WHY GO: Franklin County PA, in the middle of Pennsylvania on its Southern border, was once our country’s “frontier.” In many ways, it still is, as not much has changed, landscape-wise, since our country’s founding.
But, of course the Getaway Mavens turn up some pretty impressive reasons to visit. Learn about and sample the hamburger bun that is taking the world by storm right at its source. Attend a world-class classical music concert in a luxury B&B where rooms start at $109 per night. Discover Presidential and Civil War history and more. Read on for the best places to stay, eat, and see in Franklin County PA.
Things to Do in Franklin County PA
I love “garage-business-makes-it-big” stories. And this one, with a focus on charity, is one of the best. Though you cannot tour the facility, you can get within reach of many of the Martin’s original baking tools and see an orientation video (and of course leave with samples!).
And you’ll be within hugging distance of Julie Martin, 3rd generation of a “very close” family, who keeps Martin’s stats proprietary, but doles out warm greetings like no tomorrow.
The Martin Potato Roll Story
Baking ran in the Martin family. Great Grandma was a maid in a wealthy home, and learned the ins and outs of working with yeast from the resident chef. At that time, less affluent homemakers added cheap mashed potatoes to bread dough to stretch dollars.
Grandma Lois was 9 when she was sent door-to-door selling Potato Rolls made from her Aunt’s recipe. In 1955, Lois and her husband, Lloyd Martin, started baking sticky buns in their garage (displayed in Visitor’s Center), worked all week long, and then loaded up their 1954 Dodge Coronet (replica also in Visitor’s Center) every Saturday bound for the Farmer’s Market.
Switching to Potato Rolls, which were much less messy, the Martin’s finally found their niche. And they’ve never looked back.
Martin Potato Rolls Now
Now in its 4th Generation, all Martins are raised to understand that they are not automatically entitled to the business. They have to earn it. Obligated to work in the plant when young, Martin kids must prove themselves in the wider world before deciding if the family biz is for them.
All four in the 3rd generation – Julie, Tony, Joe, and Jackie – have returned and are involved. There are 12 kids in the 4th Generation, three old enough to have “done internships” here. Regarding large financial decisions, this closely held business answers to no one else.
“We decided to install Air Conditioning – a huge expense which probably wouldn’t have passed a Stockholder Vote if we were a public company,” says Julie. “But we all worked in the factory in the summer, so we knew how hot it could get.”
It’s All About Giving Back
You’ll walk into the original garage to see a video of Jim, son of Lois and Lloyd, making the famous Potato Rolls. Part (if not most) of the reason for Martin’s success is the fact that from Day One, charitable giving was built in to the business plan.
Martin’s supports hundreds of Ministries and programs, including homeless and abused-women shelters. The company is also buyer-centric, rather than owner-profit driven, and has, as Julie puts it, “enthusiastic, raving fans.”
Martin’s Potato Rolls are now the #1 Burger Bun in America – even though they are only sold retail on the East Coast (with Florida and New York the largest markets) and to restaurants around the world (e.g. Shake Shack).
The factory, “a marvel of robotic engineering,” can turn out 350 rolls per minute. Though you won’t be able to see it in action, a stop at the Golden Roll Visitor’s Center is the next best thing. Overviews, generally given by the bubbly Julie Martin, are free and by appointment only. Call 800-548- 1200 Mon-Fri 9-5 during business hours, though can be arranged on weekends as well.
You’ve got to love a place that translates from the Native American (very accurately, I might add) to “A long way, a very long way indeed.” Conococheague (pronounced like “Monica-jig,”), on the National Historic Register, is in the middle of miles and miles of farmland, to the point where you will doubt the veracity of your GPS until the second you see the sign. A very long way, indeed.
This is by design, as the Institute was established as a Cultural Heritage Center with a mission to “interpret the 18th and 19th century frontier settlements along the Conococheague Creek.” It’s meant to convey a sense of what it was like to live under threat of the French-Indian Wars. This area was settled by resourceful pioneers, mostly Welsh, in the early 1700’s. They built private home-forts and had to fend for themselves.
The Institute owns 30 acres (out of the homestead’s original 800) and several buildings. Start in the Welsh Barrens Visitors Center for an overview and to see an exceptional collection of Native American Projectile Points spanning millennia, and then begin walking the property.
In 2016, the 1810 German Style Negley Log House burned down, and is now being rebuilt to historic accuracy. Its substance garden, a typical German four-square, is now mostly maintained by a local High School’s Emotional Support Class (with the guidance of a Master Gardener) and provides a bounty of vegetables that guests can pick and eat.
The most historic building, however, is the original whitewashed, green shuttered, 1736 Davis-Chambers House – a “mish-mosh” of several additions, featuring original floorboards. It surely transports you back in time to a remote, austere place. Open Mon-Fri 10-4, $5.
PHOTO OP: Buchanan’s Birthplace State Park, Mercersburg, Franklin County PA
President James Buchanan, like Abe Lincoln who followed him to the White House, was born in a log cabin. In this case one that served as a trading post two miles from town. Buchanan was the only US President that hailed from Pennsylvania, and the only “bachelor” in the White House.
Buchanan helped raise his niece, Harriet Lane, after both of her parents died when she was a child. Since Buchanan had no wife, Lane served as First Lady. By all accounts, she was held in high esteem for her gentle nature and appeasing ways.
After her Uncle’s death, Lane provided the funds to erect two Monuments to the PA President. One stands in Washington DC. The other marks Buchanan’s birthplace. Lane stipulated that the latter be surrounded by parkland that the public could enjoy, and that the monument itself, be a “huge rock or boulder in its natural state.” The resulting pyramid of rocks does seem a strange interpretation of Lane’s wishes. Drive into the Buchanan Birthplace State Park about a mile and see for yourself.
VISIT: Charles T. Brightbill Environmental Center (behind James Buchanan High School), Mercersburg
Kids (and many adults) go bonkers in this modest but engrossing Natural History museum. The African Mammal Room is tantalizing – as if all the mounted creatures in New York’s Museum of Natural History were taken from their dioramas and crammed all together.
Director and teacher extraordinaire, Sheila Snider, holds big groups of school kids rapt as she engages them, stealthily, in biological and zoological sciences. All taxidermied animals in the collection were donated to this small museum, including those in another “North American Room,” where Polar Bear, Buffalo, Coyote, Deer, Fox, and more hang from walls or stand in permanent poses.
In the Discovery Classroom schoolchildren learn about geology, biology, and other natural sciences. But really, you’ll want to pop in for the African Room. It really packs a punch. Contact or refer to website for hours.
WALKING TOURS: Downtown Chambersburg
Nearing the end of the Civil War, Confederate forces threatened to burn Chambersburg down if the community didn’t cough up $100,000 in gold. A town of poor farmers, it could not comply.
So on July 30, 1864, all but the Old Jail (which you can tour on its own) and the Mason’s Building were burned to the ground. Known as the Raid of 1864, the attack is recreated with sound and light every year.
Most of the remaining downtown buildings were erected after the raid, with a beautiful fountain as centerpiece. You can learn about them on two self-guided walking tours in Downtown Chambersburg, each about 1.5 miles and an hour to complete. Pick them up in the Franklin County PA Visitor’s Center.
SHOP: Olympia Candy Kitchen, Chambersburg
If you’re looking for a retro candy shop experience, look no further than this local institution. It’s been in business since 1903. You’ll find every kind of sweet in here.
SHOP/TASTE: Tuscarora Mountain Winery Tasting Room, Chambersburg
Sue and Ken Hadley own this winery and tasting room, offering free sips of their fruit and grape wines. Though the “1864” Black Current Merlot Blend and “Rifleman Red” blend might satisfy sweet wine palates, my money is on “No Name” – a dry red all berry-blend. It’s inconceivably smooth and drinkable without one drop of grape juice.
TOUR: Allison-Antrim Museum, Greencastle in Franklin County PA
For a “hometown” museum, you’ll be mighty impressed, even by the two buildings on an acre of land. The first, the main house, was built in 1860 on the eve of the Civil War.
The second is a soaring German Bank Barn and impressive in itself. From Chambersburg, it was deconstructed plank by plank, stone by stone. Color coded by cow tags per each of 4 sections or “bents,” the barn was reassembled on this site.
Tall Tales, Barbaric and Poignant Artifacts
Don’t miss the Civil War Exhibit, leavened with human interest stories. On display is an unwashed shirt with entry and exit bullet holes in the sleeve. The arm, in this particular case, had to be amputated. And the only regret the wounded soldier had is that he’d lost his wedding ring in the process.
Friends went outside to the pile of amputated arms, found the one with his ring, and retrieved it for him. The only thing was, the subject of this legend wasn’t married until after the war, rendering this Civil War tale a very tall one, indeed.
Artifacts, such as a banner honoring the “First Union Soldier killed on “Free Soil” on July 19th 1861, right here in Greencastle, tug at the heart.
The iron collar used on an enslaved man named Ben, who ran away three times, sits in a glass case. Try on a reproduction to see how heavy and barbaric this restraint was. It will give you the chills.
I was most intrigued by the original front pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer dated from Lincoln’s assassination to the day John Wilkes Booth was caught. The newspaper educated the public about mourning customs, with photo layouts and interior shots of Lincoln’s funeral train.
Perhaps the strangest story on exhibit is that of slave-runner, Robert Anderson, a White Presbyterian who fell in love with the most “beautiful slave woman” on the ship. He ended up marrying her and became an abolitionist.
Robert’s grandson, Matthew, was the first African American to live on the Princeton University Campus while attending Princeton Theological Seminary, (and then Yale Seminary, and Lincoln University where he received his Doctorate). Anderson went on to become a prestigious Reverend in the Presbyterian Church.
Guided Tours of the Home
Guided tours (30 minutes) of the 1860 house are offered as well. Rooms are nicely appointed with significant artifacts from establishments and families long gone. There’s the original 1910 Drug Store sign from a Baltimore St. shop, and beneath it an apothecary cabinet stocked with mortar, pestle, tincture bottles, scales, and weights.
Discover an 1870 Steinway in the “Music Room.” Upstairs find bedrooms and a nursery with a scary looking Buster Brown doll. Sophie, a little girl who laughs and enjoys opening the latch on the attic door, purportedly haunts this part of the house. Open Tues-Fri. noon-4, Sat. 11-1, Free, though donations gladly accepted.
DO: Art Project at Joyful Arts Studio, Greencastle
The warm and fun Susan Shaffer is “passionate about the therapeutic power of art.” She invites guests to “create their own joy” at her wonderful shop.
Use a rainbow of Sharpies and rubbing alcohol to create a watercolor-style silk scarf ($40). Or learn to draw, paint, batik, or make jewelry. Shaffer even has Paint Your Shoes and Wineglass classes. Exercising your creative energy here for a few hours is a great break from all the sightseeing. Check website for calendar.
SHOP: The Shop, Greencastle
Though the name doesn’t give you much to go on, this antiques/home-goods store is a must see, even if you aren’t an “antique” person. A warren of rooms, a compendium of old and new, you’ll find old timey sports items, linens, signs, jewelry, birdcages, books, lamps, tins, and more in every nook and cranny. Each room is adorably curated. Even if you don’t walk out with anything material, you might leave with some new decorating ideas.
SHOP In Greencastle
Fun little boutiques are springing up in Greencastle. Among them, Inner Beauty and Crown Vetch Cottage for clothing and gifts respectively.
Where to Eat in Franklin County PA
EAT/CASUAL: Roy Pitz Brewing Co., Chambersburg
An upscale pub and brewery, Roy Pitz turns out good beer – like Chambersburg referenced, Old Jail Ale. But you’ll also find other libations, like Farmer’s Daughter Cider, as well. The focus here is on “local meats,” topped, in many cases, with a portion of kimchi. Entrees and aps, such as Chorizo Tacos and Prosciutto Mac & Cheese elevate this brewery to Foodie Destination.
EAT/FINE: Bistro 71, Chambersburg
Subdued lighting, linen tablecloths, cute interior, Bistro 71 is most likely the prettiest place to eat in Chambersburg. It’s also one of the best. The kitchen turns out expertly prepared fresh Caesar Salad and entrees like the very fine Wanton Crusted Spiced Ahi Tuna with Ginger Soy Lime ($24), Rack of Lamb ($28), and other toothsome dishes.
Locals also recommend Brussels for crepes and coffee. Café D’Italia for fine Italian food. And Molly Pitcher Waffle Shop for old-fashioned and creative waffles both sweet and savory.
EAT: Stoner’s on the Square, Mercersburg
Formerly the Est. 1860 McKinstry’s Tavern & Pub, and then Flannery’s, Stoner’s serves up some good, higher end pub grub. Salads are terrific (Wedge – $6.99, Black and Blue $12.99) and so are Pot Stickers. There’s requisite (for an Irish Pub) Banger’s and Mash ($14.99), steak, and chicken as well.
EAT: Pure and Simple, Greencastle
Get your Banana-Chocolate Smoothie ($6.99), Maryland Crab Soup ($4.99), and other organic baked goods and vittles at this country-cool spot. A big surprise in small-town rural PA.
Where to Stay in Franklin County PA
The Inn at Ragged Edge is a wonder of woodwork, the stream-view out of the massive picture window, breathtaking, but it’s the 1901 Steinway piano – commissioned by Harrods’s of London now sitting in the stately parlor – that beckons World Class musicians and romantics of all kinds to this rural area of Chambersburg PA halfway between Gettysburg and Antietam.
Ken and Barb Kipe purchased the 8-room Luxury Inn in 2015. (Yes, they’ve heard all the Ken and Barbie jokes).
Ken, who grew up in Zimbabwe as the son of a Missionary, was a construction consultant, Russian translator, and a world traveled jack-of-all-trades. Barb, from Belarus, is an avid piano player. Neither had a background in hospitality per se, but both came from “hospitality cultures.”
They originally had no intention to run an inn. But one of their sons went to school nearby, so basically on a whim, they purchased the property as a newly renovated (in 2010) running concern. (At that point, it was the Angelic Inn). “We kept all future guests on the books, read Running B&B’s for Dummies, and opened for business,” says Barb.
Catfish and Furness
Conceived by well-known architect, Frank Furness in 1900 as a summer cottage for Pennsylvania Railroad VP, Moorhead Kennedy, the building itself is a draw.
Some guests come just to stay in a Furness-designed home, focusing on the carved chestnut banisters, rich wood paneling, and other architectural elements that would later influence Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Other guests book a stay here based on a Catfish episode, filmed on the premises, which aired in August 2016.
The Golden Steinway
Still others come for the concerts. “We’re in cow and farm territory,” says Ken, “not exactly classical piano country.”
And oh, that piano. Ken purchased the burnished golden Steinway, the “crown jewel of furniture in the house,” from PianoCraft, experts in refurbishing pedigreed pianos. He went so far as to ask an acoustical expert to clap around the inn’s main floor to find its perfect placement.
At a cost of $100,000, the piano is not the most expensive musical instrument to come through the inn’s doors, however. Just recently, a celebrated cellist brought his $7 million Stradivarius to play.
Well-known concert Pianist, Eric Himy, who has performed all over the world and at Carnegie Hall, has been here twice already, and raves about the quality of piano sound and room acoustics. In fact, The Inn At Ragged Edge has become quite the Music Salon, opening its doors to the community for free, and creating a new rural classical music fan base.
Rooms at Inn @ Ragged Edge
All eight rooms have been renovated with cloudlike bedding, deeply colored walls, flat-screen TV, and a traditional-contemporary feel.
Pedestal sink bathrooms are bright and clean, with white tiled floor. Opulent without being over the top stylized.
Breakfast at Inn at Ragged Edge
Breakfast is right out of the “How to Run A B&B Right” book. Banana bread, yogurt/berry/oats compote, and stuffed French Toast, is served with locally roasted (Abednego Roasters) privately labeled Inn & Ragged Edge coffee.
The Inn does a brisk Wedding business. The property can accommodate up to 125 guests per event, with the cost of renting the whole place (including 8 rooms for up to 24 overnight guests) for $6,000 for the whole weekend – a bargain. The wedding party is responsible for food (staging here only, no prep kitchen), and décor.
Room rates from $109-$199 per night include full gourmet breakfast, parking, wi-fi, bottled water in rooms.