Historic Timeline of Cumberland County
Cumberland County: Rich in History
In the 1730’s, English, German and Scots-Irish immigrants settled in the area of South Central Pennsylvania known as Cumberland County, devoting their lives to farming the rich soil of the region. The Widow Piper’s Tavern, in Shippensburg, was originally used as the courthouse until the Cumberland County Courthouse was built and the county seat established in Carlisle. Named for Cumberland, England, Cumberland County was officially founded on January 27, 1750.
For decades, the sweet sound of the courthouse bell rang out clearly; proclaiming civil, legal, and religious events, as well as emergencies. Then, on March 24, 1845, soon after 1 a.m., the bell sounded its last note. The town hall, with all its equipment still inside, was engulfed in flames. Strong winds carried the blaze to the courthouse rooftop, and although townspeople were able to save the records stored within, the fire spread rapidly, destroying the entire building, including the bell. By 4 a.m. all that remained of the courthouse lie in a pile of smoldering ashes.
In 1753 Benjamin Franklin successfully negotiated an Indian treaty with several tribes in Carlisle, and the Carlisle Barracks was established in 1757. It is the second oldest military post in the United States and is currently home to the U.S. Army War College. George Washington used Carlisle in 1794 as the site to muster troops for a march to western Pennsylvania, as he attempted to quell the Whiskey Rebellion. Revolutionary War Generals William Thompson, William Irving, and John Armstrong called Cumberland County their home, and the legendary Revolutionary War heroine Mary Hays, better known as Molly Pitcher, lived, and is buried in Carlisle.
It was determined the fire was the work of an arson, and a reward of $5,000 was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the criminal. Although the incident was brought to the Grand Jury on April 17, 1845, no evidence was ever brought forth which would lead to a perpetrator. Soon after the blaze, bids were proposed, and plans for a new courthouse were approved by the Commissioners. Daniel E. Wilt and Samuel Bryan completed the work by 1846, at an estimated cost of $49,000. Our stately Georgian style courthouse stands today, a symbol of Cumberland County’s historic beauty.
Pennsylvania passed an Act to gradually abolish slavery on March 1, 1780, making it one of the first states to take steps towards abolition. However, slavery continued in Cumberland County until 1847, an additional 67 years. The Underground Railroad extended through Cumberland County, utilizing two main routes for fugitive slaves. One route passed through Pine Grove, Mt. Holly Springs, Boiling Springs, Mechanicsburg, and Harrisburg, before heading north. The second route followed Walnut Bottom and Old York Roads, before entering Boiling Springs and continuing to Harrisburg.
J.E.B. Stuart and Fitzhugh Lee were stationed at the Carlisle Barracks during the time it was a Cavalry Post. Later, in June 1863, as Confederate Generals of the Civil War, they ordered their troops to burn the Barracks on their way to Gettysburg. The Carlisle Barracks became the site of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1879. It housed and educated approximately 11,000 Native Americans until its closure in 1918. Jim Thorpe was one of its notable students. The famed athlete won gold medals in the 1912 Summer Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.
Today, along with our rich farmland, our county landscape is comprised of urban communities spanning 555 square miles, with more than 250,000 residents living in 33 municipalities.