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Fort a factor in revitalization

September 18, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The exact location of Benjamin Chambers' fort became a hot issue Thursday night at the ninth biannual town meeting held by Downtown Chambersburg Inc.

Paul Cullinane, executive director of the downtown group, shared plans for the revitalization of downtown Chambersburg with the audience of 40 people in Friendship Hall at Central Presbyterian Church. The plan calls for a 10,500-square-foot office building on a site that some local historians claim is where Chambers, the town's founder, built his fort when the town was still a frontier.

That building plus a smaller one measuring 2,500 square feet, will be the commercial anchors of the Village on Falling Spring, an ambitious project to convert an old warehouse and industrial corner into what promoters call the key to revitalization.

The borough has about $2 million in grants for walkways and stream improvements, Cullinane said.

He said there is no definite proof that Chambers' fort, one of 23 in Franklin County during the frontier days, was actually on the site of the proposed building.

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Local historian Murray E. Kauffman, who said he spent 15 years researching the forts, said there is no question of the site of Chambers' fort.

Peggy Bosma, president of Patriot Federal Credit Union and a proponent of the village project, said industrialists long ago destroyed any sense of history on the site with mills and warehouses.

"They paved over the fort," she said. "The historic significance of the fort is gone."

She said the village project "is the kicker that will save the beautiful jewel of downtown Chambersburg."

Robert Williams, president of Unitas Bank, said the village project will spur a partnership of government and private efforts to revitalize the community. "There isn't enough infrastructure or capital to bring it back on its own," he said.

Allen Melius, commander of VFW Post 1599, said veterans groups oppose any plan that would destroy the site of the fort.

Plans call for a green area between the buildings along Falling Spring that could be used for a veterans park, but Melius said it's too small.

Kauffman said he wants the proposed building to be moved about 60 feet, off what he believes is the site of Chambers' 30-foot-by 90-foot fort. If left open, a replica of the fort could be built there one day, he said.

Cullinane said moving the building could be considered.

Bernard Washabaugh, president of the Chambersburg Borough Council, said the council supports the Village project unanimously. He also said while the council welcomes opinions of historians and veterans groups, "we have to start somewhere."

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