Mount Joy: Honoring the Past, Sailing Into the Future

History abounds in this small town that grew out of the wilderness, offering natural riches to fur traders and religious freedom to Scots-Irish settlers. Fast forward 300-plus years and while Mount Joy continues to thrive and grow, it has also managed to retain its small-town feel and values. 

Mount Joy, looking east toward Lancaster. Originally a series of villages, they became one town – Mount Joy – in 1851. Florin joined the fold in 1963.

“For a small town, we have quite a bit to offer,” says Ashley Zell, the executive director at the Mount Joy Chamber of Commerce, who goes on to tick off a number of the town’s attributes, including friendly people, a proud history, a new train station, multiple parks, beautiful and productive farmland, a great school district, a campus for the Lancaster County Career and Technology Center, a number of 55+ communities, a wide range of restaurants, a golf course, multiple car dealerships, three major grocery stores (not to mention specialty stores and farm stands), entrepreneurial opportunities and the list goes on. 

“During Covid, people from out of the area were buying houses [in Mount Joy] online and choosing to come here to live,” she marvels. Indeed, a recent post on Nextdoor.com, relayed those sentiments: “My husband and I moved from California to Pennsylvania three years ago and just moved into a house we purchased in Mount Joy. Lovely place, wonderful neighborhood, we couldn’t be happier!” 

Did I mention the intoxicating aroma of chocolate wafts through the air in Mount Joy? That comes courtesy of Cargill, the parent company of Wilbur Chocolate. Yes, the famous Wilbur Buds are now manufactured in Mount Joy. 

Travel a few miles out of town and the area’s agricultural heritage becomes evident. Go west and you’ll encounter the Susquehanna River and the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail. Speaking of travel, Route 283 skirts the town, providing easy access to Lancaster, Hershey and Harrisburg.  

Opened in 2019, Mount Joy’s new railway station represents a 3-year, $30+ million project whose design complements the Victorian and other 19th-century homes/buildings that surround it.

Since its beginnings, Mount Joy has served as the incubator for many entrepreneurial businesses. The stories are endless. Alois Bube launched a brewery in Mount Joy in 1876 that grew into a little empire that included a hotel that provided visitors with lodging and dining options. Today it is owned by Sam Allen, who purchased the complex in 1982 and transformed it into a brewing, dining and entertainment venue.  

JB Hostetter, which began as a hardware store and has expanded in other directions, celebrated its 95th anniversary last year. The store’s roots date to 1927, when Joseph Hostetter retired from farming and bought an existing hardware store in Mount Joy. Associated with True Value Hardware since 1970, the store moved to its present location in the early ’80s. Today it is owned by another generation of Hostetters, Jack and Kent Hostetter. 

Jim Roberts West Main Auto is another success story. Fifty years ago, Jim and his wife, Sharon, had grown weary of moving (eight times in nine years) due his managerial duties with the F. W. Woolworth Company. They returned to Mount Joy and opened a general store in 1974 that had an automotive component. They eventually went in an all-automotive direction and became associated with Western Auto. Growth propelled the business into becoming one of Western Auto’s top-performing stores. Next year, the family-owned business will celebrate its 50th anniversary.  

Hummer’s Meats is another time-honored, family-owned business, as it dates to 1957. It specializes in fresh beef and poultry, local pork and produce, bacon and fried chicken that according to locals is out of this world.   

Koser Jewelers, which has been owned by Randy Wolgemuth for the past 35 years, celebrated its 70th anniversary last year. Koser’s is home to such names as Hearts on Fire, Judith Ripka, Citizen and Tacori among others.  

Mount Joy is also home to the renowned RGM Watch Co. that was founded by Roland G. Murphy 30 years ago. The hand-crafted and custom creations are simply exquisite, making them favorites with watch fans the world over.  

Newcomers have also been making their marks. Ricardo and Anabel Ortiz opened a small Mexican grocery in Steelton in 2004. Two years later, they opened a restaurant. In 2009, they moved the original enterprise to Harrisburg. In 2011, a grocery and restaurant (Tres Hermanos) made its debut in Mount Joy. 

The Spooky Nook Sports Complex is helping to create a demand for hotels and restaurants in the Mount Joy area. One new restaurant is Frisco’s Chicken, whose founder and owner, Francisco Gomez De La Torre (along with partner Josh Rinier), epitomizes the entrepreneurial spirit. 

Fox Chapel Publishing

One of Mount Joy’s newer additions, Fox Chapel Publishing, moved its headquarters from East Petersburg to a refurbished warehouse on Square Street in 2019. Founded in 1991 by Canadian Alan Giagnocavo, Fox Chapel publishes books and magazines relating to gardening, quilting, cooking, woodworking, crafting and other hands-on pursuits. Fox Chapel is also in the process of nearly doubling space in its nearby warehouse. 

In the realm of agriculture, Brubaker Farms is a shining example of stewardship. Two years ago, the poultry and dairy farm was the recipient of the Leopold Conservation Award, which recognizes farmers, ranchers, etc. who exemplify a dedicated effort to caring for the land, water and wildlife that define their acreage. The Brubaker farm, which is now overseen by third- and fourth-generation family members, has been a leader in conservation efforts for years. 

Other agricultural success stories include Fifth Month Farm, which boasts one of the county’s most successful CSAs. It is operated by Devin and Kristi Barto. If you’ve ever eaten popcorn at a movie theatre, carnival, ballpark, stadium or theme park, there’s a good chance Reist Popcorn in Mount Joy (another generational company) supplied those kernels. 

The Mount Joy-Elizabethtown area is also becoming wedding central due to the growing number of venues that range from historic properties to barns and outdoor areas. One such venue is Melhorn Manor, which is owned by Allory and Jessica Melhorn. While the farm dates to 1750, it has been tended to by four generations of the Melhorn family since 1919. Always desirous of developing his own business, Allory took note of the popularity of farm venues and approached his then-fiancée, Jessica, with the idea of transforming Melhorn’s barn and other outbuildings into an events destination. The latest addition is a water garden that provides the perferct setting for photographs. Theirs was the first wedding to take place at Melhorn Manor in 2017.    

Representing the Mount Joy Chamber of Commerce are Ashley Zell (executive director) and Jamie Rutt (president), who heads the B. Titus Rutt Insurance Agency, which was founded by his grandfather (and the company’s namesake) in 1935. The Mount Joy Chamber will be celebrating its 85th anniversary in 2024.

Ashley also points to community pride and involvement as reasons for Mount Joy’s success. “Mount Joy is home to one of the biggest Memorial Day parades in the area,” she says, noting that it’s been held “forever,” as it dates to the late 1800s. “People put their chairs out the night before,” she shares. Seats are needed, as the parade of bands, civic organizations, local businesses and other groups typically needs nearly two hours to march down Main Street. 

As for the town’s Chamber of Commerce, Ashley pinpoints its success to the involvement of its more than 200 members. “They are active and involved,” she says of the support that is given to monthly meetings and events such as mixers, a chicken barbecue (August 19), and the annual holiday event that has pivoted to become a Gratitude Luncheon. The Chamber also awards scholarships to students in an effort to “encourage and assist future workforce leaders in our community.” It also sponsors community events such as Music in Memorial Park, Visits with Santa and a Groundhog Day celebration with Mount Joy Minnie. 

As a sidenote, people in Mount Joy are particular as to how the town’s name is spelled. Mount is never to be abbreviated. The Mount in the name does not refer to a mountainous area. Instead, it has do with an important time in history. 

For more information, visit mountjoychamber.com.

Historical Perspective 

According to the Mount Joy Area Historical Society, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the town’s roots extend back to 17th-century England, when James II became king in 1685. His ascension to the throne caused political turmoil, as James was Catholic, while members of Parliament aligned with the Church of England. Three years later, James’ daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange (who were not Catholic), returned to England (at the invitation of Parliament). James abdicated the throne and retreated first to France and then to Ireland. 

While Mary and William jointly ruled England, James gained the backing of the Irish Catholics, who regarded him as the King of Ireland. A rebellion was instigated with the intent of restoring him to the English throne. After taking Dublin, James’ army (known as Jacobites, which is Latin for James), set off to overtake Londonderry, which was a Presbyterian stronghold and whose Scots-Irish citizenry vowed, “No surrender.” James and his troops waged warfare against the Scots-Irish, trapping them behind the walls of the city for 150 days. 

Mount Joy Area Historical Society

By July 28 (1689), their resolve was nearly depleted due to starvation. However, on that day a miracle occurred: Three supply ships – sent by King William – sailed up the River Foyle, only to be met by a boom (a floating barrier of tree trunks and debris) that blocked their passage. The first ship to ram the boom was the Mountjoy, which was armed and loaded with provisions. The other ships, Phoenix and Jerusalem, followed in the wake of the Mountjoy, essentially liberating Londonderry. 

As for James, he was exiled to France, where he died in 1701. 

Religious freedom became a rallying cry throughout Europe and over the next several decades, Scots-Irish Presbyterians left Ireland in droves and made their way to America. One of the largest settlements, Donegal, took root in Lancaster County. Large swaths of land – as in Ireland, they were referred to as plantations – were granted to the newcomers by William Penn. By the early 1800s, the tracts had been divided into smaller parcels, through which three main villages emerged. They were Mountjoy, Richland and Springville (later called Florin). They, in turn, spawned smaller villages that  were given names such as Mountjoy Continued and Richland Extended. The confusion ended in 1851, when the two main villages, Mountjoy and Richland (plus some of the smaller hamlets) incorporated to form the Borough of Mount Joy. Florin joined the fold in 1963.   


July 1: Fête en Independence 

This pop-up dinner, which is sponsored by Voyage Mount Joy, will be held at Little Chiques Park. A version of Fête en Blanc parties, attendees are asked to dress in red, white and blue. Tables and chairs provided; guests bring food, drink and décor. Live music and a DJ provide entertainment. For ticket information, visit voyagemountjoy.com. 

Music in Memorial Park 

Each summer, the Mount Joy Chamber of Commerce sponsors this three-week event. Food vendors open at 5 p.m., music runs 5:30-7:30 p.m. 101 Marietta Ave. Mountjoychamber.com. The schedule is as follows: 

  • July 30: Kracker Beez (classic rock/pop) will provide the music, while the Piper Belle’s BBQ Food Truck will be the food vendor.  
  • August 6: The Celtic Martins (Irish and American fiddle tunes) will perform, while the food vendor is Spud Muffin Food Truck. 
  • August 13: Stu Huggens & the Honky Tonk Heroes (country/Americana) will wrap up the series; Mount Joy Chamber will provide free hot dogs, ice cream, snacks and drinks. 

July 22: Taste of Mount Joy Cruisin’ Cuisine Car Show 

The 20th edition of this annual event is being co-chaired by Linda Eberly (whose father started the show), Ferne Silberman and Ron Carper. It is a collaborative effort on the parts of the Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions clubs, as well as Voyage Mount Joy and the Red Rose Car Club. Fifty awards will be presented. Restaurants along Main Street will be part of a food court. Main Street in Mount Joy. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Voyagemountjoy.com.    

July 29: Mount Joy Community Night at the Barnstormers

Mount Joy will be taking center stage at Clipper Magazine Stadium for this Barnstormers’ game. Mount Joy Community Night will entail a “Christmas in July” theme, complete with Santa (dressed in a Hawaiian shirt) throwing out the first ball. Fireworks follow the game. 6:30 p.m. Lancasterbarnstormers.com.  

Mount Joy Area Historical Society 

Last month, the Mount Joy Area Historical Society commemorated its 50th anniversary. Founded in 1973 by citizens who had grown concerned about the fate of the area’s historical records and artifacts, the organization remains a volunteer-driven endeavor. It makes its home in a one-room schoolhouse that was built in 1843 and served as one of five such schools in the borough. When a school was built to replace the one-room buildings in 1872, the Cemetery Road Schoolhouse was sold for $125. After being owned by a succession of people, the historical society was able to acquire it in 2011. Located at 120 Fairview Street, it is open to the public on Sundays from 1-4 p.m. 

The organization holds a monthly lecture series that is open to the public. The 7 p.m. lectures are held at the organization’s headquarters. Summer lectures include: 

  • July 17: An Evening with Ben Franklin, presented by Craig Hall and Sheryl Williams. 
  • August 21: John Adams, presented by Robert Frick. 


Voyage Mount Joy 

Community involvement helps small towns thrive. In Mount Joy, a relatively new organization is aiming to elevate marketing efforts and create new events. 

Representing Voyage Mount Joy is Sheri Bare, who is a lifelong resident of the borough and has operated a business along Main Street for 35 years. She is pictured with the sculpture of the ship, the Mountjoy, which liberated the town of Londonderry from King James’ Jacobite forces in 1689. The sculpture was created by Dan Witmer.

Launched in May 2021, Voyage Mount Joy emerged as a result of local business owners agreeing that an elevated marketing effort was needed to publicize the town’s events and opportunities. The volunteer endeavor is led by Sheri Bare (president), Allory Melhorn (event planner), Sherry Caldwell (secretary/treasurer), Katie Roering (director of marketing and social media) and Eric Roering (corporate accountant). With the exception of Sherry, who is retired, all are business owners. The goal of the organization is to “identify and focus on the strengths of Mount Joy and create a competitive identity,” all the while it “invokes positivity and respect for those who live, visit and work in Mount Joy.” 

 “In Mount Joy, we like to regard our long-time residents as gatekeepers,” says Sheri, who considers herself a member of that faction, as she grew up in the borough and has operated a business (Room with a View) on Main Street for more than 35 years. “The gatekeepers know all the traditions and stories that make Mount Joy a special place to live,” she explains. 

Katie and Eric represent Mount Joy’s newcomers. Katie grew up in Manheim Township and at one time owned a pet-care facility in Landisville. “I wanted to live near work, so we bought a house at Florin Hill,” she explains. Now, she and Eric, who hails from Minnesota and moved here to take a job with Cargill, own Fontana Candles, which they launched from their basement. When they lost manufacturing space in Mount Joy, they moved the operation to a location in Manheim Township. 

The need for a still-larger facility is prompting the Roerings to dream of moving the operation back to Mount Joy. “I love it here,” Katie says. “We like the sense of community that exists here. Mount Joy is quaint, charming and quiet. We have everything here you would need. You don’t have to go to Lancaster for good food. Mount Joy has everything you’d want.” 

Katie and Eric Roering represent Mount Joy’s generation of newer residents. Wanting to be close to the business she once owned in Landisville, the couple bought a house at Florin Hill. The entrepreneurs now own and operate Fontana Candles and are involved with Voyage Mount Joy.

As for putting a positive spin on Mount Joy, Katie says, “We want to capitalize on our strengths.” That began with a motto and a name. Sheri points to the timeless “I Love New York” slogan that helped to make people see the Big Apple in an all-new light. Similarly, “Voyage Mount Joy” conveys a sense of history and moving forward in three words. 

Now, with the pandemic seemingly in our rearview mirror, the work being carried out by Voyage Mount Joy couldn’t come at a more opportune time. In the spring, it was announced that Main Street Mount Joy was disbanding after 20 years of championing revitalization efforts in the business district. While operations ended in May, Main Street assured residents that events sponsored by the organization would continue through a Community Center that was being established at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church. 

In September 2021, Voyage Mount Joy unveiled its inaugural event: The Market at Mount Joy. The idea was to return the market tradition to downtown through offering residents the products of local farmers, makers and food trucks. The event was so successful that in 2022 it expanded to the first Thursday of the month, May through October. Entertainment was added and best of all, the hours (3:30-6:30 p.m.) were perfect for those who worked. Unfortunately, because the street on which the market was held is undergoing construction, the market had to be canceled this season.       

Despite the setback, Voyage Mount Joy forged ahead and put the market on the back burner and planned new events. In April (2023), Community Day was held at Little Chiques Park and featured representatives from the borough’s fire, police and EMT units. A yoga class was held. Kids could learn about plants and rod-casting lessons were provided. Disc-golf lessons (the park has a course) were also provided. “We had a great turnout,” says Sheri. 

Next up is the Fête en Independence event being held July 1. Modeled on Fête en Blanc events, guests are being asked to dress in red, white and blue attire. While guests will supply their own food, beverages and table décor, Voyage Mount Joy will provide tables, chairs and musical entertainment. 

Later in the month (July 22), Voyage Mount Joy will be supporting the annual Taste of Mount Joy Cruisin’ Cuisine Car Show, which this year will feature a return of a food element thanks to participation by area restaurants. 

“We want to be the resource for things happening in 17552,” Sheri says of the website, newsletter and social media that publicize events and business happenings in Mount Joy’s zip code. “We want both our long-time residents and our newcomers to be informed of what’s going on in town.” 

For more information, visit voyagemountjoy.com. 

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