When rounding the final bend on Route 116 before reaching Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, the expanse of Glatfelter is hard to miss. Synonymous with Spring Grove, the paper mill acts as its gatekeeper; travelers will find it challenging to pass through the town without being enveloped by the business.
As Route 116 changes to the more familiar Main Street after passing under the pedestrian walkway, which connects Glatfelter’s buildings, and over the idyllic railroad tracks, it becomes clear that the mill is a breathing part of the town and the town is entwined in the mill.
A banner hangs on the outside of the pedestrian walking bridge that reads “Go Hali” in honor of Spring Grove native, Hali Flickinger, a swimmer who placed seventh at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. That’s just one example of the sense of pride that resonates here.
Almost as if entering a movie set, workers, still donning hard hats, walk along the sidewalk, signs flank the road with directions to shipping and receiving, and in some areas, only a fence separates the functioning interior of the mill from the street. There is no mistaking that the industrial presence of Glatfelter is a mainstay in the town; the “Papertown” nickname is no coincidence.
It seems impossible that a borough that reaches 1.1 square miles in size with just over 2,000 residents could house such a sizable corporation. The town itself was actually incorporated after the founding of the paper mill, initiating the integral relationship between company and neighborhood.
Founded in 1864 by Phillip H. Glatfelter, the business has evolved into a global presence in the paper industry. The company is committed to environmental awareness and to its 4,300 employees in all locations around the globe.
However, it should be said that Glatfelter is not the company it was in 1864, and although its vision is now more far-reaching, its roots remain at home.
“The early role of the Glatfelter company was very community orientated,” explained Spring Grove Mayor Dolores Aumen. “I think they shaped the community into what it is today.”
In a time when it’s common to see businesses abandon their locale for more cost-effective options, a company like Glatfelter displays the value of remaining part of a local community.
“I think our residents take pride in their own properties,” commented Mayor Aumen. “I also think older residents also take pride in the P.H. Glatfelter Company and what it did for the community.”
Mayor Aumen, who has served as Mayor of Spring Grove for 15 years, and been involved in local government for close to 30 years, understands that same type of commitment.
“We are a small community where folks are friendly and neighborly,” explained Mayor Aumen.
The phrase “friendly and neighborly” may seem more applicable to a fictional place like Mayberry in the world today, but that’s what makes Spring Grove special.
That’s why when Flickinger competed in the Olympics, residents gathered in a park together to watch her work her way to the finals. And why, upon her return home, a parade was held in her honor.
That’s why a local business like the Papertown Dairy Bar has remained in Spring Grove since the 1950’s.
That’s why P.H. Glatfelter’s original residence still stands on Main Street with a sign indicating its significance.
And why a Victorian Tea Parlor can find a niche in the borough for over 14 years.
In the shadow of the towering industrial equipment of Glatfelter sits the Victorian Tea Parlor on Main Street; it’s quiet refinement a contrast to the active machinery across the street.
The Victorian Tea Parlor is a bit like stepping back in time. The fact that it occupies the oldest home in the borough, dating back to 1841, just adds to the ambiance.
Guests can enjoy a full tea service year-round in the renovated interior or outdoors during the summer months in the manicured garden behind the home. Surrounded by a wooden fence, onlookers from the outside would likely be surprised by the thriving pond and floral vistas awaiting them on the other side.
The owners have always loved the Victorian style and antique furniture, so when the opportunity to move to the historic home on Main Street became available, the couple’s vision became a reality.
Paula makes all the food from scratch for each tea service and likes to “stick to the basics.”
Guests can enjoy an elegant six-course service complete with a fresh fruit salad, fresh garden salad, rich pastries and cakes, a variety of sandwiches, seasonal soups, and, finally, a flavorful dessert.
“I like to use old-fashioned recipes and make food that people enjoy,” expounded Paula. “I do a lot of the cooking and baking by taste; that’s how my mother taught me.”
Her specialties include a peaches and cream cake and a creamed chicken rice soup, which was actually created by accident one day while trying to make two separate soups and mistakenly combining the ingredients.
“That’s part of the job,” joked Paula. “Some really surprising things can come out of mistakes in the kitchen; you have to be able to think on your feet.”
Tour buses often make stops at the tea room which fills the 65 person capacity parlor up quickly.
Each of the parlor’s rooms are complete with elaborate and seasonal decorations, including the brightly colored “peacock room.”
The design for the room was inspired by a stained-glass peacock found on a trip to Williamsburg. The couple also drew inspiration for other parts of the home from the styles found in Cape May, New Jersey.
There are also two gift shops on site for visitors looking for tea related items, jewelry, and home decorations.
Paula and Daryl are present at all tea services which are held Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. by reservation.
“What stands out to me is the personalities that Paula brings out in people,” commented Daryl. “People like coming here because it’s something different and unique.”
While the tea service is certainly ornate, the atmosphere, on the other-hand is relaxed. Guests can borrow one of the 400 hats available to wear for the afternoon during tea time. Children are always welcome to attend with any group.
“When people come for tea, we want them to feel that they’re at home now,” remarked Paula.
This statement is certainly a thread that runs throughout the community of Spring Grove: a reminder of what it means to be home.