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Resident writes new town history

June 17, 2000

BY RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - There are several excellent books on the history of Mercersburg, but John W. Thompson IV says none is as complete as the one he just published.

"Historic Views of Old Mercersburg: The Jewelbox of Franklin County," covers the town's history from just before the Civil War through the 1940s.

Thompson said photoraphs make his book different from "Old Mercersburg," published in 1912 by the Mercersburg Women's Club and "Old Mercersburg Revisited," published by the club in 1987.

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Thompson said while he relied heavily on information in the Women's Club's books, along with his own research over four years, the photographs in his book are good for readers who don't know much about Mercersburg or its history.

The photos in his book give it a special niche, he said. Many of them came from the archives of Mercersburg Academy, a private prep school in town, from private collections and from Thompson's own extensive collection.

"There is a lot of information about the people, places and homes, but no pictures in the women's club's books, but they were written for people who knew the town," he said. "My book is written for someone who has not lived here."

He said his reason for writing it was to shed light on what it was like to live in Mercersburg in the 100 years between the mid-19th and 20th centuries.

"I wanted to bring to life those images of the past," he said.

His leather-bound book is 286 pages and has more than 300 photographs and a narrative on most pages describing some aspect of local history. It covers the town of Mercersburg, the surrounding communities and Mercersburg Academy.

Thompson paid Mercersburg Printing to print 1,000 copies, most of which are stacked in boxes in the third-floor ballroom of his 6,000-square-foot Georgian revival home on the corner of North Main and Park streets. It was built in 1888.

Mercersburg Academy bought 300 copies to give to donors and special visitors, Thompson said. So far he has sold 30 copies himself.

The book is on sale at Fendrick Library and at Thompson's home for $65 a copy. His web site address is www.mercersburg.com.

Thompson said Mercersburg was laid out as a town in 1786 by William Smith Jr.

"It was just a map. There were no buildings in town back then," he said. "Log homes and stores were built over the next 30 years. Many of the town's brick homes were built between 1820 and 1840."

Thompson, 43, his wife, Catherine, and their two young children moved to Mercersburg in 1995. He is a senior engineer with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Agency and commutes to the Washington area for his job.

Thompson helped to organize the Mercersburg Historical Society shortly after moving to town.

"I found it incredible that a historic town like this had no historic society," he said.

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