With ties to George Washington, Molly Pitcher, the Civil War and even “America’s Greatest Athlete,” Jim Thorpe, for many years Carlisle billed itself as “America’s Most Historic Town.” The Carlisle Barracks, built in 1751, were George Washington’s choice for his army’s first arsenal and school. This Colonial ammunition plant was called Washingtonburg when it was constructed in 1776, the first place in America named for the general. 

The Town of Carlisle was laid out and settled by Scotch-Irish immigrants in 1751 and became the center of their settlement in the Cumberland Valley. It was named after its sister town in Carlisle, England, and even built its former jailhouse to resemble Carlisle Citadel. The town was well-known at one time for the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which trained Native Americans from all over the United States; one of its notable graduates was Thorpe, hero of the 1912 Olympics. 

During the first half of the 20th century, the Carlisle Historic District was the hub of activity in the agricultural region located west of the Susquehanna River. Carlisle remained the largest town in Cumberland County during this period, with its population of 9,626 persons in 1900 swelling to 16,812 by 1950. It was a market town and legal and service center for the surrounding Cumberland Valley throughout the 20th century, as it had been in the past. Before 1930, two trolley lines and a passenger railroad, and after 1930, an extensive network of public roads connected the Carlisle Historic District with other communities in the region. 

This walking tour will begin on Courthouse Square, an area known to George Washington when he worshipped here...  

First Presbyterian Church
northwest corner of Carlisle Square 

This is the oldest public building in Carlisle. Many Revolutionary War officers were members of this congregation. President George Washington attended service here on Oct. 5, 1794 before marching to western Pennsylvania to quell the Whiskey Rebellion. The 1769 building contract for the church stipulated that the stonework should be massive at the base, building up to stones of a smaller size. The chapel and tower were added to the west end of the church in 1872, and in 1952, an educational-social annex was built. 


Carlisle Deposit Bank & Trust
3 North Hanover Street 

The former Carlisle Deposit Bank & Trust Company building is a fine example of Neoclassical architecture highlighted by engaged Doric columns. 

Blaine House
4 North Hanover Street 

Col. Ephraim Blaine, Commissary General during the Revolutionary War, began construction on this house in 1794. Note the brick water table running below the first floor windows and the stringcourses with their flat arches and keystones above the first and second story windows. The elaborate cornice and the large door with its delicate fanlight add to the beauty of the exterior. The house retains much of its original interior and is the best-preserved 18th century house in Carlisle.  


Union Fire Company #1
35 West Louther Street

The Union Fire Company boasts a proud history of over 215 years. The Company was organized in 1789 and later became incorporated by a special act of Pennsylvania legislature in 1840. It still operates today under the same name and charter as when the Company was established. The Union Firehouse, built in 1888, has not only been meticulously repaired and maintained, but has a particularly well designed and appropriate hand painted sign. 


St. John’s Episcopal Church
northeast corner of the Square 

St. John’s still occupies the original site on the town square that was reserved for the “English Church.” The first celebration of the Eucharist took place on Trinity Sunday 1752. The first church to meet in Carlisle, the parish is named in honor of St. John, evangelist and apostle, also know as the “Beloved Disciple.” The church building is the third to serve this congregation. A rustic log structure was first erected in the 1750s and did double duty for a time as the county courthouse as well as a church. A modest stone colonial church was built in the 1760s. Both of these early church buildings were located adjacent to East High Street, in the area now occupied by the Parish Hall. Work on the present church began in 1826 and concluded the following year, making use of stone from the dismantled colonial building. An original tower on the east end of the church was removed during a large renovation in 1861 and the present tower and steeple were erected. 

Cumberland County Courthouse
1 Courthouse Square

In their 1751 plan for Carlisle, the Penn family designated a portion of the Square to be used as a market. At least three market buildings stood here over the years. A 1760s map depicts an open-air building facing High Street. It was destroyed by a violent windstorm in 1836, and a similar structure replaced it the following year. The last Market House, a grandiose Victorian structure, was built in 1878. Market business took place on the open first floor, while the second floor housed various Borough offices. Despite a valiant preservation effort by a group of townspeople and farmers, the building was demolished in 1952 ending two centuries of tradition. This classically-themed courthouse was erected in 1962. 


Stephen Duncan House
4 East High Street

Stephen Duncan, a merchant who came to Carlisle in the 1750s, built this stone house. Duncan was a Justice of the Peace, a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and a trustee of Dickinson College. Duncan’s son John was killed in a duel in 1793, and his widow became the second wife of Col. Ephraim Blaine.  

Duncan-Stiles House
52 East High Street, southwest corner of Bedford Street 

This grand three-story Federal-style house “was by far the most expensive private house ever built in Carlisle,” wrote James Hamilton, Jr. in the 1870s. It was planned and built in 1811, by Judge Thomas Duncan’s wife as a dwelling for her son Stephen and his bride Miss Margaretta Stiles. Marble stairs and a delicate iron railing lead up to the front door. Fluted pillars and a vaulted ceiling in the entry set off the curving staircase that leads to the third floor. A Robert Welford mantel that stood in one of the parlors is now in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sadly, Stephen Duncan’s bride died less than three years after their marriage. Duncan moved to Philadelphia and sold the house to his brother-in-law, attorney Benjamin Stiles. Stiles sold the house in 1840 to Rev. J.V.E. Thorn, an eccentric minister, and his equally eccentric wife Susan Hamilton, daughter of Judge James Hamilton. Mrs. Thorn often said that one of her expressed ambitions was “to see the devil just long enough to get his daguerreotype.” The Thorns were childless, and when Mrs. Thorn died in 1867 she bequeathed her fortune to religious and educational institutions. 

Cumberland County Prison
37 East High Street, northwest corner of Bedford Street

When this English-looking castle was constructed in 1854 it represented the latest fashion in Pennsylvania prison architecture made popular by architect John Haviland. An earlier prison was erected at this location in 1754, and even though it was deemed unfit for human incarceration as early as the 1770s, it remained in use for another 80 years. Escapes were a common occurrence and for years the people of Carlisle pleaded for a new and stronger jail. This prison was built, but determined inmates still managed to regularly break out. Some inmates chipped the plaster and mortar from the walls, removed the stones and crawled through the holes. Then lowering themselves from the cell block to the ground with blankets, they scaled the outer wall and fled. Others escaped by filing through the iron bars of their cells, and one prisoner even set fire to his flooring planks hoping to escape through the smoke screen. He failed. The brownstone used in the construction of the prison was quarried in York County and stones from the first prison were most likely used to make the prison yard walls. While the prison yard was used mainly for exercise, the last hanging in the county took place there in 1894 when Charles Salyards was hanged for the murder of policeman Charles E. Martin. In 1984, a larger modern facility was built on Claremont Road, and the “old” prison has been readapted for county use. 

First Lutheran Church
21 South Bedford Street, southeast corner of East High Street 

This church, which evolved from the German Lutherans, is one of Carlisle’s foremost examples of Romanesque Revival architecture. 

Lyon House
119 East High Street 

William Lyon, born in Ireland in 1729, built this house in 1788, according to notations in his business record. Lyon served as a First Lieutenant in the Pennsylvania Regiment during the French and Indian War, was a prosperous shopkeeper, and held several offices in county government. It is likely that he used the one-story portion of the house as his office. 

“Sign of the Turk” 
137 East High Street 

Tavern keeper John Pollock built the house in the 1760s. The tavern was described in a 1773 newspaper advertisement as a 33-foot square stone house with a 25 foot square stone addition that housed a kitchen and bar room on the first floor and lodging rooms on the second floor. Both buildings are still standing. The tavern had its own brewery and a still in the cellar, and the stone-lined well can still be seen today. This elegant tavern was favored by traveling dancing masters who gave lessons and held candlelight balls here in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The house was updated in the 1870s when a mansard roof and a new cornice were added. Although the windows and doors have been altered, the original stone arches can still be seen at the window and cellar openings. 

Lydia Baird Home and Hospital
East High Street 

In the early 1890s the community launched a movement to establish a hospital in Carlisle. Their vision was to offer an avenue through which the poor would receive medical treatment through a charitable institution. In April 1893, The Hospital Wards of the Lydia Baird Home and Hospital were opened. It had one private room. When the doors opened, no rush for treatment occurred. In fact, April gave way to May without anyone venturing to cross the hospital’s threshold for treatment. So when the first patients actually did arrive, they were “greeted with much acclaim”. This came about when the Barnum and Bailey Circus came to town. An accident occurred and injured circus employees became the first patients on May 12. Hospital officials were so excited they forgot to call a doctor. The Baird Hospital lasted three years, setting a precedent for the need of such an institution in the community. The doors only closed to make way for a new and better hospital. 


Trent House
7 North East Street 

This is one of the few surviving houses in Carlisle built before the Revolutionary War. Note the arched stone lintels over the windows on the first floor. Original windows can be seen in the rear. The house may have been built by William Trent who mortgaged it in 1769 to his partner George Croghan, known as the “King of the Indian Traders.” Trent, son of the founder of Trenton, New Jersey, was an Indian trader, land speculator, soldier, and guide for General Forbes’s army during the French and Indian War. 

Dwen Cottage
22 North East Street

Built in 1857, this house is an outstanding example of the Gothic Revival style. Inspired by the work of Andrew Jackson Downing, full-blown Gothic Revival houses such as this are somewhat rare in Pennsylvania.


Log House
157 Mulberry Alley

Although the location of all the doors and windows were altered in the 19th century, this log house most likely dates to the Revolutionary War era. Note the half dovetailed construction at the corners of the house. 


Alexander House
60 North East Street, southwest corner of Louther Street

John and Jacob Crever of York County, bought this property in 1774 and built a brewery and a malt house. The brew house fronted on Louther Street while the tavern fronted on East Street. 


Pollock House
229 East Louther Street 

This 18th century stone house was owned by John Pollock, maltster and tavern keeper. In 1792 the property included the present two-story stone house with two kitchens, a brew house, and a back building of log. Except for the addition of a porch, there have been few alterations made to the house. 


McManus House
131 North East Street 

This classic 5-bay Georgian-style house with a center hall was built in 1803 by tavernkeeper Charles McManus. McManus also built and operated a distillery at the lower end of the lot adjoining the LeTort stream. This end of town was considered rough, and McManus’s rowdy Irish tavern, named the “Sign of the Eagle and Harp,” was the scene of many fights during his reign as tavernkeeper. McManus died in 1817, and the tavern and distillery were sold in 1824. 


Sign of the Cross Keys
176 East Pomfret Street 

This large stone house was built between 1788-1798. Robert Taylor, a freemason, operated the “Sign of the Cross Keys” here from 1806-1822. 


Saint Katharine Hall
140 East Pomfret Street 

Built by Saint M. Katharine Drexel, a Philadelphia heiress who conducted a “select free colored school” for black children and served the Carlisle Indian School. She vowed to be “mother and servant of the Indian and Negro races.” She was declared a saint on October 1, 2000. 

Bethel A.M.E. Church
131 East Pomfret Street 

Established in 1820, this is among the earliest African American congregations located west of the Susquehanna River. It was the site of Underground Railroad activity. 

Captain William Armstrong House
109 East Pomfret Street 

This 1 1/2-story stone house, with later additions, is the oldest documented stone house still standing in Carlisle. It was built in the summer of 1759 by stone mason Stephen Foulk who came to Carlisle from Chester County, Pennsylvania. Records show that workmen were paid eight gallons of whiskey for digging the cellar. The 27’ x 25’ house was built for Captain William Armstrong, brother of Colonel John Armstrong of Carlisle, the “Hero of Kittanning.” 

Sign of the White Horse
54 East Pomfret Street

Lewis Lewis, a surveyor and father of the infamous “Lewis the Robber,” operated the “Sign of the White Horse” tavern in this house from 1784-1787. The 2 1/2-story log house was built around 1780 and stuccoed in the 1840s. The house has corner fireplaces on the first and second floors and a cooking fireplace in the cellar. 


Farabelli Building
115 South Hanover Street 

Many late 19th century Victorian and Italianate decorative elements are widely present on buildings dating from the first few years of the 20th century, as new innovative styles were slow to reach the Carlisle Historic District. Common elements of commercial buildings with Italianate architectural elements include either cast iron or wooden cornices on both the upper cornice and storefront windows. Many windows also have decorative architraves also common to the period.

Major Andre Detention Site
northeast corner of South Hanover Street and East Chapel Avenue

As early as June 1775, local citizens who favored independence had organized a militia. They sent troops under Colonel William Thompson to Boston, where the Virginia militia officer who had experienced defeat with Braddock 20 years earlier in western Pennsylvania was forming the Continental Army. As the war broadened and Washington’s Army captured British soldiers, places of confinement for the enemy parolees were sought away from centers of mischief and intrigue. Carlisle was one of those sites. Among the prisoners was Major John Andre, a key figure in Benedict Arnold’s plot to betray the Continentals. Major Andre was detained in a tavern that stood on this site and several years later, after exchange and recapture in New York, he was executed. 


Beetem House
110 South Hanover Street 

This exuberant example of the Queen Anne style of architecture was constructed in 1896. A member of the Beetem family, William Luther, was the first man from Carlisle killed during the Civil War. This was the home of Charles Gilbert Beetem, a rug manufacturer, local historian and genealogist, amateur artist, and omnivorous collector. His longtime interest in United States island possessions is the subject of his large collection of publications and books housed in the Dickinson College library. 

Musselman House
102 South Hanover Street

Jacob Musselman built this large brick house in the 1790s. On the exterior the flat marble lintels with keystones above the windows are of particular note; inside the interior paneling and staircase remain intact. The house was rented in 1793 by Charles Steineke who practiced medicine in Carlisle for several years before moving to Baltimore. The doctor’s daughter, Maria Steineke, was poisoned in 1869 by Dr. Paul Schoeppe of Carlisle after he was made the beneficiary of her considerable fortune. She was buried in Baltimore, but the growing supposition in Carlisle that her death was not accidental led to her body being exhumed 13 days after her death. Upon examination, the doctors concluded that she had been poisoned. Schoeppe was tried and found guilty of murder. 


Empire Hook and Ladder Company
38-40 West Pomfret Street 

The Carlisle Fire Department originally consisted of five companies: Union, Cumberland, Goodwill, Friendship, and Empire. This firehouse was built in 1859 for the Empire Hook and Ladder volunteer force. The companies were forced to merge for financial and political reasons leaving only three: Union, Cumberland-Goodwill, and Empire-Friendship. After two notable downtown fires in the 1920s, the first on North Hanover Street taking the Woolworth, Haverstick, and Berg stores in 1924 and another in 1929 that burned down Kronenberg’s, a clothing store that replaced the space left by these businesses, the building received an Art Deco face lift. it is, along with the Carlisle Theater, one of only two Art Deco buildings in town. 

The Barber Shop
42 West Pomfret Street 

This 30’ x 30’ two-story stone house was built before 1798 and was home to several blacksmiths in the 18th century. Note the elegant cornice and stone lintels above the windows. In the past 200 years it has been adapted for many business uses.

First Baptist Church
51 Third Street 

This is a good example of how houses were enlarged and remodeled over the years. Originally a one-story log house, the second story and fashionable peaked gable were added in the 19th century when the exterior was covered with frame. Portions of the original structure can be seen behind a Plexiglass wall inside. 


Dickinson College President’s House
southwest corner of West Street and High Street

Much changed from its origins as a Colonial Revival villa, the house’s original owner was Cumberland County Judge James Reed (Class of 1806), who opened a law school out of his basement in 1834. What started as a informal series of lectures for $75 a year eventually became the Dickinson School of Law; and in 2000, the Penn State Dickinson College School of Law. 

Old West
beyond the gate on the north side of West High Street, opposite President’s House 

Dickinson College was America’s first college chartered after the end of the Revolutionary War. Benjamin Rush, a prominent Philadelphia physician, prepared the charter in 1783 and asked that John Dickinson--known widely as the “Penman of the Revolution” and the governor of Pennsylvania--to lend his support and his name to the college that was being established in the western frontier of his state. So on September 9, 1783, a struggling grammar school in Carlisle was transformed into Dickinson College. As the college grew in population and prominence a new “edifice” was needed to allow Dickinson to move out of the old grammar school that had been its home since its founding. Called “New College,” the building was constructed slowly, over a period of four years. In 1803, as the college prepared to settle into New College, a blustery snowstorm pushed through the Cumberland Valley, stirring some smoldering ashes in the building’s basement. The ashes began to flame, and before long the building had burned to the ground. Quickly rebuilt, Old West, as it is commonly called, hosted its first classes in November 1805. 


Denny Memorial Hall
173 West High Street, northeast corner of West Street 

The Denny family, early pioneers and prominent settlers in Carlisle and Pittsburgh donated the lot at the corner of what is now High and West streets to the College with the reservation that any building erected there be christened with the Denny name. First raised in 1897, the hoped for purpose of the edifice was to alleviate the crowded conditions students faced in recitation halls on campus, as well as to provide “two elegant and commodious” halls for the Dickinson’s thriving intellectual Societies: the Union Philosophical and Belles Lettres Literary Society. Scarred by a major fire only eight years after completion, the Romanesque Revival building is the more grandiose design of Miller Kast, finished in 1905, and the product of extensive renovations in the mid-1980s. On this site in 1794 President George Washington reviewed militia from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. 

Bellaire House
141 West High Street 

This early Greek Revival-style mansion began life in 1820 as the Parker House. Converted into a public house, the Bellaire became a long-time statement of elegant dining in Carlisle. Today the double curving stairway leads to office space. 

Centenary Building
54 West High Street 

In 1827, a German Reformed congregation built a stone church at this location. At the time, a Methodist congregation was housed in a church on Church Alley. The location was not ideal due to boisterous behavior in the alley during church services and “offensive” odors coming from nearby stables. In 1833, the Methodist congregation decided to find a more suitable building and purchased the stone church. In 1875, the two Methodist congregations decided to reunify. They tore down the stone church and replaced it with a two story brick church. Completed in 1877, it became known as the Centenary Church in recognition of the centenary of American Independence. The reunified Methodist congregation worshipped here for twelve more years until they decided to move closer to the Dickinson College campus. In 1889 the building was sold, and for the next 110 years it housed a variety of businesses. 

Carlisle Theatre
40 West High Street 

The Carlisle Theatre, originally called The Comerford, opened its doors in May of 1939. It was by far the grandest of three movie “palaces” all within a block of one another and was the first centrally air conditioned building in Carlisle. The Theatre was built in the Art Deco style known as “streamlined moderne.” From the razzle-dazzle modernistic marquee with its bold Deco lettering, to the richly designed interior, Art Deco styling abounds. During its early years, the Theatre offered daily continuous shows from 2:30 until 11:30 p.m. The matinee price for adults was 25 cents and the evening price 40 cents. The Theatre flourished through the 1960s, acting as the “hub” of a vibrant downtown. With the advent of cineplexes, the Theatre entered a state of decline in the 1970s, eventually closing in 1986. A fundraising effort was launched and the Theatre was purchased in 1991. After thousands of hours donated by a skilled volunteer workforce, the Theatre was restored to its 1930’s Art Deco brilliance and reopened for independent films and the performing arts in 1993. 

Human Services Building
16 West High Street

This Neoclassical building was erected for the Cumberland Valley Savings and Loan Association that was founded in 1906. The building is now home to a variety of social agencies, including the Offices for Children and Youth, Aging, Community Services, Mental Health/Mental Retardation, and the Drug and Alcohol Commission. 

Farmers’ Trust Company
1 West High Street

The Farmers’ Trust Company was chartered in 1902, absorbing the assets of the Farmers’ Bank and occupying this prominent location in town.

Civil War Monument
Courthouse Square, southwest corner

The monument honors Cumberland County’s Civil War dead. Confederate troops, on their way to Gettysburg, shot up the town.

Old Cumberland County Courthouse
Courthouse Square, southwest corner 

The original courthouse rose on this spot in 1766. After an arsonist burned it in 1845 this building, fronted by sandstone columns, replaced it. On June 27, 1863, a dusty column of 15,000 rebels led by General Richard Ewell marched up the road from Shippensburg into Carlisle. Foraging for supplies, they camped here until Tuesday, June 30. They departed that day, headed towards Mount Holley Springs. Other than the ample provisions they had taken, they left the community unscathed. The next day, July 1, the townspeople cheered the arrival of Major General William Smith’s four regiments of Federal militiamen, but their joy was short-lived. Late that afternoon, Major General J.E.B. Stuart and 3,500 rebel cavalrymen appeared at the intersection of York and Trindle roads. The rebels unlimbered their artillery, demanded the surrender of the town, and threatened to burn it. General Smith refused, the artillerymen let fly, and townspeople and militiamen alike scattered for shelter. Over the next few hours, shells struck the columns of the courthouse, blew holes in the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches, damaged numerous other properties, and wounded a few unlucky souls near the square, including twelve militiamen. After setting fire to the U.S. Army’s Carlisle Barracks, Stuart’s men disappeared to the south, ordered to Gettysburg. The threat had ended. Although most of the damage done by the rebel shells was long ago repaired, scars can still be seen here on the facade of the Old Court House. You can still see where a pillar was chipped and bricks were broken by flying shrapnel.