Early Inhabitants

The early inhabitants of Franklin County date back to the Ice Age. Remnants of these prehistoric encampments have surfaced and been excavated near springs and streams. Hunting artifacts and tools date to before the Paleo Period when mammoths and mastodons roamed the region. Ebbert Springs, south of Greencastle in Franklin County, shows evidence of dwellers occupying the site from 10,000 B.C. until the late 1600s. Habitation of Ebbert Springs continued in the colonial period and included the erection of a fort during the period of the Indian Wars. The original stone home and spring house remain onsite. The site is named by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission as an archaeological super site as well as a historic site.

The Frontier

In the 1700s, Franklin County was at the heart of Pennsylvania’s frontier. Scots-Irish, German, and Welsh immigrants settled throughout Franklin County, establishing homesteads and hamlets in Chambersburg, Greencastle, Mercersburg, Shippensburg, and Waynesboro. These immigrants were seeking freedom and opportunity and were drawn to the lands of Franklin County—reminiscent of their homelands and filled with the natural resources needed to build a prosperous, new life.

Mason And Dixon Line

The Penn family of Pennsylvania and the Calvert family of Maryland claimed ownership of the same land. Holding fast to the claims, the Penns and Calverts pleaded their cases in the court of England. To settle the dispute, the court ordered two surveyors and astronomers – Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon – to establish the boundary between the two states.

A marker was placed every mile and a larger crown stone every five miles. The crown stones, made from limestone and imported from England, showed the Penn coat of arms on one side and on the other side, the Calvert family coat of arms. Not only did Mason and Dixon’s surveying ensure that Greencastle and Philadelphia remained in Pennsylvania, but in future years, the Mason Dixon Line became commonly referred to as the line between the North and the South.

Benjamin Franklin

Who is that 8-ft. tall, 250 lb. golden figure in the window of the Chambersburg Heritage Center? It is Benjamin Franklin. The one-of-a-kind likeness pays homage to the statesman, sage, and inventor that is the namesake of Franklin County. Ben spends his days looking over the visitors of the Chambersburg Heritage Center and his nights looking out across Courthouse Plaza in downtown Chambersburg.

A Few Facts About Ben Franklin and Franklin County:

  • Frederick Mayer of Pittsburgh carved the 1865 Franklin statue from pine before it was leafed in gold.
  • Franklin County was created out of Cumberland County by legislative action on September 9, 1784 and legislators decided on Franklin as the honoree.
  • Franklin is the third most popular county name. Do you know the two more popular names?
  • The 8-ft., 250-lb. gold-leafed Ben Franklin statue sat atop the Franklin County Courthouse from 1865-1991. It was taken down and restored in 1991 by four local craftsmen. A fiberglass replica resides atop the courthouse today.

Rose Rent Churches of Chambersburg

Religion was very important to all the settlers that came to Franklin County. Benjamin Chambers – founder of Chambersburg – recognized the influential role religion played in the community, so he set aside three plots of land for three congregations in Chambersburg—Falling Spring Presbyterian, First Lutheran, and Zion Reformed. In return for the land, Chambers requested that each congregation would pay a yearly rent of one rose to a descendant of the Chambers Family. All three congregations continue today and honor the tradition of the rose rent. A mystery book titled Death Pays The Rose Rent was inspired by Chambersburg’s rose rent custom.

George Washington Slept In Chambersburg

As the new president of the United States, George Washington faced the first test of the young nation’s power when farmers in western Pennsylvania, angered by the tax levied on grain alcohols, refused to pay the taxes and attacked tax collectors. The farmers used grain alcohol as a currency and the tax removed their profit. The federal government applied the tax dollars to the debt of the Revolutionary War. In July 1794, the whiskey tax issue came to a head when western PA farmers attacked a federal marshal, and President Washington called out the militia. The confrontation became known as the Whiskey Rebellion. On Washington’s trip to squelch the rebellion, he spent the night at the Morrow Tavern, located on South Main Street of Chambersburg.

George Washington and the Chambers family maintained a close relationship. In recognition of the Chambers family’s service and support during the revolution, Washington gifted the family with a pair of silver inlaid pistols. A life-sized bronze statue of founding family patriarch Benjamin Chambers welcoming his son James and grandson Benjamin home from the Revolutionary War is the centerpiece of the new Chambers Fort Park, just off North Main Street in Chambersburg.

Birthplace of James Buchanan

In 1791, James Buchanan, who would become the fifteenth president of the United States, was born in a log cabin about two and half miles west of Mercersburg at Stony Batter, a trading post operated by Buchanan’s father. When Buchanan was five years old, the Buchanan family moved to Mercersburg. They lived on the main street and operated a general store in the building that is today the James Buchanan Pub & Restaurant.

Across the street is the home of Harriet Lane, Buchanan’s niece, who served as the mistress of the White House during James Buchanan’s presidency. To commemorate her uncle, Harriet created the monument at Stony Batter State Park, the presidential birthplace, and another monument at Meridian Park in Washington, DC. Visitors can see the cabin of Buchanan’s birth at Mercersburg Academy on Seminary Street in Mercersburg and visit Stony Batter State Park, where a 600-ton stone pyramid marks the Buchanan birthplace.

James Smith and the Black Boys Confront the British at Fort Loudoun

After the French and Indian War, British law forbade trade with the Native Americans. In 1765, a group of traders purchased a large supply of goods at Pollen’s Tavern, near Greencastle. The pack train of horses included firearms, gun powder, and other weapons to trade with the Native Americans for furs. Mercersburg residents were unable to reason with the traders to stop. Angered, James Smith gathered a group of ten men. They blackened their faces to disguise themselves as Indians and stopped the pack train near Sideling Hill in Fulton County. James Smith and the Black Boys compelled the traders to unload the goods and burned the goods.

Irate traders appealed to the British forces at Fort Loudoun. Influenced by the traders, the British captain arrested several citizens and locked them in the guard house of the fort. Smith gathered 300 riflemen and camped on a hill outside of Fort Loudoun. Before long, James Smith and his riflemen had captured so many British that the British captain sent a flag of truce. James Smith and the British exchanged prisoners. This armed confrontation predated the outset of the Revolutionary War by ten years.

Time Line:

10,000 BC  –Prehistoric habitation
1500  –Native American habitation
1700  –Frontier
1754  –Attack of Fort McDowell
1763  –Mason Dixon
1764  –Enoch Brown
1765  –John Smith & Black Boys Confront British at Ft. Loudoun
1768  –Rose Rent
1784  –Franklin County formed
1791  –Birth of 15th President James Buchanan in Mercersburg
1794  –George Washington stops in Chambersburg on trip west to put down the Whiskey Rebellion


Early History Brochure

Franklin County, PA has great history!