Historical church hosts DAR memorial

June 09, 2003|by DON AINES

In a church nearly as old as the country itself, members of the Franklin County Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution gathered Sunday, not to remember patriot ancestors but members who died in the past year.

The setting was Rocky Spring Presbyterian Church, surrounded by farmland on a little-traveled road of the same name north of Chambersburg. Built in 1794, it is a time capsule of a church, lacking heat, electricity or plumbing.

The church is used just one day each year, for the DAR memorial service and Pentecost Sunday service that immediately follows. About 40 people, mostly DAR members and spouses, occupied the pews for the memorial service honoring Hazel M. Wagaman, Florence H. Yingling, Mary Belle Rife Gahagan and Lillian Colletta.


"Hazel lived an active and interested life for 102 years and six days," Nancy Burkey said of Wagaman, who died Aug. 13, 2002. Wagaman, who was the chapter's oldest member, traced her revolutionary roots to Cpl. John Peter Snyder and spent half her life as a DAR member.

Yingling, who died two months ago, joined the DAR at age 18 in 1936, according to Marjorie McFadden, who read her tribute. Her ancestral tie to the War of Independence was Jonathan Greenleaf.

Gahagan, who died last month, joined the DAR in 1981 and was a descendant of Peter Kuhn. Her son, Howard Rife, remembered his mother as a volunteer for several organizations who "instilled in us the old-time values."

Handwritten onto Regent Patricia Stumbaugh's program was the name of Colletta, who died last week. The Greencastle, Pa., woman was president of the Kittochtinny Historical Society in Chambersburg from 1994 to 2000 and traced her revolutionary roots to a man named John Woods.

Chaplain Harriette Horst placed a white carnation on the altar for Wagaman, Yingling and Gahagan and a red one for Colletta, a past regent.

The DAR has 134 members in Franklin County, according to Stumbaugh, whose link to the Revolution is Abram Stouffer, a private in the Pennsylvania Militia. While most of the women at the service were middle-aged or beyond, Stumbaugh said that is not an entirely accurate image of the organization.

"We've been getting lots of members and we've got the Children of the American Revolution," she said.

"We've got quite a few of what we call junior members under 35. ... It just doesn't look like it," said Burkey, a past state regent and former registrar general for the national DAR. Many younger members are busy with jobs and raising children, she explained.

Burkey said she is related to about two dozen people who served in the Revolution, some with the Pennsylvania Militia, but others who never took up arms against the British.

"Some of mine were Mennonites and they couldn't fight, so they did patriotic service," she said. That included logistical support building roads, feeding soldiers and providing fodder for horses.

Reading the names painted onto the pews tells a lot about the people who arrived here before Franklin County even existed, with such Scotch-Irish names as McConnell, Clayton, McCalmont and Nicholson.

A pew in the back of the church also is a reminder of another era. It is simply marked "Africans."

While the building is 209 years old, the congregation was established in 1738, according to Mary Baker of Chambersburg. When independence was declared, Baker said Pastor John Craighead urged the men to join the militia and he went with them.

A congregation of hundreds dwindled to a handful by 1919, and the church was taken over by a board of trustees, according to Baker. The DAR provides most of the financial support for its maintenance, she said.

Sitting in a pew marked with the name of Col. Samuel Culbertson was Sgt. Major Michael Culbertson, the resource manager for the United States Army Field Band.

"I used to be in the chorus, but now I push papers," he said.

Sunday, however, he put his voice back to work, singing a Scottish Psalter at the later service, which was attended by about 100 people.

"We're pretty sure we're related to all the Culbertsons buried out there," the Illinois native said of the church cemetery.

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