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New Heritage Center attracts large crowd

July 31, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -Under the eye of the 8-foot-3-inch gold leaf-covered statue of Benjamin Franklin, a large crowd gathered in the new Heritage Center Friday evening, the 140th anniversary of the burning of Chambersburg by Confederate troops during the Civil War.

The center, in the former Valley National Bank building on the square, is the result of more than five years of work by Chamber of Commerce officials and many other residents. It showcases the history of Chambersburg and surrounding areas.

The invitation-only crowd got a sneak preview of the centerpiece film of the exhibit, an 11-minute video, "Our Heritage: An American Story," which depicts the history of Franklin County from the time of its founding in 1730 by Benjamin Chambers to the present. A millwright, Chambers saw the Falling Spring as a source of power for his mills.

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When the town was burned in 1864, the townspeople rebuilt it "bigger and better than before," according to the video. "Burned-out two-story buildings were replaced with three-story buildings."

A second, shorter video traces the history of transportation in Franklin County from Native Americans blazing trails to settlers traveling westward in Conestoga wagons, through steam-powered railroads, and on the Lincoln Highway and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

In his remarks to the crowd, Ted Alexander, historian at Antietam National Battlefield, said that the Heritage Center has changed the dynamics of tourism in the area. Tourists used to stay in motels in Chambersburg, then go on to Hershey, Gettysburg or Antietam, he said. Now, people will come to see historic architecture, such as Norland Hall on the campus of Wilson College, and the Mercersburg Academy Chapel.

"You don't need to go to Williamsburg or Jamestown to see Colonial history," Alexander said. "You can come to Franklin County and see Enoch Brown Park and Fort Loudon."

Chambersburg and Franklin County also figured prominently in Civil War history as the site of many Union Army camps, Alexander said from the second-floor balcony overlooking the exhibit area.

The events depicted at the center are "not just local history," Alexander said. "These events have national importance."

Will Pananes, local historian and owner of Olympia Candy Kitchen and Ice Cream Parlor, served on the historical committee that researched and authenticated various chapters of the area's history for a year and a half, he said. That group also served as a steering committee for the whole design of the exhibit, he said.

"We were very blessed and fortunate to be able to do it," Pananes said.

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