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Community picnic caps bicentennial celebration

June 30, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

FORT LOUDON, Pa. - The history of a small town is intimate, with families knowing each other for generations, but even those who have lived there all or most of their lives can learn something new.

Many who took the trolley tours during the past week's bicentennial celebration are natives of the small Peters Township village and surrounding rural community. Sunday, on the next to last of the half-hour tours, passengers in the chartered Chambersburg Transit Authority bus were able to toss in bits of personal history as Derek Stoy commented on the 29 stops along the way.

"That's where my mom and dad lived when I was born," Sam Malone said as the bus passed the oldest house in town. That was back in 1946 when the nondescript house on Main Street was just 197 years old

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If it were not for some siding having fallen off, it would be impossible for the casual observer to know that it started out as a rough-hewn log cabin.

A short while later, the bus passed what Stoy called "the Widow Donaldson's place," built around 1751. Stoy told the passengers that the pile of stone beside it was a chimney that finally gave way to time and heavy rains just within the past few weeks.

"That tilted for a good many years before it fell down," said John Hoover, another resident.

Nearby had been the home of Robert Jordon, who settled in the area on March 1, 1755, and died in the fall of the same year. The Jordon family's misfortunes continued that year as his widow was kidnapped by Indians, Stoy said.

"1755 was a big year for the Indians" with several uprisings in the valley, Stoy said. The British built a Fort Loudoun the following year and, although the spelling was different, gave a name to the small settlement.

It was not until 1803, however, that Johnston Elliott laid out the village and sold lots, according to Anna Rotz, president of the Fort Loudon Historical Society. That became the official date of the town's founding.

Two years later, James Chambers, a member of the family that founded Chambersburg, bought land that became the west side of the village.

"He developed this one month and died the next, so I don't know if that was a very good omen," Stoy said.

It never grew very big, but Fort Loudon had its heyday. Blacksmiths, coopers, wagon makers, tanneries, saddle shops, iron foundries and inns flourished and then died away as first settlers in wagons headed west and then the railroads followed.

A stagecoach stop is now an apartment house, Stoy noted.

Some stops along the tour were just empty lots, places where history can only be remembered, not seen.

The school built in 1886 burned down in the 1960s.

"Four rooms, eight grades," Hoover said of the school.

Malone said he learned a few things the past week about the hometown that always has remained his home. His wife, Candy, also a native, knew they always would live here.

"When we got married, my husband told me, 'Don't even think about going anywhere. I've got roots in Fort Loudon and I'm staying,'" she said.

Back at the community center where the tour began, Rotz was anticipating a bit of a letdown as the bicentennial ended.

"It took us two years to do this," she said of the celebration, which included a pageant, historical displays, trolley and walking tours, jazz, barbershop and bluegrass performances and Saturday night fireworks.

"I thought last night, when we looked over the crowd, somebody did something right," Rotz, who chaired the bicentennial committee, said Sunday. "The town really came together."

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