Walking tour shows area's rich history

February 10, 2006|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Bill Gour is excited about Greencastle's past and present.

Last weekend, the focus was mainly on the past for the events of Franklin County's Pennsylvania Civil War Trails: Prelude to Gettysburg Discovery Weekend.

A native of Montreal, Canada, Gour enthusiastically led a walking tour of his adopted town Sunday afternoon. While the cold, windy weather necessitated a condensed version of the tour he wrote, he conveyed a sense of local history in the 40-minute stroll around downtown Greencastle.

Gour, whose academic background is in history, is the executive director of the Greencastle-Antrim Chamber of Commerce.

Greencastle's original Town Hall, built in 1871 on the corner of East Baltimore and North Washington streets, "was a beautiful building in its prime," Gour said. "It was a major meeting place for the townspeople. It had the first theater in Greencastle; major productions passed through here." Later, a movie theater in the Antrim House diagonally across the street put it out of business.


In 1913, the Town Hall was converted to offices and apartments, Gour said. The three-story building burned recently and the lot is being cleared.

Gour commented on the large number of churches - some three dozen congregations in the Greencastle-Antrim area.

"Other chamber directors are envious of Greencastle's downtown," he added. "We have unique shops. Nothing is boarded up. There are no empty storefronts."

Standing on Center Square, Gour said, "Right here is where it all started" when William Allison Sr. built Allison's Tavern at the crossing of two roads in a wooded area. His son, John, was born in 1738 and educated by a Presbyterian minister. John married at 30 and fathered 12 children. In 1769, John bought 300 acres of land around his father's tavern, intending to develop it, but the Revolutionary War intervened. John Allison became a colonel and was a close friend of Gen. George Washington. In 1782, John Allison formed a partnership with James Crawford, a local teacher, and they sold 246 lots for $8 each, Gour said.

Pennsylvania farmers were making whiskey from their grain at that time, Gour said. When a whiskey tax was imposed, the small farmers considered it unfair because larger producers were taxed at six cents per gallon, while smaller ones were taxed at nine cents per gallon.

In 1791, many farmers protested in what became known as the Whiskey Rebellion. In 1794, George Washington passed through Greencastle on his way to quell the rebellion and stayed at McCullough's Tavern, one of the oldest log structures in town, just west of the square. Washington had 13,000 to 15,000 men under his command, Gour said.

In 1872, the citizens of Greencastle paid $800 for a town clock which they placed on the roof of the First National Bank of Greencastle. Now, the clock tower and bell, hallmarks of the town, are taken care of by the Borough of Greencastle.

Allison's Tavern was replaced with a brick building in 1905.

Gour said he enjoys "being involved in this community that has such an exciting history, and making people aware of that history."

Each community in the Discovery Weekend has a centerpiece story related to the Civil War; Greencastle's is the Cpl. Rihl story and monument.

According to the Greencastle-Antrim Museum's Web site, Cpl. William H. Rihl of Philadelphia was a member of the 1st New York cavalry regiment. On June 22, 1863, while on a mission with his unit, Rihl was struck down by a volley of bullets from Confederate infantry lying in a wheat field south of the Archibald Fleming house on U.S. 11.

The Confederates stripped Rihl's body and buried it in a shallow grave on the site, about two miles north of town. A few days later, the townspeople disinterred the body, placed it in a coffin and buried it in the Lutheran graveyard in Greencastle.

Rihl was the first Union soldier killed north of the Mason-Dixon line.

On June 22, 1886, Rihl's body was removed from the Lutheran graveyard and buried at the site where he had been killed. Later, the townspeople raised money for the building of the monument that now marks Rihl's final resting place.

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