Designed by Robert McIlhenny, the emblem of Straban Township shows a stylized image of the American Goldfinch, common year-round in the fields, gardens, and roadsides of the township. In German folklore the goldfinch is known as the “distelfink” and said to symbolize good luck and happiness. A thistle and shamrock represent the Scotch Irish who were Straban’s earliest settlers. The emblem also bears a heart overflowing with joy and goodwill.
Initial establishment of settlements west of Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River occurred during the late 1600s. Thanks to the presence of fertile land and abundant wild game, the areas now comprising central Pennsylvania were settled rapidly by European immigrants throughout the early 1700s. This land had been turned over to William Penn by charter from King Charles II of England. Penn, and later his son Thomas, were primarily responsible for expanding the total land area available for settlement through treaties with Native Americans who lived in the area. By the late 1700s, increased pressure from immigrant settlements had forced most native inhabitants westward.
The earliest settlers to Straban Township, predominantly Scotch Irish, named the area in honor of an Irish town known as Strabane. Later, many “Low Dutch,” or Hollanders, also settled in the area.
Creation of Adams County
Land west of the Susquehanna River had originally been part of Lancaster County. Divided from Lancaster County in 1749, the area became York County. In 1800 York County was divided, with the westernmost region forming Adams County. This new county included the land comprising Straban Township.
The Hunterstown Settlement
The most significant Straban Township community was Hunterstown, previously known by the names Woodstock and Straban Center. This settlement developed in 1749 after a 182-acre tract was purchased and divided into lots by Captain David Hunter, an Irish immigrant. In 1800 the community was renamed Hunterstown in his honor.
Throughout the early 1800s Hunterstown served as the focal point of Straban Township. When Adams County formed, a strenuous debate arose as to the best location for a county seat. Strong support for Hunterstown was turned back only when James Getty donated lands for a courthouse and prison in Gettysburg.
Commerce and industry thrived in Hunterstown throughout this time. At one point, a doctor, blacksmith, cobbler, tailor, hotel, tavern, wagon shop, numerous chair-making businesses, and three stores were found in the community, in addition to two churches and an educational academy.
Hunterstown’s development seems to have reached its peak in the late 1800s, and today little evidence remains of the community’s former importance.
Civil War Clash at Hunterstown
On July 2, 1863, Confederate and Union troops clashed at Hunterstown in a thrilling battle. A miniature version of Gettysburg, Hunterstown was of no significant strategic importance beyond its crossroads value and the access it afforded to the left flank and rear of the Confederate lines at Gettysburg. Although the skirmish resulted in a draw, each side was satisfied that it had prevented the other from gaining any further advantage.
The Battle of Hunterstown was fought primarily in the open fields along Hunterstown Road on the Felty and Gilbert farmsteads just south of the village. Troops from Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Vermont represented the Union, while the Confederate forces were composed of regiments from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Perhaps the most colorful figure of this battle was the youthful, exuberant, and soon to be legendary Brigadier General George A. Custer, who commanded the four Michigan regiments.
Seventy casualties were reported during this confrontation. But the Battle of Hunterstown is remembered more for the courage and daring of the participants, exhausted from the preceding days’ events, who yet managed to overcome obstacles and wage a remarkable and memorable battle.
Railroads and Mining
Railroad links to the area were established in 1859. Station points were at Gulden Station, Granite Hill Station, and Kings Station. Only Granite Hill Station remains in use.
Three iron ore deposits and two copper ore deposits were known to exist within the Township, and mining for copper and gold occurred near Hunterstown, at the Reliance Mining and Milling Company. Mining of the various deposits has long been discontinued.
Other Township Settlements
Several small communities have existed within Straban Township. After Hunterstown the most significant was the village of New Chester. Surveyed and laid out in 1804, the basis of the community was several nearby mills on the Conewago and Swift Run Creeks. Plainview, Granite Hill, and Unity were each small postal towns that have been taken over by larger postal areas. At the peak of their growth, these hamlets consisted only of small clusters of dwellings and a few commercial enterprises.
The National Register of Historic Places lists several separate historic properties within Straban Township. One notable site is the Hunterstown battlefield area.
The Gettysburg Battlefield includes 21 historic sites primarily consisting of farmsteads, which were used as field hospitals during the Battle of Gettysburg. Perhaps the most famous of these sites is the Hospital Woods Historic Site located along Route 30. This site was also known as Camp Letterman and was established on July 20, 1863. This hospital operated for four months and was recognized as one of the first sanitary and effective battlefield hospitals ever established. Over 4000 wounded were treated by roughly 100 surgeons. Nearly 1200 dead, of which over two-thirds were Confederates, were buried in the camp cemetery.
In 1979 the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission granted funds to Adams County to perform a reconnaissance survey of historic sites. Within Straban Township, 206 houses were analyzed. Eighty-six (86) of these structures were built prior to the Civil War; four were constructed before 1800. One hundred seven (107) barns were surveyed yielding three of brick, one of stone, and four of log construction.
As time passes, Straban Township’s historical resources become depleted and ever more fragile. Consideration for preservation of unique and historically significant sites and structures should be provided for within the planning process and political decisions.
Geographically located in the central portion of Adams County, Pennsylvania, Straban Township has a total area of 34.4 square miles. Municipalities located adjacent to Straban Township are Butler Township to the northwest, Tyrone Township and Reading Township to the northeast, Mount Pleasant Township to the southeast, Mount Joy Township to the south, and Cumberland Township and Gettysburg Borough to the west.
Within a larger regional context, Adams County and Straban Township are located in the western fringe area of the eastern coastal megalopolis. The term “megalopolis” refers to the huge network of urban development that has emerged in the Atlantic coastal area between Maine and Virginia and which continues to expand westward.
As a result of the extensive highway system that has been established throughout the megalopolis area, Straban Township is in close travel proximity to several of the primary urban centers of the region. The metropolitan areas of New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D. C. can be reached easily. The continuous westward expansion of population and related urban/suburban land use will place increased development pressure on Straban Township.
Township residents and officials should be prepared for the pressures generated by urban expansion. Through the use of present-day planning, the Township’s transition from its current rural character to a more suburban/commercially-oriented community can occur in a controlled, orderly manner. In this way, the economic and social interest of both current and future residents can be accommodated with a minimum of the conflict that is often associated with urban development.
Adams County Historical Society Newsletter. Gettysburg, PA: Adams County
Historical Society, September, 1983.
Atlas of Adams County. Pennsylvania, PA: I. W. Field & Co., 1872.
Coco, Gregory A. A Vast Sea of Misery. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1988.
Frassanito, William A. Independent Research, 1990.
The History of Cumberland and Adams Counties, Pennsylvania. Chicago, IL: Warner, Beers & Company, 1886.
Powell, Dr. Walter L. Independent Research, 1990.
Shevchuk, Paul M. The Battle of Hunterstown, Pennsylvania, July 2, 1863. Morningside House, Inc., 1989, pp. 93-104.
Weaner, Arthur. Straban Township, Adams County, Pennsylvania: Its Origins & Settlers. Gettysburg, PA: Adams County Historical Society.