by Lark Plessinger, Greater Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce
Did you know Downtown Chambersburg is recognized as a Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places? Downtown has witnessed important periods of American history and has evolved into a crossroads where history and progress blend together.
The national significance of our town emerged from its Civil War history. Confederate forces occupied Chambersburg in 1862, 1863 and 1864, and it was the only northern town to be burned by the Confederates. Due to the burning, our downtown streetscapes offer the opportunity for visual comparisons of a rapidly reconstructed area to later 19th century growth. Our downtown reflects its Civil War heritage, but also contains significant remnants of a major 18th century agricultural community and a post-Civil War industrial town.
Because of its rich historical background, Downtown Chambersburg offers locals and tourists a small town feel that pays homage to its historical roots. Those roots are still visible and makeup the Chambersburg Historic District; it’s centered at the square with the Memorial Fountain and branches out to include 159 buildings.
Our agricultural past (18th and 19th Century) can be seen with the water wheel (belonging to a mill assembly) along Falling Spring Creek at Chambers Fort Park. Elements of the post-fire, commercial core of our town includes storefronts along North and South Main Streets like Townhouse Row (seven historic townhouses from Northwood Books to the corner of King Street). Other primary buildings in the district are the Franklin County Courthouse, Old Franklin County Jail, John Brown House, Masonic Temple, Zion Reformed Church and others.
With Chambersburg’s historic district designation, we do not have a Historic Architecture Review Board (HARB). HARBs identify historic properties and establish procedures for conserving those landmarks (reconstruct, alter, demolish, etc.); in essence, property owners in Chambersburg are not limited in what they can do to their property.
Instead, property owners are encouraged to improve their property while preserving its historical character through federal and state tax credits. Historic tax credits at the federal level are 20% and at the state level are 25%. If you meet all the criteria for the federal program, your tax credit is guaranteed. The state program is not guaranteed as it is setup on a lottery system. For more information about the state program, click here. To learn more about the Federal Historic Tax Incentive Programs, click here.
Downtown’s designation by the National Register of Historic Places encourages property owners to be creative while also providing incentives to preserve our local history. Downtown Chambersburg as a historical district has created a crossroads between the past and present for the community to enjoy without limiting its abilities to embrace the future.
For more information about the ins and outs of the tax credit programs, contact Karen Arnold or Scott Doyle with the Bureau of Historic Preservation - click here.