County Feature is a series of articles on each county in Pennsylvania and its history.

Our forefathers never could have envisioned the Franklin County we live in today. The hardships and struggles to merely survive while trying to establish new homes in a new land on a new frontier created memories that will live as long as man cares to remember.

Modern major highways, a wide diversification of indus- try, fertile farm lands and persons who still care help make Franklin County, the triangular shaped land mass perched on the Mason-Dixon line in south central Pennsylvania, one of the state’s garden spots.

Our beginnings are easily traced to the year 1730 when Benjamin Chambers initiated a settlement at the confluence of the Conococheague and Falling Spring Creeks in the center of what is today Chambersburg. Within a few years the Scotch-Irish immigrants had homesteads and settlements throughout this area of the valley known as “The Conococheague Settlement.”

When Cumberland Valley, which is basically composed of Cumberland and Franklin counties, was first being settled, it was then a part of Lancaster County. In 1735 the valley was separated into two townships and by a coincidence the division line was substantially the same as now divides the two counties.

The Indians had used the lush green heavily forested Cumberland Valley for their hunting grounds. According to historical records there were no permanent Indian settlements in the valley.

There is no precise means of determining the exact order of settlements in Franklin County. History records report them as spotty, and many settlements appeared about and during the same year that Chambers initiated his settlement.

The war with the French and Indians, which erupted in earnest in 1754, had little effect on our forefathers until 1755.

In some areas of the county, forts were soon built to provide some means of protection for the settlers in the event of hostile attacks by the Indians. The earliest forts included McDowell’s Mill and Elliot’s Fort in Path Valley, just north of Fannettsburg. Both were built in 1777.

The Chambers Fort at the Falling Spring and Conococheague Creeks was constructed in 1755 and 1756. Part of this fort had a lead-sheeted roof as a protection from flam­ing arrows. A pair of four-pound cannons was added as further protection.

The list of County forts in use as of 1756 included Fort London and several “private forts”: Davis’s Fort near the Maryland line; McCord’s Fort; Steele’s meeting.house near Mercersburg; Waddle’s Fort; Allison’s Fort near Greencastle; Maxwell’s Fort, and Baker’s Fort near Dry Run.

From 1755 until the end of Pontiac’s War in 1764, many county residents were killed or injured by Indians.

Indians raided McCord’ s Fort in April 1756, taking sev­eral white captives and burning the fort. As the troubles continued, another major Indian action occurred in 1764 when Enoch Brown, a schoolmaster, and ten of his eleven students were killed near Greencastle. The lone survivor of the massacre had been scalped but lived to an old age.

One of the last, if not the final Indian spree, took place about 1776 near Waynesboro, along the Antietam Creek, when Sarah and Jane Renfrew and a baby were killed.

As the Revolutionary War loomed into view, John Bourns, who also lived near the site of the Renfrew slaying, constructed a wrought iron cannon. The blacksmith’s 1775 venture proved successful and the cannon, possibly the first of its kind, was used in the battle of Brandywine. During the engagement, the cannon was captured by the British and was reportedly taken to England.

The act of the Pennsylvania Assembly creating Franklin County was passed September 9, 1784, and Chambers Town was named as the county seat.

The first courthouse was completed in 1794 followed by the first jail in 1797. The original courthouse, which had been on the diamond in the center of what is now Chambers­burg, was torn down in 1842 after a larger courthouse had been built within a few feet of the first structure. During the 1864 raid and subsequent burning of Chambersburg by Confederate troops, the second courthouse was destroyed. The following year work started on the building which still serves as the county’s courthouse.

A jail was built at the corner of Lincoln Way East and Second Streets and served until 1818 when a larger facility was constructed at the corner of Second and King Streets. The old building is presently being converted into a county museum following the construction of another new prison east of Chambersburg. While waiting for the first county courthouse to be built, court sessions were held across the diamond in Captain Jack’s tavern.

Approval was given by county officials for acquisition of a poor house in 1808. A 165-acre farm was purchased for $8,200. A large stone house on the property was enlarged and used for this purpose until 1811. Franklin Farms, as it is known today, is still just east of Chambersburg and now contains a large modern facility for the elderly.

Franklin County is composed of fifteen townships that were established over a period of ninety-seven years. Antrim Township was the first and Quincy Township, the last. At one time the county had sixteen townships, with Franklin Township finally being dissolved with the expansion of the borough of Chambersburg.

A sketch of the township formation indicates the following:

  • Antrim Township – 1741
  • Lurgan Township – 1743
  • Peters Township – 1751
  • Guilford Township – 1751
  • Hamilton Township – 1752
  • Fannett Township – 1761
  • Letterkenny Township – 1762
  • Washington Township – 1779
  • Montgomery Township – 1781
  • Southampton Township – 1783
  • Franklin Township – 1784
  • Greene Township – 1788
  • Metal Township – 1795
  • Warren Township – 1798
  • St. Thomas Township – 1818
  • Guiney Township – 1838

Although railroads played an important role in the de­velopment of the county, wagon trails and roads had an even more significant impact during the very early forma­tion years.

Today, U.S. 30 and U.S. 11 cross in the middle of Chambersburg. When these roads were but trails through the county they served a dual role, as they provided travelers with a route to follow and at the same time introduced them to the picturesque valley.

A branch of the Cumberland Valley Railroad was first introduced into the county in 1837 when a branch line was extended to Chambersburg from Harrisburg. The Franklin Railroad was extended southward from ,Chambersburg to Greencastle during the same year and a link later was made with Hagerstown, Md. Rail lines were eventually developed to connect with Mont Alto and Waynesboro and also from Marion through Mercersburg to Richmond Furnace.

During the Civil War, rail facilities in Chambersburg were heavily damaged by Confederate troops at the time of raids in 1863 and another in 1864.

During the summer of 1859, John Brown moved into Chambersburg where he mapped plans for the Harpers Ferry, W. Va. battle that eventually led to his execution. Brown was opposed to slavery and it was his conviction to overcome injustice to the Negroes. Historians note the Con­federate burning of Chambersburg was conducted because of Brown’s activities in the community where he not only planned the Harpers Ferry raid but stored arms for the attack.

The one major and most costly event of the war in this county came in 1864 when Confederate troops entered Chambersburg and demanded $1 million in gold or $500,000 in U.S. currency. In the event the townspeople would not pay, the community would be burned. The people did not pay and the troops set fire to the town after much plunder­ing and robbing. By the time the fires had died, 537 build­ings had been destroyed; total value was $713,294. Personal property lost in the raid and fire amounted to $915,137.

In 1863, the year before the Confederate troops torched Chambersburg, Gen. Robert E. Lee, and Gen. A. P. Hill met on the square of the town, and it was at this point the Confederate troops were channeled toward Gettysburg, twenty­-five miles away where the turning point of the Civil War came during a three-day battle.

 

Three Major Settlements

Mercersburg, as it is known today, was first settled in 1730 by James Black. During the early years, it was known as Black’s Town, a community important for its trading with early settlers and Indians. Mercersburg was given its name in honor of Dr. Hugh Mercer, a distinguished Revolu­tionary War doctor who was appointed a brigadier general by George Washington. The town was laid out in 1786 and was eventually incorporated in 1831. The act of the General Assembly incorporating the town is lengthy and interesting.
William Findley, the fourth governor of Pennsylvania, was born in Mercersburg, June 20, 1768.

James Buchanan, the only president from Pennsylvania, was born in a small log cabin just outside Mercersburg in the Cove Gap area on April 23, 1791.

Waynesboro was first known as Wallacetown and then as Waynesburg and Waynesborough. The name of this community, Franklin County’s second largest, was in honor of Gen. Anthony Wayne.

Waynesboro is situated on the old turnpike that linked Baltimore to Pittsburgh. John Wallace, Sr. was the first land owner of record with deeds dating to 1749. On Dec. 21, 1818, the town was incorporated into a borough, and at that time it became officially known as Waynesboro.

Greencastle had originally been known as Green Castle. This community was important as a trading point for settlers and Indians. William Allison obtained the land in 1763. His son, Col. John Allison, plotted and laid out the village of Greencastle in 1782.

In the 1970’s Franklin County, nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountain on the east and the Tuscarora Moun­tain on the west, is one of the most scenic in Pennsylvania. Franklin County continues to be a stronghold of agriculture and diversified manufacturing and is growing steadily in population.

 

Sources

The History of Chambersburg, by A. J. White Hutton, 1930.

Waynesboro, by Benjamin M. Nead, 1900.

Historical Sketch of Franklin County, by I. H. McCauley, 1876.

History of Franklin County, Pennsylvania, by Samuel P. Bates, 1887.

 

Kenneth L. Peiffer, Jr., a photographer-reporter, resides in Chambersburg.