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Vault unearthed during renovation

August 18, 1998

Vault unearthedBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer [enlarge]




CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Workers renovating the front of the Franklin County Courthouse unearthed a previously unknown brick vault beneath the steps Tuesday and found a few artifacts.

"It's probably an animal bone," Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy John Strine said as he held part of a leg bone found in the brick-lined vault with an arched ceiling.

"Some old dog probably took it in, but I don't know how it got in there," said Pete Conley, an employee of Keystone Waterproofing of Latrobe, Pa., the company replacing the steps.

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It would have been a very old dog, since the steps of the courthouse date back to 1842, according to county records. The steps and the Ionic columns they support are the only parts of the building that remained standing after Confederate raiders burned the town on July 30, 1864.

Also found beneath the steps was a rust-encrusted piece of ornamental metal, apparently made of iron. The object measured about eight inches long, was flat on one side and rounded on the other, and no one at the site could figure out what it was.

Some things found in the steps could be dated precisely. Several rolled-up editions of the Public Opinion had been jammed down holes that formerly held handrails. The holes were then patched over, probably 41 years ago, Conley said.

"Parents Deny Negligence in Child's Death," was the headline on a Feb. 11, 1957, edition that was mostly intact and readable.

"My guess is they wanted this heavy structure resting on a sound foundation," Raymond Depuy, of Chambersburg, said as he looked at the exposed vault. The former president of Franklin County Heritage, a local historical group, said the vault was probably a sturdier foundation for the building's facade than fill, which would have settled over the decades.

The old courthouse has been getting a facelift this year. About half the cost of the renovations, totaling more than $200,000, is being paid for with Keystone Historic Preservation grants, according to Administrative Assistant Brian Kelly.

The clock tower topped by the county's namesake, Benjamin Franklin, was repaired earlier this summer for about $60,000.

The old courtroom, with its sagging ceiling, is undergoing an $82,000 renovation that includes scabbing split joists, new paint, carpet and other refurbishments.

The contract for the steps project is about $97,000, with new red sandstone blocks from Ohio sitting in the parking lot behind the courthouse.

As a measure of inflation over 156 years, replacing the steps will cost about as much as building the entire courthouse for $45,545 in 1842, and rebuilding it in 1865 for $52,683 after the fire, according to County Commissioner Cheryl Plummer.

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