Each January, Americans remember Martin Luther King with a day of community service. Community service, a mainstay of small town America, thrives in Franklin County. Benjamin Chambers, one of the county’s early settlers and founder of Chambersburg, started the county with a focus on community by giving land for churches, a courthouse, and schools. Generations of service in towns like Chambersburg, Greencastle, Mercersburg, and Waynesboro continues today and secures centuries of history and culture, appreciation of arts, and a chance to explore natural spaces.
The Franklin County Veterans Memorial Park and Military Trail of History, located next to the Letterkenny Chapel, is a decade-long project brought to reality through years of working together. The park honors all generations of the county’s veterans and spotlights a unique relationship between repatriated Italian soldiers, captured during World War II and housed at Letterkenny Army Depot. The cooperative work and support of Franklin County citizens created a veteran’s park and brought a not-often-heard story out of obscurity. Today, the chapel and adjoining veteran’s park offer four inter-faith, multi-cultural services each year. The Franklin County Military Trail of History begins at this point and launches exploration of sites such as a Viquesney World War I Doughboy, three cemeteries where USCT are interred, the birthplace of an American president, and a provincial British Fort where a colonial-Tory confrontation happened ten years prior to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.
The Underground Railroad Coalition, formed in 2008 by Franklin County Visitor Bureau, showcases another type of community service in Franklin County. The Underground Railroad, the first mass movement of civil disobedience after the American Revolution and the foundation of American feminism, has a prevalent history in the county. Historian and author Charles Blockson called Franklin County a hazardous area of 100 miles that contained the most secretive, tangled lines of the Underground Railroad. John Brown made his northern headquarters Chambersburg, where he met with Frederick Douglass. Martin Delany spent ten years of his life growing up in Chambersburg after escaping Virginia, where it was illegal to educate free or enslaved blacks. With Franklin County ties to both abolitionist incidents and accounts of freedom seekers, the Underground Railroad Coalition identified three locations, which the National Park Service designated as Network to Freedom sites. The coalition of more than 15 non-profit and historic organizations gave awareness to this important heritage.
Another contribution comes from Franklin County’s libraries and historic organizations. Annually these welcome hundreds of visitors, searching for family ties and a chance to visit ancestral graves and homesteads. The ongoing efforts of generations of volunteers at places like Franklin County Historical Society, Allison-Antrim Museum, Conococheague Institute, and the Waynesboro Historical Society preserve these records and share the information to connect many to their roots. It is an invaluable example of paying it forward.
Franklin County is well-known for festivals. Some celebrate community arts and history or even the bounty of the harvest. Old Market Day in downtown Chambersburg and Townfest in Mercersburg are good examples of community members coming together to showcase history and agriculture. In Greencastle, Old Home Week is a triennial celebration that is a tradition since 1902. These citizens and organizations serve their communities, while building tradition and pride. The efforts to spotlight community brings different types of people together and builds sense of place.
In Waynesboro, Emma Nicodemus gave in a tangible and lasting way. She bequeathed 107 acres of her families home to the borough of Waynesboro for a park and museum. Renfrew Museum & Park provides greenspace to residents and tourists, who can experience firsthand the history and culture of the Germans that settled the land. In addition, the site is home to Renfrew Institute for Cultural and Environmental Studies, dedicated to helping people connect to their environment. The space called Renfrew and its supporting organizations pay tribute to forward-thinking dedication and the willingness to give to community.
Generations of community service is built into Franklin County’s identity. Around every bend are the handiworks of community service–so many great moments to explore.