Chambersburg is a borough in the South Central region of Pennsylvania, United States. It is miles north of Maryland and the Mason-Dixon line and southwest of Harrisburg in the Cumberland Valley, which is part of the Great Appalachian Valley. Chambersburg is the county seat of Franklin County. According to the United States Census Bureau the 2010 population was 20,268. When combined with the surrounding Greene, Hamilton, and Guilford Townships, the population of Greater Chambersburg is 52,273. Chambersburg is at the core of the Chambersburg, PA Micropolitan Statistical Area which includes surrounding Franklin County. The population of the Chambersburg Micropolitan Area in 2010 was 149,618.
Chambersburg's settlement began in 1730 when water mills were built at the confluence of Conococheague Creek and Falling Spring Creek that now run through the center of the town. Its history includes episodes related to the French and Indian War, the Whiskey Rebellion, John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, and the American Civil War. The borough was the only major northern community burned down by Confederate forces during the war.
Chambersburg is located along the Lincoln Highway, U.S. 30, between McConnellsburg and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and along U.S. 11, the Molly Pitcher Highway, between Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, and Hagerstown, Maryland. Interstate 81 skirts the borough to its east.
Native Americans living or hunting in the area during the 18th century included the Iroquois, Lenape and Shawnee. "Falling Spring" was first settled by Benjamin Chambers, a Scots-Irish immigrant, in 1730, who started a grist mill and saw mill by a then- high waterfall where Falling Spring Creek joined Conococheague Creek. The creek provided power to the mills, and the settlement was known as "Falling Spring."
On March 30, 1734, Chambers was issued a "Blunston license" for , from a representative of the Penn family, but European settlement in the area was of questionable legality until the treaty ending the French and Indian War, because not all Indian tribes with land claims had signed treaties. The Penn family encouraged settlement in the area in order to strengthen its case in a border dispute with the Maryland Colony, which had resulted in hostilities known as Cresap's War. This dispute was not settled until 1767 and the surveying of the border known as the Mason-Dixon line. Chambers traveled to England to testify in support of Penn's claims. To maintain peace with the Indians, European settlers were sometimes removed from the nearby area. In May 1750, Benjamin Chambers participated in removing settlers from nearby Burnt Cabins, which took its name from the incident.
The area was officially part of Chester County, then Lancaster, and then Cumberland until it became part of the newly established Franklin County in 1784.
The Great Wagon Road connecting Philadelphia with the Shenandoah Valley passed nearby. In 1744, it was completed through Harris's Ferry, Carlisle, Shippensburg, and Chambersburg to the Potomac River.
In 1748 a local militia was formed for protection against Indians, with Benjamin Chambers being named colonel.
Chambersburg was on the frontier during the French and Indian War. The area's population dropped from about 3,000 in 1755 at the start of the war to about 300, with most settlers not returning until after 1764 when the peace treaty was signed. Benjamin Chambers built a private stone fort during the war, which was equipped with two 4 pounder cannons and fighting occurred nearby. Because Chambers's fort was otherwise lightly defended, the authorities attempted to remove the cannons to prevent them from being captured by Indians and used against other forts. The attempted removal was unsuccessful, and one of the cannons was used to celebrate Independence Day in 1840. The Forbes Road and other trails going to Fort Pitt passed nearby as well. The Forbes Road developed into part of the main road connecting Pittsburg and Philadelphia, and much later into US 30, and Chambersburg developed as a transportation hub at the crossroads of Forbes Road and the Great Wagon Road.
The first settlers were Scots-Irish Presbyterians and German Protestants came soon afterward. Quakers and English Protestants, who made up a large proportion of early Pennsylvania settlers, did not often move as far west as Chambersburg. Blacks lived in Chambersburg almost from the start of settlement. Benjamin Chambers owned a black female slave sometime before the French and Indian War and twenty slaves were recorded as taxable property in 1786.
The earliest church was established by Scots-Irish Presbyterians in 1734. Chambers gave land to the congregation in 1768, requiring only a single rose as annual rent. Later land was given to the First Lutheran Church (1780) and Zion Reformed Church (organized in 1780) under the same agreement, and these churches came to be known as the "Rose Rent Churches." A Catholic community organized in 1785. The Jewish cemetery dates back to 1840. The Mt. Moriah First African Baptist Church dates to 1887.
In June 1775, soon after the Battle of Lexington, local troops were raised to fight the British in the American Revolution under the command of Benjamin Chambers's eldest son Captain James Chambers, as part of the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment. These troops were among the first non-New Englanders to join the siege of Boston, arriving on August 7, 1775. James Chambers fought for seven years during the revolution, reaching the rank of Colonel of Continental troops on September 26, 1776. His two brothers, William and Benjamin, Jr., each served for much of the war and reached the rank of Captain. James Chambers commanded local troops at the Battle of Long Island, and at White Plains, Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth. He was part of the rear guard covering the retreat from Brooklyn, and was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine while facing Hessian troops under General Knuphausen at Chadds Ford.
During the Whiskey Rebellion, local citizens raised a liberty pole in support of the rebels, and to protest conscription of soldiers to put down the rebellion. Nevertheless, these citizens were censured in a town meeting and removed the pole the next day. President George Washington, while leading United States troops against the rebels, came through town on the way from Carlisle to Bedford, staying overnight on October 12, 1794. According to tradition, Washington lodged with Dr. Robert Johnson, a surgeon in the Pennsylvania line during the Revolution. This march was one of only two times that a sitting president personally commanded the military in the field. (The other was after President James Madison fled the British occupation of Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812.) After sending the troops toward Pittsburgh from Bedford under General Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, Washington returned through Chambersburg sometime between October 21–26. James Chambers was appointed a Brigadier General of Militia during the Whiskey Rebellion.
Chambersburg was incorporated on March 21, 1803, and declared the County Seat when the State Assembly established a formal government. The first courthouse was John Jack's tavern on the Diamond (town square) in 1784, with a permanent courthouse built in 1793, and the first county jail built 1795. The "Old Jail" was built in 1818, survived the fire of 1864 and is the oldest jail building in Pennsylvania. It was originally used as the sheriff's residence and had the longest continuous use of any jail in the state, operating until 1971. Today the Old Jail is a museum and home to the Franklin County – Kittochtinny Historical Society. The county's gallows still stand in the jail's courtyard.
Much of the town's growth was due to its position as a transportation center, first as the starting point on the Forbes Road to Pittsburgh. The U.S. Congress placed Chambersburg on the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh postal road in 1803. The road was rebuilt as the Chambersburg-Bedford Turnpike in 1811. The Cumberland Valley Railroad was built in 1837 and was the area's center of economic activity for nearly 100 years. Until the completion of the Pennsylvania Railroad's main line in 1857, the fastest route from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia was by stagecoach from Pittsburgh to Chambersburg, and then by train to Philadelphia.
Civil War era
By 1859, Chambersburg was a stop on the Underground Railroad. John Brown stayed in an upstairs room at Mary Ritner's boarding house between June and October, 1859 while preparing for his raid on Harpers Ferry. Several of his fellow raiders stayed in the house as well, and four of them escaped capture and briefly visited the house after the raid. The house still stands at 225 East King Street. While in Chambersburg Brown posed as Dr. Isaac Smith, an iron mine developer, and bought and stored weapons under the guise of mining equipment.
Brown (using the name John Smith) and John Henry Kagi met with Frederick Douglass and Shields Green at an abandoned quarry outside of town to discuss the raid on August 19. According to Douglass's account, Brown described the planned raid in detail and Douglass advised him against it. Douglass also provided $10 from a supporter, and had helped Green – a future raider – locate Brown.
During the American Civil War on October 10, 1862, Confederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, with 1800 cavalrymen, raided Chambersburg, destroying $250,000 of railroad property and taking 500 guns, hundreds of horses, and at least "eight young colored men and boys." They failed, however, to accomplish one of the main targets of the raid: to burn the railroad bridge across the Conococheague Creek at Scotland, five miles (8 km) north of town.
During the early days of the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign, a Virginia cavalry brigade under Brig. Gen. Albert G. Jenkins occupied the town and burned several warehouses and Cumberland Valley Railroad structures and the bridge at Scotland. From June 24–28, 1863, much of the Army of Northern Virginia passed through Chambersburg en route to Carlisle and Gettysburg, and Robert E. Lee established his headquarters at a nearby farm.
The following year, Chambersburg was invaded for a third time, as cavalry dispatched from the Shenandoah Valley by Jubal Early arrived. On July 30, 1864, a large portion of the town was burned down under orders from Brig. Gen. John McCausland for failing to provide a ransom of $500,000 in US currency, or $100,000 in gold. Among the few buildings left standing was the Masonic Temple, which had been guarded under orders by a Confederate mason. Norland, the home of Republican politician and editor Alexander McClure, was burned even though it was well north of the main fire.
"Remember Chambersburg" soon became a Union battle cry.
National Register of Historic Places
The following places in Chambersburg are on the National Register of Historic Places:
Colorized photographs taken from a series of 22 postcard views mailed in 1921.