-be-completed three miles of railroad, of which .62 miles of the 1838 right-of-way is reconstructed.  The original Lincoln funeral train passed on this route on April 22, 1865; the Liberty Bell Train passed on this route in 1915.

PIONEER COACH FACTS
The yellow passenger day coach, known as the “Pioneer Coach,” was built by Dave Kloke in 2019 and is a replica of a coach built in 1848 for the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, which pulled the first passenger train westbound out of Chicago.  Stone Gables Estate purchased this car in 2019.

LINCOLN FUNERAL CAR FACTS
In 2018, Stone Gables Estate purchased the only replica of the Lincoln Funeral Car, built by Dave Kloke.  The “United States” rail car is a 2015 replica of the first private rail car originally built for President Lincoln in 1865.  Lincoln was scheduled to inspect the new coach on April 15, 1865, the day after he and Mary Todd attended Ford’s Theatre, but he never saw the car.  Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, issued orders for the car to be used to carry Lincoln’s body and that of his son, Willie, who died in 1862.  Both were carried back to Springfield, Illinois.