The Conococheague Institute is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) membership organization, registered as a charity in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Its name is derived from the Conococheague Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River that runs through portions of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. The Conococheague frontier was opened for settlement by European colonists in 1736.
Local people pronounce Conococheague: CONICA (rhymes with "Monica") JIG (like the Irish dance). The Native American word means "long indeed, very long indeed. The Institute operates a 30-acre historic site with 18th-and 19th century log houses and outbuildings, a German 4-Square Garden, a visitors center, a rose garden, an 18th-century summer kitchen, and provides access to an historic cemetery dating to the 1760s. Through its accomplishments in historic preservation, archaeology, publications, lectures, discussion groups, an active research library, and demonstrations and exhibitions of historically accurate crafts, trades and costumes, the Institute promotes quality humanities scholarship on many subject. Members receive a quarterly newsletter to keep them informed of the progress that the Institute makes.
The oldest buildings on the site include the Davis-Chambers house (ca. 1740-1880) and the Eliab Negley House (ca. 1830s), each with outbuildings. They were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. These buildings exhibit many architectural characteristics that inspire study, including the v-notch chestnut log construction; cast iron stove plates that were repurposed as fireplace “fire-backs” bearing old-German and old-Dutch inscriptions of both personal and theological nature; puncheon floors; pit-sawn floor boards made of yellow pine; and a 1790s mantel in the Davis-Chambers House. These architectural details are particularly significant because few pre-French & Indian War houses survive in the Cumberland Valley. An 18th century smokehouse at Rock Hill Farm contains an inscribed German fire-back, and bears impressions in the walls that may be proven to have been windows, leading to some investigation of the theory that the smokehouse was used by early inhabitants of the site as quarters for slaves or indentured servants. Much research remains to be achieved on the buildings of the site and their past occupants, who also represent the changing ethnic nature of Welsh Run, Pennsylvania, from Welsh to English/Scots-Irish and then to German.
The Negley House is a double-entry house with a typical German flurkuchenhaus floor plan, which was built to house the Negley grandparents, Brethren natives of the Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Rock Hill Farm of the Negley era may be studied for its usage and patterns traditional to German, Brethren and Mennonite families, who immigrated to the Pennsylvania in order to practice their religion freely.
The Negley House was destroyed by a fire February 29, 2016. It was a total loss and a number of original artifacts were destroyed. However, other pieces were able to be salvaged. The Institute is committed to rebuilding an accurate copy of the original. You can help either by direct donation to C.I. or through our GoFundMecampaign.
Not listed on the National Register, but significant nonetheless, are the most recent constructions on the site: a growing replica Eastern woodlands tribal village; a visitors center constructed of logs reclaimed from a deteriorating 19th century Franklin County log house; the Piper Log Cabin, relocated to Rock Hill Farm from the Amberson Valley in northern Franklin County to be interpreted as an essential frontier tavern; and a replica boathouse, which houses a ¼ scale model of a keel-less flat-bottom boat, similar to one that would have been used to transport goods on the Conococheague and other regional waterways. An existing wash house that had been used in the 19th century to process wool for spinning and weaving was transformed into a replica summer kitchen with a large, open hearth, and ample “classroom” space to be used for demonstrations of open hearth cooking.
In the second weekend of September each year, the Conococheague Institute is transformed into a living history museum through the Rural History Festival @ Rock Hill Farm. At this event, costumed interpreters populate the site to demonstrate the evolution of agriculture in the area from 1730s - 1945. The event includes living historians portraying different centuries, demonstrations of farm activity, children's period games, and entertainment. Period sutlers round out the family-focused and educational event. The site and its historically accurate gardens play a significant role in setting the stage for the re-enactments and demonstrations.
Exhibits and Artifact Collections
The Institute’s buildings and its collections of historic costumes and other textiles, furniture, weaponry, and tools are stored, researched, cataloged, and sometimes exhibited. A catalog of museum and library holdings is now available to research on-line. In addition to its permanent exhibits in the house museums and visitors center and a permanent outdoor exhibit, “The Frontier Forts: A Walking Tour of Rock Hill Farm,” by James Smith, the Institute has hosted two traveling exhibits in recent years: Cents and Sensibility: Benjamin Franklin and Popular Culture in 2009, and the Chambersburg Quilt Guild’s Quilt Treasures of Yesteryear in 2010. Lectures, workshops, historical music and dance performances and other programs accompany special exhibitions.
The Institute administers a speaker series, sometimes supplemented by motor coach tours and publications and exhibits, thereby providing a venue in which scholars share original research particularly concerning the social and military history of the Conococheague Settlement, and linking to other eras of the human record. The series is usually held at the Institute’s Visitors Center, the “Welsh Barrens.” Lecture topics and titles since 2008 have encompassed issues such as transportation, agriculture, frontier defense, local folk hero James Smith, geography and architecture. Lecturers have also led motor coach and bicycle tours of the area contiguous to Rock Hill Farm on themes of the French & Indian War-era forts and military accomplishments of Colonel Henry Bouquet.
The Conococheague Institute Library
Researchers from all over the country seek out the Library, and are introduced to The Conococheague Institute at the same time. Containing nearly 7,000 print volumes, some dating back to the 17th century, the Institute’s library provides resources for expanding one’s knowledge on the many facets of Rock Hill Farm. Genealogists and local history researchers will find a trove of information! The library’s collections catalog is available to research on-line.
The Sidetracks of History Book Club, moderated by volunteer Librarian Dr. Joan M. McKean, meets on the third Thursday of every month to discuss books found in the Library's collections. Book Club participation is free and open to the public. Download the Book Club’s Reading List here.
On the second Tuesday of each month, from 7-8:30 p.m., a small group of local history enthusiasts gathers at the Conococheague Institute’s Welsh Barrens Visitors Center. There is no agenda for this group other than to delve into informal discussions of local folk history, moderated by the Conococheague Institute’s Historian, Calvin Bricker, Jr.
Calvin Bricker’s concept of "History Hippies" stems from his personal experience with learning history. Having had family in Welsh Run and Claylick for many generations, Calvin is curious about the lives of his ancestors and their neighbors: What foods did they eat; how did they travel; where had they lived before they came to the Conococheague Valley; what tools did they use; and, how did they earn a living? Calvin developed the "History Hippies" discussion group at the Conococheague Institute in order to share his passion for local folk history. "History Hippies" discussions are free and open to the public. Recent group meetings have addressed inquiries on local colonial-era river travel and transport, iron works, African American history and Hessians in the American Revolution.
Archaeological digs near the buildings of Rock Hill Farm have generated deeper knowledge of past inhabitants of the site. A 1994 dig uncovered evidence of a circa 1730s “earth fast” structure that warrants further investigation; “earth fast” structures are not known to have been situated west of South Mountain in Pennsylvania, making this example unique among “sorry” houses typically built in the Tidewater region. Evidence of a foundation of an older structure also exists in the basement of the 1880 addition to the Davis-Chambers house. Many archaeological deposits have been left undisturbed; future digs will add to the body of scholarship already collected on the occupants of Rock Hill Farm throughout time.
Native American artifacts dating back 10,000 years have also been located on the site. A growing collection of approximately 5,000 tools and weapons tells us part of the story of the first occupants of this land. The collections warrant further examination, and specialists will be consulted in the future to help us to develop the Native American narrative.
The Institute has accomplished a great deal toward promoting the humanities in its first 18 years of existence, and plans to delve further into its cultural heritage in the decades to come.