The seat of Franklin County, Chambersburg (population 17,961) was founded in 1764 and was originally settled in 1730 by the Chambers brothers, who chose this point at the confluence of the Conococheaque Creek and Falling Spring as the location for their gristmill and sawmill. Chambersburg grew as an important crossroads; it soon became an important stopping place for travelers going west to Pittsburgh. In the late 1780s the first wagon train passed though Chambersburg, and in 1814 the first turnpike opened. The beginning of rail travel in 1837 further contributed to the growth of the community by bringing travelers from Harrisburg to Chambersburg.
Chambersburg and Franklin County lay along the frontier, forcing settlers of the region to hone their fighting skills during the French and Indian War. Riflemen from the region were requested by George Washington in 1776 to fight the British in Boston. Chambersburg was invaded three times during the Civil War, and Robert E. Lee made the decision to move east into Gettysburg in the town square. Much of downtown Chambersburg was burned on July 30, 1864. After the fire, the community’s economy quickly rebounded with the development of foundries and the Cumberland Valley Railroad.
Visitors can stroll the historic downtown and tour Chambers Fort, the Franklin County Courthouse, and the 1818 Old Franklin County Jail, which is believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. Volunteers of the Kittochtinny Historical Society, housed in the restored Old Jail, own the Old Jail as well as the nearby historic John Brown (Mary Ritner) House, where John Brown lived in the summer of 1859 while he planned and secured weapons for his attack on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. The society’s volunteer docents provide tours and answer questions for thousands of visitors each year.
The Chambersburg Heritage Center celebrates the history of not only Chambersburg but also of Franklin County. It is housed in a renovated 1915 marble bank building, designed by the architectural firm of Furness Evans & Company, on Chambersburg’s Memorial Square in the National Register Historic District. Five thematic areas are explored within the Heritage Center: Frontier History, Architectural History, Civil War History: The Freedom Trail, Civil War History: Invasions and Raids, and Transportation History. Each thematic area also has its own associated driving tour guide.
Designated a Preserve America Community in November 2006.