If the walls of the Franklin County Old Jail could talk, the Franklin County Visitors Bureau is sure it would want to hear the stories. Located at 175 East King Street in Chambersburg PA, the Old Jail celebrates 200 years in 2018.
Built in 1818 as Franklin County’s third jail, the property’s exterior appearance illustrates the balance and proportion of Georgian architecture. Inside, the old cell walls bear the hand scratched messages of former inmates, who marked off the time they served and recorded their misgivings. The jail housed debtors, thieves, and murderers. The gallows sit in the limestone exercise year and reach back to a time when hangings were social gatherings. By 1920, it became inactive.
Over the years, folklore retells that the Old Jail housed freedom seekers within its walls. It definitely secured John Cook, one of John Brown’s conspirators, before he was transported to Charles Town for his trial and, in the end, his hanging. Just a few years later, in 1862, the Old Jail stood as J.E.B Stuart burned the nearby shops of the Cumberland Valley Railroad and raided its warehouses. As Civil War continued in 1863, it stood unharmed when Robert E. Lee and 70,000 Confederate soldiers headquartered blocks away in the center of town before heading east to Gettysburg. A year later, it was again left untouched as the flames of “Tiger” John McCausland’s burning of Chambersburg destroyed the majority of the town.
In 1971, after serving more than 150 years as the Franklin County Jail, the Old Jail was retired. Today, the physical property houses the Franklin County Historical Society, which is responsible for maintaining the historic property and sharing the history that happened in and around the building. In addition to serving as a museum house, the it houses a genealogy archive.
The Old Jail holds history, is history, and makes history in 2018.