Marker to note railroad's presence

June 24, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A state marker noting Chambersburg's role in the Civil War-era Underground Railroad will go up later this year.

Local historian James Wolfson said he spent more than two years working on the request to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission with Downtown Chambersburg Inc.

He said the process of finding facts for the application was difficult, taking him throughout Southcentral Pennsylvania, scouring newspaper archives, historical journals and court records.


His research has uncovered at least one "conductor," a barber named Henry Watson who helped escaped slaves find safe housing on their journey northward through Chambersburg.

Winning approval for the marker is not the last stop, Wolfson said. He and Paul Cullinane, executive director of DCI, plan to continue their research and hope to tie the installation of the marker this fall into a bigger project.

"This shouldn't just be another pole in the ground that people drive by," Wolfson said. "This can be an important thing for our community."

"It's important to let travelers know Underground Railroad activity occurred in Chambersburg. The marker will be just the starting point of a long series of research and awareness so people will understand how important Chambersburg is to the whole story of slavery and abolition," Cullinane said.

Wolfson said he came across handwritten letters that included recollections from the mid-1800s.

"This is the kind of stuff we had to have" to make the case to PHMC, Wolfson said.

He said he also looked for court records for people tried or arrested for harboring a fugitive slave, but he said he didn't have any success in Franklin County's courthouse.

There are about 1,900 historical markers throughout the state, including one in front of the Old Jewish Cemetery on East Washington Street in Chambersburg that was dedicated last month. Wolfson spearheaded that effort.

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