Home | Whats New | Site Index | Search

Franklin County Courthouse

Chambersburg Boro, Franklin County, PA

The Franklin County Courthouse (1 North Main Street) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Text below was adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]


The Franklin County Courthouse built in 1855, is a two and one-half-story, Flemish bond, brick structure in Greek Revival style. It is the third county courthouse on this site, the second having burnt in 1864, as a result of raiding Confederate forces. S. Hutton, architect of the present structure and Samuel Seibert as superintendent of construction were able to design around the columns and walls of the second courthouse. Since the 1865 rebuilding, the structure was enlarged to the rear in 1902. This addition was built using the style of the older part with minor variation, mostly in the stone work. The entire structure now measures 256 feet by 64 feet.

In keeping with the Greek Revival style, which was retained in many areas of Pennsylvania through the Civil War, is the gable roof with pedimented ends. At the front entrance a portico with six freestanding Ionic columns supports an Ionic entablature and the pediment which bears the state emblem. The original wood emblem now hangs in the downstairs hallway. The pediment and column shafts are reproduced in wood while the stylobate, column bases, and capitals are in brownstone. Wood is only found in the cornice at the rear elevation. Here, the tympanum is brick rather than the matched flush board on the front and contains a fan light.

The sides of the Franklin County Courthouse were not left void of architectural detail, as in many examples of the style, but are marked with recessed panels surrounding both levels of the windows. At the portico end a peripteral effect is simulated by two square pilasters or anti. This treatment is not continued the whole length but is picked up again at the rear corners. The elaborate bracketed cornice forming both pediments runs all around the building, and a string course of white stone, appearing just below this cornice, replaces the division between architrave and frieze on the front entablature. A water table, appearing at the base of three sides, runs parallel to the string course.

One of the most noticeable features is the clock cupola with a statue of Ben Franklin on top. Set on a stepped base, it bears a copper domical roof, balustrades on four sides, and four Victorian finials at the spring line of the dome. Besides the cupola there are six single stack chimneys on the roof, symmetrically placed three to a side. Two of the chimneys belong to the 1902 addition.

Fenestration takes up an extensive part of the wall space with twenty-two windows to each long elevation and five in the front and rear each. The majority of windows are two-over-two double hung sash with brownstone lug sills and label lintels. A small one and one-half gable roof annex at the rear features two eyebrow windows in the architrave under the pediment. One centrally located double hung window in this section has an entablature head in brownstone with a panel bearing the inscription, "EXTENSION OF COURT HOUSE, ERECTED A.D. 1902."

The front entrance dating to 1865, shows a Victorian flavor for stone carving. Embellished brownstone pilasters, keystone, and entablature head the double glass and panel door with fanlight. A plaque similar to the one at the rear bears an inscription relating to the destroyed second courthouse. The southern entrance at the rear of the addition is less elaborate.

Structural changes effected by the addition in 1902, are most noticeable inside. Those on the outside are confined to the change from white stone to brownstone in the water table protecting the basement windows and a difference in some of the recessed panels on the north elevation. In the central gold hallway, extending the length of the building, the rear stairway was installed in 1902. It is straight with a newel post decorated with an urn finial. Some of the offices on the first floor and the courtroom above were refurbished as needed, but basically in the style of the older part. The courtroom combines a harmonious blend of dark wood in window heads and benches and light green wood painted on exposed beams, dentil molding, and square Ionic pilasters. This interior is a tasteful reproduction of the Greek Revival.


The Franklin County Courthouse built in 1865, is situated on the plot purchased from Col. Benjamin Chambers by the trustees of the county in 1785. It is the third courthouse on this site to serve as the center of county government. The extant building replaces the one destroyed by Southern Brig. Gen. John A. McCausland and his troops during the Civil War.

Between 1786 and 1794, the original structure designed by Chambers' son was built. This plain, old fashioned brick building was later replaced in 1842 by a more popular styled structure, in the Greek Revival. Compared to the present version, also designed in this style, the general appearance of the second courthouse was simpler but proportionately not as satisfying. No elaboration of cupola or cornice is evident. The cupola was disproportionately tall for the rest of the building, a factor which was corrected in the rebuilding.

In 1864, the twenty-two year old Franklin County Courthouse was burned by Confederates along with the rest of Chambersburg. Only the walls and columns were preserved. When McCausland invaded he found little or no opposition on his route from the Potomac to Chambersburg. The area was defended by Union Maj. Gen. D.N. Couch who was desperately short of soldiers and virtually helpless. Acting upon orders from his superior, Gen. Jubal A. Early, McCausland extended a proposition to the citizens to either pay tribute of $100,000 in gold or $500,000 in greenbacks or suffer total destruction of the town. Not able or not willing to pay the levy, the citizens were driven to surrounding hills while their homes were robbed and burnt. Fires were first started in the center blocks, affecting the courthouse immediately. Early, as commander of the Shenandoah Valley where much public and private destruction by Union troops had previously occurred, acted in retaliation. He wanted compensation from a town of some consequence in Pennsylvania which was accessible to his men. Also the town had been sympathetic to John Brown in 1859 while making preparations for his raid of Harper's Ferry.

When the Franklin County Courthouse was rebuilt in 1865, Greek Revival was still popular in many areas, and the choice was structurally a logical one. The variation in architectural detail between the second and third courthouses is typical of changing tastes within the same basic style. Victorian embellishment, which crept into even the plainer Greek style by this time, is noticeable in the latest version.

The Franklin County Courthouse is historically significant because of its architectural merit and its involvement with the Civil War.


Architectural drawings for 1902 addition, J.A. Dempwolf, York, Pennsylvania (basement of Franklin County Courthouse)

Franklin County Deed Book #1, p.113. (not a complete search)

Ledger (temporary, made from a 1864 tax book), 1864-1865, Commissioners Office, Franklin County Courthouse

Ledger, 1902-1903, Commissioners Office, Franklin County Courthouse

  1. Jane Carol Smith, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Franklin County Courthouse, nomination document, 1973, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods