Tour Franklin County's historic churches
A history of faith in Franklin County is a book with many chapters, including the oldest public building in Chambersburg.
Here are some local church histories:
Rose Rent churches
Chambersburg's founder, Col. Benjamin Chambers, and his wife, Jane, gave land to three local Protestant congregations for the building of their churches. In exchange, each church was to pay an annual rent of one rose.
Those churches are Presbyterian Church of Falling Spring, 221 N. Main St.; Zion Reformed United Church of Christ, 259 S. Main St.; and First Lutheran Church, 43 W. Washington St.
Centuries later, all three churches continue to perform an annual rose rent ceremony by presenting a red rose to a descendant of Chambersburg's founding family.
Chambers founded the Presbyterian church in 1734 and deeded the property to the church in 1768. Its sanctuary is the oldest public building in Chambersburg. Remodeled in 1857 and 1868, it contains the original pews.
Zion Reformed Church lot at Liberty and South Main streets was conveyed to its congregation in May 1780. The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many descendants of the early founders of Zion attend the church's rose rent ceremony every year. An annual reunion of distant relatives began in 1999, when the Franklin County Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution placed a plaque on the grave of Nicholas Snider in Zion's cemetery to honor his military service in the Revolutionary War.
The third rose rent church, First Lutheran, was established in June 1780. The church pays its annual rose rent during a Sunday morning worship service in June by selecting a red rose from the church's courtyard rose garden and presenting it to a Chambers descendant.
Rocky Spring Presbyterian Church
Franklin County Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution owns Rocky Spring Presbyterian Church, which dates to 1794. The church sits along Rocky Spring Road north of Chambersburg.
The church is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. DAR opens the church annually on the second Sunday in June for a Presbyterian service.
Historically, members of this congregation played key roles in the Revolutionary War, and some are buried in the church cemetery.
When soldiers returned home at the end of the war, they attended church services in uniform, along with their officers' swords and official Yankee hats.
The church that stands today was built by Walter Beatty in 1794, when George Washington was president.
St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church
St. James, 510 S. Main St., is the first known religious organization of blacks in Chambersburg.
In 1811 the congregation, then called Bethel African American Episcopal Church, bought a log structure on North Second Street and moved it to South Main Street, an area known as Kerrstown. Richard Allen visited the church a few years before he founded the AME Church.
The site where the church now stands was bought in 1839 from George and Sarah Chambers for the price of $100. The deed for the two-room log structure was given to the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Seats were made of four upright pieces of slab board laid across for seats — no backs! Kerosene lamps were used for lighting and a great fireplace chimney heated the building.
In 1872 the present structure was built; the debt was paid off in 1877 while Rev. James Peyton was pastor. In appreciation of his hard work, members named the church St. James.
A division in the church brought John Wesley AME Zion Church into being in 1845.
The first Mennonites came to this area in the 1730s, settling in what is now Antrim Township, according to Edsel Burdge, historian and co-author of "Building on the Gospel Foundation: Mennonites of Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and Washington County, Maryland, 1730-1970."
The group met in homes for 100 years before building a small meeting house in the 1830s.
The congregation of Marion Mennonite Church, 4365 Molly Pitcher Highway South, are descended from the oldest Mennonite Church in Franklin County. The church was relocated to its present site in 1867 and, over the years, members started three other area Mennonite churches — Pleasant View, Cedar Street and Pond Bank churches.
Chambersburg Mennonite Church, 1800 Philadelphia Ave., was formed in the 1770s. The congregation built its first meeting house in 1804.
Franklin County's first and only synagogue, Congregation Sons of Israel, 209 E. King St., has more than 160 years of Jewish tradition in the county, dating back to 1784, when Aaron Levi lived here. By 1837, at least a dozen Jewish families lived in the county. Most were tradesmen.
An Israelite Benevolent Society — a burial society — formed in 1840. The group bought land for a cemetery at 361 E. Washington St. and moved a number of graves to the newly consecrated grounds.
A historical marker at this cemetery notes that the society was the first Jewish congregation established west of Philadelphia.
Until World War I, the number of Jewish residents in Franklin County was small, with no formally organized congregation. With no synagogue, Jews met in one another's homes.
On March 25, 1919, The Franklin County court granted a charter for a synagogue. Two months later, the congregation bought a building on West Washington Street for use as both a synagogue and a Hebrew School.
As the community grew, in 1939, the congregation bought its present building at 209 E. King St. from King Street Evangelical United Brethren Church, which moved across the street into what is today King Street United Brethren Church.
In 1940, a Mennonite resident of Chambersburg, as a "token of his affection for the Children of Israel," and as a "gift to God" hand crafted and installed the ark that holds the synagogue's Torahs. The ark is part of an entire wall of decorations which he also crafted.
In 1946, Cantor Samuel Tobey organized a formal and fully-operating Hebrew and Sunday School.
Congregation Sons of Israel continues today as the only Jewish congregation in Franklin, Fulton and southern Cumberland counties.
Through the United Churches of the Chambersburg Area, a community Holocaust memorial service takes place each year at the synagogue.