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Special to Franklin County Free Press

CHAMBERSBURG – Bricks, bones, and the Burning.

Those subjects were woven into the story of Franklin County’s various courthouses Thursday when the county’s archives director, Justin McHenry, talked about the iconic old Courthouse in the center of town.

The occasion was Franklin County Historical Society’s March meeting at the Grove Family Library.

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In the 235-year history of Franklin County, the courts have made their home in many different courthouses around the square of Chambersburg.

McHenry traced the origins and changes of these courthouses, which first found a home on the second floor of Jack’s Tavern at the birth of the county in 1784 up through the building of the new judicial center going on today. 

First Courthouse of Franklin County, PA.  Built in 1794, removed in 1842.

As County Grows, so Does Courthouse

“As the county has grown, so has our courthouse,” said McHenry, who highlighted the continuing trend of growth and expansion throughout Franklin County’s history with the courthouse serving as the primary symbol. 

He emphasized that the county’s steady increase in population over the years has meant the community has outgrown the courthouse, which has led to the building of new courthouses and annexes and the expansion of existing courthouses.

The presentation told the eventful history of the courthouses from their early use as meeting spots for the townsfolk at a time when courtroom activities were a form of entertainment, to the burning the structure in 1864 by Confederate soldiers and the discovery of the bones of a Confederate soldier during construction to expand the courthouse in 1902. 

Public Square in Chambersburg, PA.  As seen on entering from the north (1838).  Washington Hotel, German Reformed Church, Bank and Culbertson's Hotel.

McHenry unveiled a new online historical story map of the courthouses that combines the history of the buildings with images and maps to create an immersive visual experience of the county’s past.

Visit franklincountypa.gov to view the story map or contact McHenry at jjmchenry@franklincountypa.gov for more information regarding the history of the courthouses.

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