Chambersburg Out of the Ashes
In 1864, Chambersburg’s population was about 5,500. It was a town settled by hard-working Scots-Irish and German immigrants. As is true today, Chambersburg was well-located and, therefore, a transportation hub. Goods and people moved on the roads to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. The Cumberland Valley Railroad was well-established in the community. The town offered large hotels and taverns to lodge travelers, general stores along its main streets, someone to repair wagons and shoe horses. Chambersburg had barbers, seamstresses, hatmakers, tool-makers, and carriage builders. Industry was located along the Conococheague Creek and included paper mills and metal fabricators. It was a thriving community, which grew steadily from its founding in the mid-1730s.
The bombardment of Fort Sumter propelled the country to a state of war. Men of Chambersburg and Franklin County enlisted to support Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops, and by 1861 Chambersburg became a military town where Union troops trained. Both supplies and troops were loaded onto the cars of the Cumberland Valley Railroad, and war hovered around the doorsteps of Franklin County communities.
In 1862, Chambersburg had its first Confederate raid when General J.E.B. Stuart took horses, food, and other supplies, burning the railroad shops and cutting the telegraph wires on a hasty foray across the Mason Dixon Line and into Franklin County. In the summer of 1863, Chambersburg experienced a more intense and lasting incursion as Robert E. Lee headquartered in Chambersburg and set up camp with 75,000 Confederate soldiers in and around the county seat before moving east towards Gettysburg to engage the Union troops.
Each time Confederates entered Chambersburg, the stakes increased, but on July 30, 1864, no one envisioned such a vast and definitive impact the coming hours would have in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
Agriculture is the cornerstone of Franklin County’s past and certainly its present. The beauty and the balance of the county’s agricultural land is a prime reason people visit and want to live in Franklin County. It secures the quality of life. Along with the open spaces and forest land, farm lands are the character of the county. To maintain the character, Franklin County needs to retain its agricultural heritage.
The following excerpt from “Old Mercersburg” about Michael Cromer glimpses a piece of the agricultural history and the character of the people, who farmed the land of Franklin County.
The Champion Cradling Feat of the World
It was reported in the harvest of 1857 that an expert cradler in the village of Mercersburg,
Pa., had cut in one day ten acres of wheat. The feat being noised about, some newspapers ridiculed
the idea as being absurdly preposterous.
“In the meantime the report reached the Millard Scythe Company, of Claysville, New York.
The proprietors wrote the cradler to ascertain whether, if they should make and present him a suit-
able cradle, he would undertake with it to beat his former record. Of course with his splendid rec-
ord to sustain, and his splendid pluck to carry him through, he accepted the challenge, but asked the
privilege of having the woodwork built to suit himself, which request the company acceded. In due
time the cradle came, a marvel of strength and beauty. The blade was five inches in width, by sixty-
five in lengfth, and made of silver steel. (more…)
Franklin County is proud to be named for Benjamin Franklin, American founding father, writer, printer, diplomat, activist, and scientist. But, to date, proof of a visit from Mr. Franklin to the county has not been found. Yet, besides the name, there is a connection between Benjamin Franklin and Franklin County. The connection is with Benjamin Chambers, who selected Franklin’s Philadelphia Gazette to advertise sale of lots in the town he was prepared to establish.
Public Notice of Land by Benjamin Chambers Advertised in Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia Gazette
Notice is hereby given to the Public, that there is a town is laid out on Conegogig Creek, on both sides of the Great Falling Spring, where is falls into said creek, by Benjamin Chambers, of Cumberland County. Lots may be had on reasonable terms and Firm Deeds granted for them by said Chambers: the day appointed for drawing of said lots is the 28th day of June inst.. which is a Thursday [1764} . The situation of this town is very good for water and stone, both free and marble, and sand all handy to the spot, and a well timbered part of the country adjoining it; within said town is a good Gristmill, Sawmill, and Grindstones going by water. The articles of the Town shall be read on the day appointed for the drawing of the Lots, and the terms of the sale published by me.
Franklin County was the 14th county of Pennsylvania. As the colony of PA grew, the original PA counties of Bucks, Chester, and Philadelphia Counties were divided into more counties. Lancaster grew out of Chester, Cumberland grew out of Lancaster, and Franklin grew out of Cumberland. Franklin County came into being on September 9, 1784, and the town laid out on “Conegogig Creek” (Conococheague Creek) was named the county seat in the legislation, forming Franklin County.
James Smith, who was born in Mercersburg, another frontier settlement in Franklin County, was captured in 1755, at age eighteen, as he was building the Braddock Road. Smith was taken captive by Caughnawaga Indians and was adopted by the tribe to replace a fallen warrior. While living with the tribe, he learned the ways of Indian warfare. In 1760, James Smith was freed in a prisoner exchange.
At the end of the French and Indian War, the Indian attacks along the frontier lessened. But, within two to three years, the attacks increased due in part to indiscriminate trading. Trading companies didn’t particularly care who paid for their goods, so guns, powder, lead, hatchets and knives ended up with the Indians. These goods were used against the settlers. The British issued permits to the traders without considering the danger such trade brought to the settlers on the frontier.
James Smith gathered a group of men who wanted to protect their land and their families and trained them to fight Indian style – using the cover of trees, bushes, fences—the very opposite of the formal British style of fighting in open lines. The men James Smith gathered were called Black Boys, painting their faces just as the Indians did. The Black Boys began stopping supply wagons and inspecting for weapons.
In March 1765 and May 1765, James Smith and the Black Boys burned contraband supplies—those items that would be used to attack the frontiersmen and their families. The traders sought help from the British at Fort Loudoun. Each incident brought confrontation between James Smith, his Black Boys, and the British soldiers of Fort Loudoun. The British captured the Black Boys; and in turn, the Black Boys captured the British. Prisoners were exchanged, but the British did not return the captured colonist’s guns—nine in all and a major point of contention to the frontiersmen.
On November 16, 1765, tensions peaked, and James Smith and the Black Boys attacked Fort Loudoun. At 7 PM, Fort Loudoun was surrounded by men shooting guns and yelling all night. More men joined the contingent and by 10 PM, one hundred Black Boys closed in on the fort, firing on all corners continuously. The British had little ammunition on hand, so the men were ordered not to fire. During the siege, the British soldiers only fired one return shot.
After two days of attack, a surrender of the frontiersmen’s weapons was arranged, and in return, James Smith and the Black Boys ceased the attack of Fort Loudoun.
Approaching Letterkenny Chapel, the bell tower, the quoin- brickwork, and the curved arches draws the eye because it is a different. It is not typical for the Cumberland Valley. With a second look, it is easy to see the Italian inspiration in the design, but how and why is a church of Italian architecture here? It is an amazing piece of Franklin County and American history.
Before America entered World War II, the U.S. military sought locations for ordinance depots. Letterkenny Township in Franklin County PA was selected because of its proximity to the Atlantic seaboard and Washington DC. The depot displaced about 1000 of the 70,000 county residents, and took 21,000 acres of farmland. U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stinson issued the directive to establish Letterkenny Ordinance Depot on December 18, 1941, just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. By September 1942, the depot was in operation.
After Italy surrendered in September 1943, 1250 repatriated Italian prisoners of war came to Letterkenny Depot. These men missed their home and loved ones. They turned to their faith and sought support of the clergy, who suggested channeling their energy into something positive. Using materials from the farmhouses and barns removed from the land to build the depot, the repatriated Italian POWs built Letterkenny Chapel, inspired by the churches of their homeland.
Today, the Italian-style chapel stands as a reminder of something very good that came out of a very difficult time in the world. It links two places, once enemies, to a shared history and memories.
Letterkenny Chapel is maintained by the United Churches of Chambersburg and is adjoined by the Franklin County Veterans and 9/11 Memorial Park, which are the launching point of the Franklin County Military Trail of History. Each year, four services are held at Letterkenny Chapel—Armed Forces and POW/MIA Day Service in May, the 9/11 Remembrance Service in September, Veterans Day Service in November, and Christmas Eve Service in December.