Chambersburg's rich war history


Chambersburg, Pa., has the distinction of being the only Northern city that was burned by the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

While this unfortunate claim to fame has been forgotten by many today, it was quite a happening in 1864.

Decidedly Union Chambersburg had stations of the Underground Railroad in and around town. In 1859, John Brown spent the summer in Chambersburg while planning his ill-fated raid on Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

After the September 1862 Battle of Antietam, which took place just down the road in Washington County, Md., Chambersburg served as a Union hospital and supply center.

The first Confederate raid on the city took place then, and rail yards and warehouses were destroyed. During the Gettysburg campaign in 1863, more than 60,000 Confederate soldiers camped in Chambersburg.

Just about a year later, the Confederates returned and threatened to burn the town if a ransom was not paid. When the city could not meet the steep cost demanded by Gen. Jubal Early, Gen. John McCausland and 2,800 men burned Chambersburg to the ground on July 30, 1864. Whole city blocks were destroyed, and more than 2,000 residents were forced from their homes.

Chambersburg worked hard to rebuild, helped by aid from other areas.

Many of the reconstructed buildings still stand. And area businesses draw on the city's agrarian roots. Chambersburg is the seat of Franklin County - one of Pennsylvania's leading producers of dairy products and other farm commodities.

What to see

Chambersburg Heritage Center (100 Lincoln Way E., 717-264-7101): Watch a brief video on the area's history, pick up brochures for self-guided driving and walking tours and see artifacts from Chambersburg's role in the Civil War and as part of the Underground Railroad. The center, which opened last year, sponsors Civil War seminars and tours.

The Capitol Theatre Center (159 S. Main St., 717-263-0202): This former movie theater opened in 1927 with a state-of-the-art Moller pipe organ built to the specifications of well-known Baltimore theater organist Wilford Binder. Now operating as a performing arts center, the organ is still played before and after many performances. Coming events include an Irish cabaret on Feb. 25 and an Ozark Jubilee on April 1. Best Laid Plans will be staged in March.

Memorial Square and Fountain (Downtown Chambersburg): Every building here was rebuilt after Confederate troops burned the town in 1864. The fountain and the statue of the soldier were put in place in 1878 to memorialize the men who fought and those who gave their lives for the Union.

The Old Jail Museum & Library (Second and King streets, 717-264-1667): Pennsylvania's oldest jail - active from 1818 to 1970 - reopens for tours in May. The building is believed to have been a station on the Underground Railroad. It survived the city's burning, and its extensive genealogical library is open year-round.

Where to eat

Olympia Ice Cream Parlor (43 S. Main St., 717-263-8597): Slip back in the cobblestone alley to this family-run restaurant that's been a Chambersburg landmark for 85 years. Outstanding ice cream and satisfying lunch fare bring diners back time and again.

The Lighthouse Restaurant (4301 Philadelphia Ave., 717-263-4878): Offering regularly scheduled gospel and Christian dinner concerts for more than a quarter-century (see www.light for schedule). The buffet of Pennsylvania Dutch specialties includes scrapple; corn fritters; baked, stuffed chicken breasts and pork and sauerkraut. Closed Sundays.

The Baker's Loaf (9 N. Main St., 717-261-1731): The fresh-baked breads and homemade soups make this deli stand out.

The Copper Kettle (1049 Lincoln Way E., 717-264-3109): A favorite for steaks and seafood.

Where to shop

Bender's Potato and Produce Barn (1120 Lincoln Way East, 717-264-6720): The Bender family has been growing potatoes for three generations. Also offers other produce, honey from its own hives and bulk spices, baking items and candies.

The Butcher Shoppe (410 Stouffer Ave., 717-263-1918): A modern version of a farmers' market with fresh meat, poultry and seafood cut to specification and wrapped, prepared dishes from the deli and a large selection of baked goods. Beef pot pie, cheese spread and apple dumplings are popular.

Route 5 Fine Gifts (380 Wayne Ave., 800-5-ROUTE5): Contemporary works by American and international artisans. Find everything from abalone necklaces to water divining rods.

The Shopkeep (153 S. Main St., 717-261-4722): Civil War re-enactor wares and other period items for kids and adults. Worth browsing to see reproductions of the items previous generations couldn't live without.

Trickling Springs Creamery (2330 Molly Pitcher Highway (Route 11), 717-709- 0711): Dairy products from the milk of grass-grazing cows, including some farms that are Pennsylvania certified organic. Fill your cooler with milk (in old-fashioned glass bottles) and ice cream to take home.

Getting there

Take Interstate 70 East toward Frederick. Continue for 67 miles, past Frederick and toward Hagerstown. Take the exit for Interstate 81 North toward Hagerstown/Harrisburg. Follow for 24 miles to the exit for U.S. 30 toward Chambersburg/Gettysburg. Turn left on U.S. 30 (also called Lincoln Highway/Lincoln Way East). Follow to downtown Chambersburg.

More information

Contact the Greater Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce at 717-264-7101 or visit

For more regional trips, see Page 41.

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