The Cameron-Masland Mansion at Kings Gap State Park
As you drive along a scenic Carlisle country road in Central Pennsylvania, you’ll spot an old-fashioned general store, perfectly folksy and reminiscent of times past, and know that your turn onto Kings Gap Road is here. The trek along this beautiful road looks just like any other tree-lined country road, as you zig zag over a stream and pass wildlife and native plants. The winding road provides a feeling of comfort during the slow ascension up and up the South Mountain as you make your way closer to your destination.
After driving for a few minutes, the beautiful scenery parts at the crest of the mountain, and a gorgeous gray stone building comes into view. This stunning feature is the Camerson-Masland Mansion at Kings Gap. The grounds of this impressive estate offer a breathtaking panoramic view of the Cumberland Valley that will humble even the most cynical of visitors. Surrounding the mansion, you will find 25 miles of hiking trails, a whimsical garden, perfect picnic spots and structures from the early 1900s.
The mansion has stood in this picturesque location since it was built in 1908 as a summer home for James McCormick Cameron, a member of the politically prominent Cameron family of Harrisburg, PA. The 32-room mansion was built of native Antietam quartzite quarried from a nearby ridge and was designed to resemble an Italian villa with its flat roof, huge windows and flagstone terrace.
The internal structure of the mansion is steel-reinforced concrete, believed to be one of the first such applications in local construction. The reason for using steel-reinforced concrete was to make the mansion as fireproof as possible. As it turned out, Mr. Cameron only ended up living at the mansion from May through October, when the risk of fire was at its lowest.
To this day, some of the original structures from the Cameron estate still stand. When you visit, you can see the water tower, a carriage house, a small generator building, the stone-walled garden, the caretaker’s house which is now currently a private residence, and the ice house where ice hauled from Pine Grove Furnace each winter was kept to keep the food cool during the summer months.
The mansion held his namesake until Cameron’s passing in 1949, and shortly thereafter, C. H. Masland and Son Carpet Company of Carlisle purchased the property and 1,430 of the 2,531 acres that make up South Mountain. Now dubbed the Masland Guest House, the mansion was updated with new wallpaper and furnishings to entice and comfort potential clients as a place to stay while in town. But most importantly for the carpet company, it was frequently updated with new carpet. They wanted to ensure that the rooms had the most up-to-date carpet, as to showcase the latest and greatest Masland carpet to the potential clients. Why pitch the clients about the carpet when they could show them how luxurious it was to live with it? It was a clever sales tactic indeed.
In the following years, the town of Carlisle, PA built up and began to offer more accommodations for traveling guests, and the out-of-the-way mansion slowly lost its luster and was no longer a luxury worth traveling out of their way for. As their clients’ interest in overnight stays dwindled, the family came to the decision that it was best for them to sell the property in 1973.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was interested in the mansion and with the help of The Nature Conservancy, purchased the mansion and 1,430 acres in 1973. Soon to follow in 1977, the environmental education center opened and in 1980, the training center opened as well.
The grounds are open to the public year-round from sunrise to sunset. The Cameron-Masland Mansion has a beautiful patio that you are free to visit, as well as the peaceful gardens with vibrant blooms and an education center to learn more about the property and its preservation.
Guests are welcome to trek the 25 miles of hiking trails available atop the mountain, and go birding for migrant sparrows, Long-eared Owls, Pine Warblers and Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, and Wood Thrush. In the snowy months, Kings Gap offers a snowshoe loaner program on a first-come, first-served basis, for guests to enjoy snowshoeing through the trails.
If you wish to truly immerse yourself in the scenery and offerings of the Cameron-Masland Mansion, rooms are available for overnight stays from April through mid-November, as well as accommodations for meetings, retreats, weddings and special events.
Kings Gap State Park and the Cameron-Masland Mansion truly have something to offer everyone, and should be a must-see on everyone’s list as they visit the area.