History center planned for Chambersburg

September 14, 2000

History center planned for Chambersburg

By DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Getting some of the 1.7 million people who visit Gettysburg, Pa., each year to spend more of their time and money in Chambersburg is the goal of a heritage tourism plan in its final stages of development for Downtown Chambersburg Inc.

The anchor of the plan is the Chambersburg Heritage Center's proposal to spend up to $500,000 to turn a former bank building into an historic interpretive center, Downtown Chambersburg Executive Director Paul Cullinane said Thursday.

Called the Marble Building, the 85-year-old structure on Memorial Square is owned by Downtown Chambersburg.

"It is not intended as a museum," said Tony Treu, a consultant with Museum Design Associates of Cambridge, Mass.

The center would have kiosks and displays of the history of Chambersburg and the surrounding area, but also would provide visitor services, directing tourists to restaurants, hotels and attractions.


Treu said his firm is working with a company to make a film depicting the burning of Chambersburg by Confederate troops in 1864, the most infamous event in the borough's history.

"That component is about a quarter of the entire expenditure," Cullinane told about 40 people who attended the town meeting where the plan was outlined.

He said a 12-minute film would cost about $143,000 to produce.

Displays would include information about the settlement of Chambersburg when this part of Pennsylvania was the western frontier of the colony.

The Civil War, including Chambersburg's links to the Battle of Gettysburg, would also figure prominently in the center's scheme, Treu said.

The interior of the bank's huge vault would be transformed into a audio-visual display depicting events such as the meeting of John Brown and Frederick Douglass in Chambersburg before Brown's 1859 Harper's Ferry raid and the town's role in aiding escaped slaves via the Underground Railroad, Treu said.

The history of the Lincoln Highway, now better known as U.S. 30, would also be depicted, along with information about the borough's role as a railway hub, he said.

"In many ways Chambersburg is not a destination" for tourists as Gettysburg is, said Ethan Colaiace of Thomas J. Martin Associates of Cambridge, Mass. The center would be part of an overall plan to market the area and bring in "heritage tourism."

Cullinane said a $1 million federal transportation grant has already been approved to renovate the Marble Building. The money to turn it into the Chambersburg Heritage Center, however, would have to come from other sources.

"We know it's a challenge financially, but we think we can do it," Cullinane said. "We're working on identifying funding sources right now," he said.

The tourism plan being developed by David J. Martin Associates and Museum Design Associates is costing $47,000, Cullinane said.

Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor, a state agency that helps fund the development of projects along the 145-mile stretch between Gettysburg and Greensburg, Pa., paid $35,000 with the balance coming from the Chambersburg Area Development Corp.

Cullinane said Downtown Chambersburg will apply to the National Park Service, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor to fund design and construction of the center.

He estimated the entire project could take up to three years to complete.

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