Behind Bars

Exploring teh Secrets of Chambersburg Jail

Written By Tara Peck

Photos By: Local Business Owner

The only light drifting through the tiny, enclosed space comes from a window, high off the ground and covered in cobwebs. Four walls envelop you in the cold, causing you to shiver. Pleas and screams for help can be heard in the neighboring cells. There is no way out. The rusted chain attached to the floor has guaranteed that, as well as the 30-34 inch thick walls.

This is a glimpse into the dungeon of the Old Jail at 175 East King Street in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, now owned by the Franklin Historical Society. Built in 1818, the jail is one of the oldest buildings in Chambersburg. Miraculously, it escaped the raging fires of the Confederacy and still stands today amidst shops and houses in the downtown area.

History & Hauntings

As you enter through the front door, the original key is still in use and mirrors the crossed keys weathervane in the cupola of the jail. Docent Dan Burch explains: “The inmates started calling this the ‘crossed keys hotel’”. An infamous nickname that spread through the populace at that time. Dan goes on to say, “It also indicated the power of the wardens to take away your freedom. That’s what it represented.” A funny moniker to disguise the very real threat of losing one’s freedom.

The first floor of the jail contains the warden’s quarters where his family resided—now a collection of antique items from the 19th century—followed by a gift shop and old-time apothecary. A mix of old and new cells can be seen and toured. The new cells are contained in a cell block, stacked on top of each other for three floors; while older cells are spread apart and accessed by an opening less than five feet tall.

The dungeon, where most of the paranormal activity is experienced, is just how you would imagine it. This is where, Dan Burch says, “People feel the hairs on the back of their neck stand up”. It is reported that people passed away in the dungeons either due to the horrible conditions or nefarious means, though it is difficult to prove just how many and even, their names. Before the advent of cell phones, it was not usual to go years without contact from loved ones, thus making it easy for people to disappear. The dungeon contains many secrets, some yet to be revealed, including a possible underground tunnel leading to the courthouse.

Ancestry & Archives

Upstairs there are rooms dedicated to genealogy and research. Volunteers digitally scan newspapers, sometimes hundreds per day, and upload them to
websites like and Burch says, “This is a repository for genealogy and ancestry of individuals in Franklin County. You can come, look your name up. Everything is temperature controlled to ensure the preservation of records.”

The Old Jail offers a chance to uncover the many secrets still residing in its walls, as well as the secrets of your own ancestry. The Old Jail is operational from May to October, Tuesday – Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm; and November through April, Thursday – Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm. Admission is $8 for adults and $7 for children from 7 to 17 years of age, with discounted prices for family groups. Check out their website at

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