Man spends 15 years researching forts

September 28, 1998

Murray KauffmanBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: DON AINES

FORT LOUDON, Pa. - The heavy timber doors of Fort Loudon moved slowly back and forth in a hot autumn breeze Sunday, the logs of the stockade bleached gray by years of sun, rain and snow.

More than two centuries ago, before there was a United States, British colonists in what would become Franklin County, Pa., depended on those and other garrison and private forts to provide a measure of protection against attacks during the French and Indian War.

The forts are long gone - the one in Fort Loudon is a replica - but years ago local historian Murray Kauffman set out to document the locations of all 23 frontier forts in Franklin County during the pre-Revolutionary period.


Pieces of history

"There were 10 garrison forts that were put up by the government and 13 private forts," Kauffman said Saturday at his metal refinishing shop along U.S. 30 in Guilford Township. Kauffman, of Chambersburg, said he spent 15 years researching the forts for a map he published in July 1976.

Garrison forts, manned by British regulars and militia, have the fort designation before the name, such as Fort Loudon. A few miles east of Mercersburg, Pa., was the Rev. Steele's Fort, a private fort built in 1755.

"The Rev. John Steele placed a stockade around his church, shrewdly combining physical and spiritual safety and ... preached with his rifle within reach," according to "Chambersburg, Frontier Town, 1730-1794," written by Paul Swain Havens in 1975.

"They had to preserve their congregations. They had to preserve their townspeople," Marjory Blubaugh said of the private forts. Another local historian, the Chambersburg woman stopped by Kauffman's shop Saturday.

Some forts were scenes of tragedy. On April 4, 1756, Fort McCord, near what is now St. Thomas, Pa., was overrun by Indians. The 27 men, women and children behind its walls were killed or taken captive, according to W.P. Conrad's 1976 book, "From Terror to Freedom in the Cumberland Valley."

Fort Loudon provided the grist for a John Wayne film, no less.

John Smith, played by Wayne in the 1939 film "Allegheny Uprising," led 150 settlers that laid siege to the fort in 1763. The colonists were angered that contraband rum and weapons were being sold to the Indians in violation of a treaty.

Chambers Fort controversy

The most elaborate of the private forts is now the subject of a controversy between some historians, the Chambersburg Borough Council and the Chambersburg Area Development Corporation.

According to Kauffman, Chambers Fort was a 90-foot-by-300-foot stockade at the confluence of Conococheague Creek and the Falling Spring. The borough's founder, Benjamin Chambers, had three mills and other buildings inside the perimeter.

There's a small park and parking lot where the fort once stood, according to Kauffman. The borough and development corporation want to develop it into a multimillion-dollar office complex and park.

Opponents want to preserve the park as a memorial to Chambers and area veterans.

"To me, Chambers was a lot smarter than most of these fort builders," Kauffman said. The creek and spring made attack from two sides difficult and the fort always had access to water. The two swivel-mounted, four-pounder cannons also discouraged attacks.

According to Havens' book, authorities sought to confiscate the cannons in 1756 for fear they would fall into the hands of the French and Indians. Chambers prevailed in keeping the artillery because, as Lt. Col. John Armstrong put it in a letter that year, "he had the brass and malice of a devil."

Citing the example of Fort Loudon, Kauffman said he'd like to see a replica of the fort built downtown someday.

Whatever the outcome of the battle between preservationists and those who have a different view of revitalizing Chambersburg's downtown, the battles of those settlers remain fixed in history.

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