Colonel Benjamin Chambers could not permanantly settle in this Cumberland Valley area he coveted before 1734, where plentiful timber and water abound, because the treaty that William Penn made with the indigenous owners, the Lenni Lenape (the local pioneers called them Delaware) had to be written and agreed upon. It was still aboriginal property when England's King Charles II chartered it to him. Then Penn could issue "licenses to settle," or Blunston Licenses.
Colonel Benjamin Chambers had already built a log cabin, and hydro- powered a grist and saw mill where the Conococheague Creek and the mouth of the Falling Spring meet. Colonel Chambers received his Blunston License on March 30, 1734 which him the right to improve 400 acres for a plantation. He built fortifications (Fort Chambers) in 1756 and a 300 by 90 foot stockade as part of this town layout of 523 acres, to protect his new community. Settlers returned and included increasing numbers of Germans, feeling safer from the potential problems that occur from the indigenous American Indian population. (An incursion in this area in 1755 caused the mostly Scots-Irish population to decline to 300 from its former maximum of 3000.)
The Falling Spring Presbyterian Church, wherein whose cemetary Col. Chambers is interred, was the first of his three rose rent churches given land. It was rebuilt in 1768, still existing, and the original of 1734 was the oldest congregation in this town. 1780 was the year Chambers conveyed land to the Zion Reformed Church, and the First Lutheran Church. (The present building is from 1850). The Corpus Christi Catholic Church's organized parishoners of 1782 built the present edifice in 1792
Chambers granted the land in the square for the courthouse in 1774, completed 18 years later, when he obtained two more adjacent tracts. The oldest private residence in Chambersburg is now the Sellers Funeral home, (but that is not the reason the Colonel died there in 1788).
John Jack's Tavern on the diamond was the place where the future Franklin county (of which Chambersburg is the seat) was planned (over beers?) There is one of the oldest stone arch bridges built in 1828, King Street crossing the Conococheague still used as a modern roadway.
The Old Jail still standing, was built in 1818, contains 5 domed dungeons with iron rings mounted on the floors and walls. On a better note: these holds later held in refuge, runaway slaves going to freedom in the North by way of the "Underground Railroad."
Behind some in-town residences hides the Old Jewish Cemetery, now known as the Israel Benevolent Society Cemetary, was founded in 1844 by those from the small German village of Jebenhausen. Until this possibley first synagogue west of Philadelphia was finished being used in 1900, it was the final resting place for some 90 of the Jewish Faith from not just Chambersburg (there is a synagogue here, founded in 1864, with a very small congregation), but from north out of Mechanicsburg and Carlisle, west over the mountains from Clear Spring; and south from Hagerstown, Maryland.
The John Brown's house was a boarding house in the middle of the 19th century, and the fanatical abolitionist Brown stayed here in 1859 with some of his co-conspirators, where strategized their Harper's Ferry Armory raid. He was arrested by the then United States Army General Robert E. Lee (who chose military loyalty to his Virginia after its secession in 1861) and John Brown was executed for treason by the hangman's rope at the end of that same year.
J.E.B. Stuart's 1500 Confederate cavalrymen appeared in Chambersburg's square in October 1862, plundering not only the borough, but nearby villages. He pillaged the Cumberland Valley Railroad's depot and shops, and torched a government warehouse. June 1863 was the year that "Rebel " General Robert E. Lee and 70,000 of his men invading the north met with General A. P. Hill at a spot in the charming town square, (marked on the sidewalk with a star) to discuss the next step in this campaign. A. P. Hill dissuaded Lee to go east to Philadelphia, PA, instead of northward to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's capital. Experts on the War Between the States believe that this was a pricey mistake where defeat finally met him at Gettysburg. The Union Army was able to reinforce to the south to defend Lees eastward move, one that was originally what they thought was an invasion of Harrisburg.
Chambersburg felt the payback wrath a year after that blue uniformed Yankee victory, when the grey wearing General John McCausland came with more brutality on the town than Stuart had been. He received orders from General Jubal T. Early that went thus:
Hd. Qrs. July 25, 1 864
Instructions for Gen'ls M'causland and Johnson
Cross your brigades at McCoy's Ferry or Clear Spring, and then proceed to Hagerstown, and from there to Chambersburg. At Chambersburg levy $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in northern money to pay for the houses of Andrew Hunter], Alexander R. Botsler, Edmund L. Lee of Jefferson County, Va., which were burned by order of the Federal authorities. Burn the depot at Chambersburg and proceed from there by McConnellsurg to Cumberland and destroy the bridges on Baltimore and Ohio railroad as you go, and if you can, the tunnel at Paw Paw...
On July 28th of that year, McCausland joined General Bradley T. Johnson and the next morning they led their troops across the Potomac near Clear Spring sneaking away from Yankees in Greencastle under General Avrell. Stopping to eat in Mercersburg around 5 PM, they marched at 9 at night, aided by much evening movement experience, arriving at 4 AM at a house west of town, which they sequestered, to plan their next action. The owner reported later that he heard General Johnson dissuade McCausland from burning the borough while the denizens slept.
Those orders were carried out and the ransom of gold was demanded, or he would burn the town down. The 5000 souls declared they had not those kinds of funds, and would not comply if they had, anyway. Some actually let it be known that they did not believe these soldiers would actually burn a whole community to the ground.
Like starting a Nine to Five job from Hell, the soldiers started at 9 AM, busting down doors and furniture with axes to kindle the fire. Citizens, including women, had their rescued belongs yanked and thrown into the pyre. Only a few churches, the Masonic Lodge, and a very few other buildings did not have to be rebuilt after the insuing inferno perpetrated on these citizens' homes, stores, and offices. Those pesky Rebels left after the inferno was going strong, and headed back west to McConnellsburg.
Chambersburg was the only town north of the Mason-Dixon line to be burnt.
Chambersburg rebuilt, and is still rebuilding, albeit with the spirit of entrepeneurship, as this borough remains an American "Our Town" (Thornton Wilder) of about 16,000 residents (greater Chambersburg is 60,000 souls) and is surrounded by about 140,000 countians. At present the warehouse building has contributed to a boom, and the housing market has doubled in the middle of this decade of the 21st Century (albeit taking a downward hit in '07-'08 like everyone else). They improved the Capitol Theater area, and at Christmas the main streets are festooned joyfully. In February they have the Ice Festival, where substantial ice sculptures are displayed along Main Street and nearby. Just in the last few years, the Walker Road area has blossomed, with a Fuddruckers, TJ Fridays, Panera Bread, Kohls, Target, Circuit City, Petsmart, and also Staples relocated near them.
Ambience: You do not have to go far to see Amish horse drawn buggies, just follow the horse apples.... (If you are real lucky, you will see the little ones in their hats and suspenders) and their and other quaint farms using red and white barns, or "bank" barns throughout the area. Actually, not all are really Amish, as there are conservative Brethren, German Baptists, or "Dunkards" and Mennonites who dress simply, though the later drive cars. Those cars cannot be "flashy," (they are black, gray, or brown,) and the general term for these folk is "Plain People." They have a ton of faith as they negotiate two-lane roads in their horse drawn carriages, sharing the road with passing cars and 18 wheelers. Fortunately most have flashing lights on them, though there are some hardliners that will not adorn their vehicles with flash even if it is for safety.
There are several more-than-a-century-old covered bridges nearby. Are you brave enough to take your big SUV over those very old wooden planks? Antiques of every sort are for sale as well as the "Dutch" food, furniture, homemade toys, clothing, and never to forget the famous quilts. Jim's Market is the local version of the old farmers' market with baked goods and meats. Jellies, bagels, sausages and produce.
- Living in the valley, Public Opinion Supplement, 2000
- Follow the Trail of Franklin County History through the Kittochtinny Historical Society (brochure)
- Pennsylvania Rainbow Region 2000 Visitor's Guide
- Personal experience as a recent resident