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9 Nov 2014

Cumberland County, PA’s First Wilderness

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November 9, 2014 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  Old Courthouse

By Renée S. Gordon

“I was never lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.” 

— Daniel Boone

The Cumberland Valley is a 20-mile wide swath of land that extends 75-miles from southern Pennsylvania into Maryland. The land is relatively flat and fertile between the mountains and it was originally a buffalo trace that became an important Native American trail used for trade, hunting, war and migration by the Six Nations who claimed the land.

James LeTort, fur trader, explorer and interpreter, was the first nonnative to settle in the region. He built a trading post a few miles from Harrisburg around 1720. More Europeans migrated into the area as early as 1725 and although no treaty had established their right to the land they were not chastised because they served as buffer to prevent other unauthorized settlements. In 1736, the land was purchased and surveyed to legitimize their claims. The rapid European migration into the region and the loss of their hunting grounds caused the natives alarm, attacks on settlements began and settlers began to leave the area. 

In October 1753, Benjamin Franklin, on his first diplomatic mission, was sent to Carlisle as a Pennsylvania representative to meet with the Native Americans. It was obvious that war with the French loomed on the horizon and the colony wanted to ensure that the Native Americans would be their allies or remain neutral. The Indians wanted assurance that settlers would be restricted from encroaching on their land and that regulations would be placed on trade. Both Franklin and the Native Americans agreed on the terms and signed the treaty. Both sides broke the treaty and it became a significant battleground during the French and Indian Wars. A marker has been placed at the site of the meeting on High and Hanover Streets.

Carlisle was founded in 1751 by Lt. Gov. James Hamilton to serve as the Cumberland County seat. The city was named after Carlisle, England and planned around a central square. The city has figured prominently in the nation’s history from the colonial era onward because of its location and the valley’s location at the midpoint of the Appalachian Trail makes it an outdoor lover’s paradise. 

There is so much to see and do that it is difficult to know where begin. I suggest that you start at the Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau which is located in downtown Carlisle inside the History on High Shop.  Visitors can gather information in the form of maps and brochures that will help you make the most of your time in the area, peruse books on regional history and purchase handcrafted items by local artisans. 

Cumberland County Historical Society (CCHS) is an award-winning venue, founded in 1874, that creatively interprets area history. A library on the main floor is ideal for Pennsylvania genealogical research with archived documents that date from 1748. On the second level, the society’s collection is exhibited in 18 galleries designed to be self-explanatory on a self-guided tour. Highlights of the collection are exhibits on the Carlisle Indian School, Quilts, the Underground Railroad, Folk Art, Early American Furnishings and a pitcher donated by the family of Molly Pitcher said to have belonged to her. Admission to CCHS is free.

Two Mile House is administered by CCHS and can be toured for free by appointment only. The 12-room limestone house was constructed in 1820 and functioned as the James Given Tavern from 1826-57. The Federal-style building sits on five acres along what was at one time a busy road two miles from the center of Carlisle. Interior tours showcase the 10 fireplaces, open staircase and twin parlors. Two-Mile House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). 717-243-3437

The best way to really see Carlisle is to take a walk around town. Nineteen Wayside Markers were placed around the city in 2002 in an effort to tell the stories of the people, sites and events that contributed to the Downtown Historic District. The Wayside Marker Tour starts on the Square and encompasses roughly eight square blocks. The Carlisle Historic District was added to the NRHP in 1979.

Prior to Carlisle becoming the county seat in 1751 court was held in Widow Piper’s Tavern in Shippensburg. Once the court relocated it was held in a log cabin until a brick courthouse was erected in 1765. The second of the city’s courthouses burned in 1845 and “Old” Cumberland County Courthouse was constructed in the Georgian-style in1846. On the exterior one of the huge sandstone Corinthian pillars features the marks left by a cannonball that hit the building during the July 1, 1863 shelling of Carlisle. On the second floor visitors can view the old courtroom that retains its 1800s appearance. A series of memorials are situated on the grounds outside the courthouse including one dedicated to Jim Thorpe.

A prison was first constructed in Carlisle in 1753 and functioned for a century until it was replaced. Philadelphia Architect Edward Haviland was responsible for the new Gothic castle design that cost $52,000 to build. Inmate capacity was 96 with 10 cells designated to house females. A new prison was built in 1985 and the prisoners were transferred. Currently the prison is used as county office space.

Dickinson College was chartered in 1773, the 10th college chartered in the United States, by Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia. The oldest building on campus, Old West, was designed by Benjamin Latrobe and constructed in 1804. It was originally called New College and was completed at a cost of $20,000. Fifteenth President James Buchanan was admitted at the age of 16 as a junior. He was subsequently expelled for misbehavior, but after he gained readmission he graduated in 1809. During the Civil War, wounded men from the Battle of Gettysburg were treated there. The campus is open for tours. 

Molly Ludwig was born in New Jersey and at the age of 14 she moved to Carlisle where she wed William Hayes a year later. Hays enlisted during the American Revolution and Molly accompanied him into battle. On June 28, 1778 Molly was present at the Battle of Monmouth where she toted water from a spring to the battlefield to slake the men’s thirst and cool down the cannons. Her heroic efforts earned her the nickname “Molly Pitcher.” Eyewitness testimony states that at one point her husband, a cannoneer, was wounded and unable to continue. Without missing a beat Molly took over his cannon. She continued until the end of the conflict even though while firing a cannonball tore away her petticoat. Washington awarded her the NCO rank of sergeant. Upon Hays’ death she married again and became Molly McCauley. In 1822 she was honored with $40, for her service by the legislature, and an annual pension of the same amount. She is interred in the Old Public Graveyard and a 1916 life-sized statue of Molly holding a ramrod marks the location.

Many locations claim to have been places where George Washington slept but Carlisle Barracks has documentary evidence that he and 14,000 soldiers bivouacked in the area in 1774 during the Whiskey Rebellion. The British Army preceded Washington by 18-years. They established fortifications at Carlisle and it quickly became a supply depot. In 1777, it was designated the state arsenal.

Originally Washingtonburg, Carlisle Barracks, the nation’s second oldest active Army post consists of more than 100 historic structures, 22 of which are listed on the National Register. Hessian war prisoners captured in the Battle of Trenton built the oldest building, the powder magazine, in 1777. Prior to Gettysburg Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart torched several of the barracks buildings on July 1, 1863. It is that military action that delayed his arrival in Gettysburg.

In 1879, the War Department ceded control of The Barracks to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the facility became the first government boarding school for Native American students. Carlisle Indian Industrial School educated students until it closed in 1918. Jim Thorpe, a 1912 gold medal Olympic star, is the school’s most famous graduate. He remains the sole athlete to win both the decathlon and pentathlon. He also competed in football, baseball and basketball. The Indian School Cemetery on post is the interment site of 186 Native Americans.

The US Army War College was established on the 456-acre post in 1951. This is the premiere training school for the army’s strategists. Attendants are selected annually and attend for one year or engage in a two year distance-learning program.

The US Army Heritage and Education Center is situated a short distance from the Carlisle Barracks. The interpretive center consists of an outdoor Army Heritage Trail, Soldier’s Walk Plaza, Ridgway Hall and Visitor & Education Center. 

The $2-million, 13 station, Army Heritage Trail is literally a walk through the military history of the United States. The 1-mile trail is located adjacent to the center, features life-sized recreations and is a good place to begin. A World War I German concrete “pillbox” bunker is the first exhibit you encounter. It is authentic down to the single door and the gun position that pointed at that door to shoot any soldier attempting escape. Other highlights include a Vietnam Fire Support Base, one of five WWII PAC 43-41 anti-tank guns, a n AH-1G Cobra combat helicopter and a facsimile of the Yorktown Redoubt #10, widely considered the birthplace of America’s army. The first soldiers were poorly trained citizens who fought beginning in 1776. By 1778 the army had been trained and this “professional” army defeated Britain’s best causing General Cornwallis to surrender 8,000 troops at Yorktown. George Washington established a standing army when he became president.

 The Heritage Center is fully interactive and seeks to tell the military story through the individual lives of soldiers. Each visitor is issued a dog tag that activates some of the kiosks. The Soldier Experience Gallery exhibits take you from “Joining Up and Leaving Home” to “From Soldier to Civilian.” One of the really great interactive experiences in this gallery is an opportunity to strap in and parachute into Normandy as part of the D Day Invasion. You must manipulate your chute to come down within the landing zone and it is more difficult that it sounds. 

The Research Facility is renowned internationally as one of the largest military history libraries. The collection includes manuscripts, photographs, letters, etc. More than 300,000 items have been digitized and are available on the website. These are the records used by Ken Burns and other documentarians and they are invaluable to those engaged in genealogical research. Outstanding educational materials are available for school groups.

Cumberland Valley is located at the midpoint of the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail (AT) that begins in Maine and ends in Georgia. The portion of the AT in the Cumberland Valley is one of the few sections where visitors can bike the trail. Appalachian Trail Museum is located within the Pine Grove Furnace State Park. It interprets the history and honors pioneers of the AT and is the only hiking museum in the country. This is also a photo op. Visitors can have their picture taken in front of the midpoint sign.

Comfort Suites Carlisle is located in the heart of the downtown area within walking distance of all the major city sites. The hotel has all the standard amenities and free Internet, business center, restaurant and fitness center.

All of the delights available in Cumberland Valley are only a short drive from Philadelphia. The routes you travel were taken by pioneers and escaping slaves. In part two we’ll explore the region’s history as a thoroughfare for freedom seekers. Information that will help you plan a visit can be found online.

I wish you smooth travels!

 Travel Tips:

Kalahari Resorts & Convention Center is scheduled to open in the Poconos in 2015. The African inspired, $230-million, 150-acre, resort will feature African furnishings and artworks as well as a 100,000-sq. ft. water park, 30,000-sq. ft. entertainment center, full-service spa and salon and 18-hole golf course. Reservations are being taken online. 

The Grand Central Terminal Annual Holiday Fair will be held from November 17 – December 24, 2014. Nearly 100 artists and craftsmen will showcase their handcrafted wares daily. It is the longest-running indoor holiday market in New York City. While visiting the Fair you can also tour the New York Transit Museum Holiday Train Show from November 16, 2014 until February 22, 2015. The model railroad exhibition includes a 34’ long two level “O” gauge layout and Lionel trains and advertisements.

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