Southcentral Pa. communities gearing up for America's semiquincentennial
The United States of America’s 250th birthday is coming up in five years, and Pennsylvania is gearing up to play a leading role in the celebration.
“We’re striving to make 2026 epic,” Cassandra Coleman, executive director of America 250 PA, said during a recent tour of historic sites in part of southcentral Pennsylvania.
Coleman was in Franklin County last week to learn a bit about local history stretching back to pre-Revolutionary War times. Alongside three local history buffs, she got a glimpse at key sites around Chambersburg including the Masonic Temple, the John Brown House, and the Old Jail, before traveling to the countryside to visit Rocky Spring Church, which was founded in 1734; Fort Loudoun, a pre-revolution British fort known for James Smith and the Black Boys’ rebellion; and a historic stone arch bridge in Fannettsburg.
Coleman may soon be in your town or in one near you: Her job right now is all about traveling around to counties and towns big and small throughout the commonwealth, as she works to help put together a celebration built on local history and culture. She wants to create an event that is inclusive and positive and shows all Pennsylvanians that their state is something to be proud of.
“You have that Pennsylvania pride; let’s figure out how to showcase it. That’s the goal,” she said.
“Epic” isn’t just the adjective Coleman chose to describe America 250. It is also an acronym describing the program’s goals:
- Educate: America 250 is working with the National Liberty Museum to create civics programs for students.
- Preserve: Preserving history – especially local history - is a key goal of America 250. Special bronze bells will be placed at local historic sites around the state and included on a map in an effort to promote historical stories that most people don’t know about. Coleman gave an example: A bell will be placed at the Dennis Farm in Susquehanna County, which is the longest freely owned African-American farm in the country. “That’s an asset and a gem to have here in our commonwealth, and most people don’t know about it.”
- Innovate: All colleges and universities in Pennsylvania are invited to take part in the Direct Effect Innovation Challenge. In challenges each year through 2026, students will work to create an “integrated strategy to celebrate and innovate” that will support America 250 PA.
- Celebrate: Coleman said America 250 PA will aim to celebrate every county. This is why it’s important for each county, and even the municipalities within them, to pass the America 250 PA resolution and appoint a representative to get involved.
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What will America 250 PA look like in Franklin County?
By celebrating America's 250th birthday, local folks may learn a lot about their own communities.
At least, that's a goal of the county's America 250 PA representatives.
History is the hook for tourism in Franklin County, said Janet Pollard, executive director of the Franklin County Visitors Bureau and the county's appointed representative to America 250 PA.
"The fact that America is poised to turn 250 years old, it will make those people that aren’t interested in history per se all of sudden sit up and say, 'hey that’s a big deal,'" she said.
The 11/30 Visitors Center will incorporate America's semiquincentennial into its exhibits. A big event will be coming up next year, when those remaining of the Italians who built the Letterkenny Chapel while prisoners of war during World War II return to celebrate the anniversary of the chapel's construction (the event had been postponed due to COVID-19).
Bob Thomas, a former county commissioner and a member of America 250 PA's historical preservation committee, was responsible for Coleman being in Franklin County and organized the day's tour. His goal is to make sure people here know how much history is all around them, especially as local history is taught less and less in schools.
“This community has a wealth of history and it goes back long before - you know, we all think of the Civil War, but we go back long before that,” he said.
To learn more about America 250 PA, go to america250pa.org.
Amber South can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.