Each year, congregations of three churches in Chambersburg, Pa., offer a single rose to a member of the city’s founding family. It is a simple gift, but one that has been given year after year, decade after decade, century after century without fail.
The reason the rose is given each year is simple. The rent must be paid.
Benjamin Chambers founded Chambersburg in 1734 when a representative of the Penn family issued him a “Blunston license” for 400 acres. Because of the area’s Scotch and Irish residents, the Falling Spring Presbyterian Church was the first church established in the town. In 1768, Chambers gave the congregation land for a church and cemetery in 1768 because he recognized the role that religion played in creating a community and giving it a moral core.
In 1780, he offered land to the First Lutheran Church and Zion Reformed Church, which were both working to grow and establish themselves in the town. All that he asked in return for the land was that an annual rent of one single red rose be paid to his family or a descendant.
“One of the stipulations in the deed is that it had to be a rose from the church’s grounds,” said Rev. Jeffrey Diller of the Zion Reformed Church.
It is not known why Chambers chose such an unusual rent payment, but the red rose does have some biblical connections.
The five petals of a red rose were held as symbolic of the five wounds of Jesus Christ by early Christians. It is also associated with the blood of Christian martyrs or representative of the Virgin Mary. Some legends say that white roses grew in the Garden of Eden, but they turned red with shame when Adam and Eve fell from grace.
One of these may have been Chambers’ reason for choosing the red rose as payment or it may simply have been his favorite flower.
“The son, Capt. Benjamin had roses lining his walk in front of his house which would have been part of the original settlement of the founder. Later, the area became known as Rosedale,” said Ann Hull, executive director of the Franklin County Historical Society.
Diller also noted that it may have simply been fashionable at the time to give churches land that way. He said that he knows of many other churches throughout the region that pay a similar annual rent.
Whatever the reason, his foresight and generosity allowed the churches to establish themselves in the town.
“We make a big thing of it each year with a program that celebrates the historical aspect of the ceremony,” Diller said.
During a different Sunday in June, each church has a special service in which a member of the Chambers family is presented with the rose rent.
The Zion Reformed Church service begins with a fellowship breakfast on the morning of the second Sunday in June. This is followed by a historical presentation to place the event in context, the ceremony to select the rose and the celebration of the presentation of the rose rent.
Franklin County, Pa., has also paid the rose rent since 2007. It was based on a deed that the late John George, a descendant of the founding Chambers family, found in the Franklin County Courthouse. The 1785 deed transferred lots to the county to hold a courthouse and jail in exchange for a rose rent.
Franklin County Commissioner G. Warren Elliot made the first payment of the rent to George’s widow, June, in July 2007 when he gave her a dozen roses.