Volunteers fixing Chambersburg water wheel

June 12, 1997


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - For 14 years, the Chambers Fort water wheel withstood the waters of the Falling Spring at the confluence with the Conococheague Creek, as well as the weather and several incidents of vandalism.

It turns no more.

Showing considerable wear and tear, the 12-foot-high, 3,000-pound overshot wheel, so named because the water pours in from the top, was lifted out of its mount on Monday and taken to Chambersburg Engineering Company, where it will undergo a complete renovation over the next several weeks.

"When we build it this time, we know where it can be improved," said Ben Beattie, a local businessman who is leading the volunteer effort to restore the waterwheel.


His father, Alex, built the original wheel in 1983. It is a replica of the one that Benjamin Chambers, Chambersburg's first settler, built to power his sawmill at the creek which runs just off of West King Street.

"It was a labor of love," Alex Beattie said. "Nobody was punching the clock. Nobody was watching me."

This time, Beattie won't be alone.

Several craftsmen from around the area have volunteered to help with the renovation, including Bob Wall, a pattern maker by trade, who inspected the wheel Wednesday afternoon.

"It's not a hard job if you've done this kind of work," Wall said. "I can't see it taking very long."

Part of Wall's contribution to the project will be measuring and pre-cutting all of the replacement wood pieces for assembly.

Workers at Greencastle Metal Works will make special banding to strengthen the wheel and Nitterhouse Concrete Products of Chambersburg is working on a design for a pedestrian overlook just below the Falling Spring waterfall.

"The response from the community has been almost overwhelming," Ben Beattie said.

It took his father about five months and $12,000 to build the original wheel for what he called a "wintertime project."

Beattie used green cypress wood from Florida, which he said lasts longer in water, and countless bolts and nails to hold the heavy wooden structure together.

The same kind of wood will be used to replace the splintered, broken and missing wooden planks. New, galvanized hardware and waterproof adhesives will also be used in the construction.

"We hope to get another 20 years out of this one," Ben Beattie said.

The water wheel renovation, expected to be completed by July 4, will add to the improvements already under way in the area known as the Village on the Falling Spring, which is part of Downtown Chambersburg Inc.'s $25 million cleanup plan, Beattie said.

To contribute lumber, hardware or skilled labor, call Beattie at 1-717-263-5603 or 263-0710.

Tax-deductible contributions of $100 or less can be made to Downtown Chambersburg Inc., Water Wheel Fund, 75 South Second Street, Chambersburg, 17201-2260.

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