Historical society digs own niche in history

March 01, 1998|By DON AINES

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

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Historical SocietyHistorical society digs own niche in history

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Kittochtinny Historical Society made history in February, marking its 100th anniversary as a repository for artifacts and documents from more than two centuries of Cumberland Valley history.

Wandering the halls of its museum in Franklin County's Old Jail, a visitor can see Indian artifacts, relics from the wars that have touched the region and the items of past lives.

There's also a chair George Washington may have sat in and possible relics from the Grasshopper War.

"Dr. S.A. Martin, the president of Wilson College, called together 25 gentlemen of the area on Feb. 3, 1898, proposing the idea of a historical society," said the Rev. Jeffrey Diller, secretary of the historical society.


Diller said the members settled on the name Kittochtinny, a Delaware Indian word meaning "faraway mountain."

Diller said it was all men back then and they resisted change because the admission of women might cut back on cigar smoking and the telling of off-color jokes.

Despite the fact that the first woman wasn't admitted as a member until 1953, President Lil Colletta said, "now women hold the two highest positions."

The society has grown to more than 600 members, many from out of state, said Colletta. Many are interested in genealogy and do research at the society headquarters.

The society celebrated with a banquet Thursday night at the Lighthouse Restaurant. The gathering featured a trivia quiz on events from 1898, songs from the period and highlights from the group's first 100 years.

One highlight was finding a permanent home. During its first 65 years, members met in their homes and artifacts were kept in storage. That changed on Nov. 22, 1963, when the society moved into an old American Legion building.

Diller said older members have the date etched in their minds because it was the day President Kennedy was assassinated.

In 1975, the society moved to the jail, which was built in 1818. Diller said the society shares the building with another preservation group, Franklin County Heritage, which holds the deed on the 1880 addition.

The year the society formed, for example, Henry Fletcher of Greencastle, Pa., was fighting in Cuba with Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. Fletcher went on to serve as U.S. ambassador to four countries.

Franklin County produced Pennsylvania's only president, James Buchanan, and some governors. One of them, Frank Heintzleman, was Alaska's territorial governor in the 1950s.

Board member Larry Calimer said Washington may have snoozed in the ancient rocker in the corner of one room. It's from a Horse Valley inn Washington visited, but Calimer said no one's really sure whether it was actually graced by the seat of his pants.

In what is now Mifflin County, Pa., there was an Indian legend about the Grasshopper War. Children from two tribes were chasing a grasshopper in a field. That led to a fight, soon joined by the mothers and fathers from the tribes.

Early settlers didn't believe the story until they plowed up artifacts from an ancient battle in the field. Some spear points and arrow heads from that field ended up in the museum, along with two curiously shaped stones.

Calimer said he didn't know what the stones were until a visitor specifically asked to see them. It takes a bit of imagination, but they do appear to be carved into the shape of grasshoppers.

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