History of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

History of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Harrisburg has been the capital of Pennsylvania since 1812. This John Harris died in December, 1740.His second son, also John Harris, is considered to be the actual founder of Harrisburg. It was changed to Louisbourg later in the same year, in honor of the king of France, but the Harrisburg name was restored in 1791.In 1812, Harrisburg replaced Philadelphia as the state capital. That two-story brick building served until February 12, 1897, when it was destroyed by fire.Harrisburg was chartered as a city in 1860. During the Civil War, Camp Curtin, the first camp for Union soldiers, was established near Harrisburg. It escaped occupation by Confederate forces in 1863 when General Lee diverted his army when it was within sight of the city.The present capitol, constructed of limestone and granite, was completed in 1906. About a third of the $12.5 million cost is estimated to have been attributed to graft, which resulted in the famous 1908 Capitol Graft cases that ended with the contractor and architect being sent to prison.With 1,100 acres devoted to parks, Harrisburg once boasted more parks per square mile than any other city in America. The jewel of the system is River Park, which extends several miles along the Susquehanna, and where the first John Harris is buried in front of the Harris Mansion.

Watch Pennsylvania General Assembly sessions live

Reopening Guidelines:

Welcome back for guided tours!

Your safety is important to us. We ask that you comply with the following guidelines.

To ensure your health in the best way possible, we are limiting our tours to 40 guests per tour.

Book your tour online at

Upon arrival, check in with the guide at the information desk.

Please wear a facemask that covers your nose and mouth unless fully vaccinated.

The Welcome Center is now open.

The Capitol Restaurant is now open.

Disclaimer: While we are taking extra precautions to help keep you safe during your visit, we cannot guarantee you will not be exposed to Covid-19.

Sincerely, the Capitol Tour Guides.

Republican Dominance and Democratic Abeyance

From the Civil War until 1934 the Republican Party had an advantage over the Democrats. The Democratic reformer Robert E. Pattison served two terms as governor (1883-1886 1891-1894) because disunity within the Republicans made it possible, but from 1894 until the Great Depression, Republican electoral majorities were seldom challenged. Republican voter superiority tended to empower a single state political manager or boss until 1922, although these individuals always had critics, rivals, and enemies. Three personalities held the position successively: Senator Simon Cameron until 1877 Matthew S. Quay (a senator from 1887 on) from about 1879 until his death in May 1904 and Senator Boies Penrose from 1905 until his death in December 1921. Usually they controlled the state Republican Party in addition to the power they held in the U.S. Senate. They placed their weight behind big business and Pennsylvania's industrial growth, and had little interest in social improvements or government public services. "Prosperity for all" and "the full dinner pail" were the public perceptions that were used to defend bossism. Republican city bosses, especially in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, often rebelled and harassed them. The state bosses manipulated the nominations of most of the Republican gubernatorial candidates, although several governors whom they misjudged or had only grudgingly endorsed crossed them by advancing enlightened, public-spirited reforms. Some of these improvements were so obviously necessary that the state bosses simply did not care to intervene. Progressive legislation was also brought about by inspired legislators willing to face the consequences of reprisals from the bosses and special interests.

The period from 1895 to 1919 saw spirited reform movements in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, although significant victories were not frequent before 1910. Corruption in city utilities and public service contracts stimulated reform sentiment in both cities, although Pittsburgh's reform arose from the exposure of the wretched living conditions that unbridled industrial growth had spawned. Philadelphia's reform, by contrast, arose to confront exploitation of minorities, dishonest elections, venality in office, and a general disregard for the law.

Although the Democratic Party bore the stigma of past association with pro-slavery advocates and Southern states' rights, those memories gradually receded. Nevertheless, Pennsylvania's Democratic Party had other problems. There was a serious urban-rural internal division, and the Pennsylvania Democrats did not conform to national Democratic party themes of tariff reduction and a soft money system intended to benefit western farmers and debtors. Pennsylvania exhibited little enthusiasm for the Populist movement, which arose in the West and South, and Pennsylvania Democrats regretted their party's amalgamation with the Populists' People's Party in the 1896 presidential election. Furthermore, they did not entirely support the rising demands of industrial labor.

From 1861 to 1883, Republicans held the governorship. Then, a factional split within the Republicans led to the election of the reformed Democrat Robert E. Pattison, and his re-election in 1891. After that, Republicans held the governor's office until 1935. The death of Senator Penrose on the last day of 1921 ended the era of Republican state bosses who sat in Congress.

The Constitution of 1874

The fourth constitution of the Commonwealth was partly a result of a nationwide reform movement in the 1870s and partly a result of specific corrections to the previous (1838) constitution. A constitutional amendment in 1850 had made all judgeships of courts of record elective by the voting population, a concession to longstanding criticism of gubernatorial appointments. In 1872 another amendment made the office of State Treasurer also popularly elective, an early expression of the reform sentiment that brought on the state constitutional convention of 1873. The resulting new constitution provided for the popular election of the Auditor General and a new official, the Secretary of Internal Affairs, whose department combined old duties of the Surveyor General with potential power to regulate many areas of the economy. The office of Lieutenant Governor was also created. The head of the public school system received the title of Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the General Assembly was required to provide efficient public education at a cost of no less than one million dollars per year. The Governor's term was lengthened from three to four years, but he could no longer succeed himself. He was empowered to veto individual items within appropriations bills. The General Assembly's powers were limited in several ways. Special and local legislation falling within 26 specified subjects was prohibited, and pre-announcement to the public was required before any legislative vote on local legislation. Also, there was a constitutional debt limit, and a number of other legislative subjects were prohibited. Sessions of the General Assembly were to be held every other year, replacing the annual sessions, and the size of the legislature was doubled on the theory that greater numbers would make it impractical for special interests to buy legislators' votes. The House was increased to two hundred members and the Senate to fifty. Provisions were included to thwart such tricks as the introduction of amendments to bills that contradicted the original purpose of the bill, writing ambiguous appropriations bills, and habitually sloughing over the required three readings of all bills. Several provisions were directed against the urban political machines: required numbering on all election ballots the repeal of Philadelphia's unfairly partisan 1869 Registration Act and halting the exorbitant fees that had been demanded by officials of Philadelphia and Allegheny counties. The 1838 constitution's provision against African American voting, by 1870 already illegal under the Fifteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, was removed from the state constitution. In addition to imposing a state debt ceiling, cities were limited in their freedom to operate under deficit financial arrangements. Also, an important political concept that many believed already existed in the abstract, the "police powers of the state," was specifically mentioned - and thus sanctioned - by a provision that the power of corporations could not abridge the state's police power.

Democratic delegates to the constitutional convention had been nearly as numerous as Republicans, and the constitution guaranteed minority party representation on both the Supreme Court and local election boards. In contrast with the 1838 constitution, which had been only narrowly approved by voters, 70 percent of voters approved the constitution of 1874.

Since the convention and the ratifying vote took place before the end of 1873, the new constitution has often been referred to as the constitution of 1873, but an act of the General Assembly has made "Constitution of 1874" the correct title.

The Spanish-American War

By 1895 the island of Cuba was in a state of revolution, its people desiring to break away from Spanish rule. News of harsh methods used to suppress Cuban efforts to achieve independence aroused anger in the United States. When the battleship U.S.S. Maine blew up in Havana Harbor in 1898, war became inevitable. Congressman Robert Adams of Philadelphia wrote the resolutions declaring war on Spain and recognizing the independence of Cuba. President McKinley's call for volunteers was answered with enthusiasm throughout the Commonwealth. At the first call for volunteers, 70 percent of the Pennsylvania National Guard came forth, consisting of 592 officers and 10,268 enlisted men. At the second call, 6,370 more were enlisted. Pennsylvania's military leaders included Brigadier General Abraham K. Arnold, Brigadier General James M. Bell, and Major General John R. Brooks, a native of Pottsville, who served as military governor in Cuba and Puerto Rico. Although no Pennsylvania troops fought in Cuba, the 10th Volunteer Regiment was the first American organization to engage in land combat in the Philippine Islands and remained for the Filipino Insurrection. The 4th and 16th Regiments fought in the Puerto Rican campaign.

A New State Capitol and a Shocking Scandal

In the closing decades of the nineteenth century the gradual increase in state government services exceeded the office capacity of the original 1822 Capitol Building and surrounding satellite buildings. Governor Hastings had just addressed the legislature on the problem when, unexpectedly, the 1822 building burned down on February 7, 1897. An excellent architectural plan for a new capitol was produced by architect Henry I. Cobb, but skimpy funding resulted in a pathetically inadequate structure that led, in turn, to the best architects refusing to take on another state contract. A talented but inexperienced architect, John M. Huston of Philadelphia, was awarded the contract for a new building to be completed in 1906. The deadline was met and the offices were occupied early in 1907, but Huston's arrogance and multiple administrative bungles led to what was known as the Capitol Graft Scandal. Laws and regulations meant to produce an honest, efficient project went awry. It became clear that the state's competitive purchasing system was flawed. A Capitol Building Board and a Grounds and Building Commission contradicted each other and duplicated each other's authority. Despite safeguards written into the legislation, the Grounds and Building Commission was allowed to cover construction costs and absorb expenses that spilled over the appropriation limits established by the legislature. Also, new government units were created by the General Assembly after the building was in blueprints, and they were promised headquarters space within a building not designed to accommodate them. Unexpectedly, public suspicion that a series of Republican State Treasurers had been dishonest led to a Democrat, William H. Berry, being elected State Treasurer in 1905. He quickly realized the furnishings of his offices in the new Capitol had cost far too much. While he waited to gather evidence, Huston and his contractors rushed millions of dollars of payments through the approval system. Inklings of scandal reached the public before the 1906 general election. Outgoing Governor Pennypacker arranged a lavish building dedication on October 4, at which President Theodore Roosevelt spoke, and then he also organized railroad excursions so the public could tour the beautiful new building. Incoming Governor Edwin S. Stuart fulfilled a campaign promise to authorize a thorough investigation of the building project. Those revelations led to indictments, convictions and judgments, both criminal and civil, for conspiracy to defraud the state. Although payments directly to public officials were never proven, prison sentences were imposed on Huston, his principal furnishing contractor John Sanderson, one former State Treasurer, and a former Auditor General. An incumbent congressman was also seriously implicated. All verdicts were based on illegal administration of the furnishings contracts, not the building's construction. The total cost of the building and furnishings was about $12.5 million, and reliable estimates indicate that the state had been overcharged by about $5 million. By 1911, Huston and Sanderson had made financial restitution of about $1.5 million.

On the fifth anniversary of the Capitol's dedication, the magnificent symbolic statues at the main entrance, the work of sculptor George Barnard, were unveiled in an inspiring ceremony. At the same time, former Governor Pennypacker published his defense of the entire Capitol project, The Desecration and Profanation of the Pennsylvania Capitol. He argued that political restrictions placed on his executive powers by a bumbling legislature were responsible for the state being overcharged. But he insisted that the total cost was not unreasonable in comparison with other major government structures at the time, and that the long future of efficient governance that could be expected to take place in the Capitol's halls fully justified such a high price.

At the Capitol 1906 dedication, President Roosevelt admired the new edifice but did not comment on the events involved in its creation. Instead, he advertised the new form of social progress he hoped to achieve through political leadership. His remarks epitomized his version of the optimistic goals of the nation's Progressive Movement, a widespread public attitude that flourished between about 1890 and the end of World War I. He vigorously exclaimed:

Theodore Roosevelt was always popular in Pennsylvania, and in the presidential election of 1916 he carried a plurality of the state's electorate presumably because they preferred his "Bull Moose" Progressivism over the traditional goals of the Republican Party - which had refused to nominate him - and over the Democratic Party's Progressivism (termed "New Freedom") which was articulated by its candidate, Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey. However, Wilson won the election and became president.

New State Services

Although the new constitution was detailed, it allowed flexibility for creation of new agencies. Thus, in 1873, even while the new constitution was being discussed, the Insurance Department was created to supervise and regulate insurance companies. Also, the judicial branch of government was soon enlarged by the creation in 1895 of the Superior Court, which soon achieved its intended purpose by relieving an enormous case backlog from the shoulders of the Supreme Court. In the following years, many other agencies were created, sometimes as full-fledged departments and sometimes as boards, bureaus, or commissions, while existing agencies were often altered or abolished. For example, the Board of Public Charities (1869), the Committee on Lunacy (1883), the Mothers' Assistance Fund (1913), and the Prison Labor Commission (1915) were consolidated into the Department of Welfare in 1921. Also, the Factory Inspection Act of 1889 provided a foundation for the Department of Labor and Industry that was created in 1913. Not only did this new agency moderate labor disputes, but it acquired duties under a Mine Safety Act in 1903, a Factory Conditions Act of 1905, the Foundry Act of 1911, a Fire Drills Law of 1911, a Mattress Act of 1913, a Women's 54-hour Work Week Law passed in 1913, and the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1915. Also created in 1913 was the Public Service Commission. The state government's work force grew during and immediately following World War I, but the administration of Governor William C. Sproul left his successor, Governor Gifford Pinchot, 139 government agencies with few coordinating links between each one and little central direction. Nonetheless, through his Administrative Code of 1923, Pinchot, in the spirit of the Progressive philosophy, put the agencies under fifteen departments and three independent commissions, all responsible to him, and he made the governor's budget a mandatory step in preparing the state budget during each regular session of the General Assembly. The Administrative Code also standardized purchasing procedures and civil servants' salaries and duties. Although the Code was criticized, it was re-enacted with amendments in 1929. Although amended periodically after that, it still stands as the state's Administrative Code today. A Fiscal Code enacted in 1927 did still more to systematize bureaucratic methods. It created a separate Department of Revenue so that the collection of money due the state - taxes, fees, and other charges - was centralized.

The First World War

Pennsylvania's resources and manpower were of great value to the war effort of 1917-1918. The shipyards of Philadelphia and Chester were decisive in maintaining maritime transport. Pennsylvania's mills and factories provided a large part of the war materials for the nation. The railroad, coal, and steel industries in Pennsylvania may each be said to have reached all-time maximum output under stimulation of wartime demand. Nearly three thousand separate firms held contracts for war supplies of various types. Pennsylvanians subscribed to nearly three billion dollars worth of Liberty and Victory Bonds, and paid well over a billion dollars in federal taxes during the war. Civilian resources were organized through a State Defense Council with local affiliates. Pennsylvania furnished 324,115 men for the United States Army, of whom 226,115 arrived through the Selective Service System and 28,000 through the National Guard. There were 45,927 Pennsylvanians in the Navy and Marine Corps. Pennsylvania's soldiers suffered 10,278 combat deaths and 26,252 of them were wounded. The Pennsylvania units were engaged on the combat lines in France from July to the end of the struggle on November 11. The 28th Division served with distinction it suffered 3,077 casualties. The Second Battle of the Marne, the Saint Mihiel drive, and the Argonne offensive were the major campaigns in which Pennsylvania troops took part. General Tasker H. Bliss, a native of Lewisburg, was appointed chief of staff of the Army in 1917, and later was made a member of the Supreme War Council and the American Peace Commission. He was succeeded as chief of staff by another Pennsylvania West Point graduate, General Peyton C. March, originally from Easton. Admiral William S. Sims, a Pennsylvania graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, was in charge of American naval operations.

War's Turbulent Aftermath (1918-1922)

Exactly two months before the armistice that ended the combat, a new mutation of influenza virus emerged at Philadelphia Naval Yard when sailors who had just arrived there from Boston fell ill. The city soon experienced the worst ravages in the United States of the unexplained and misunderstood worldwide pandemic. Confusion and panic prevailed, magnified by the impotence of the city government. Coincidentally, Philadelphia patricians led by George Wharton Pepper had recently pushed the Vare bothers' political machine into a corner and had won Senator Penrose to their side. Now the reformers stepped in to set up emergency health services. Still, even medical experts did not understand the disease, and the death toll was only partially contained by isolating the living and promptly burying the dead. Peak mortality occurred the week of October 16 when 4,579 died. By February 1919, the virus had subsided in Philadelphia and moved to the nation's southeast. The incompetence of the city health system and a mistaken belief that neglect of street cleaning had contributed to the pandemic helped to convince the state legislature to approve a new city charter in June 1919. This removed many impractical features and attempted to thwart graft and corruption, although it achieved only some of these goals. The pandemic had raged over the entire state, killing disproportionate numbers in the crowded cities, and striking very hard at people in their years of greatest physical strength, between ages 18 to 45.

A brief depression followed the war's end, as the nation's economy adjusted to its peacetime functions. An unsuccessful steel strike of 1919 was part of the adjustment process. Although the workers were not granted collective bargaining, in 1923 company owners granted an eight-hour day and pay increases. In general, the idealism of Woodrow Wilson's goals of domestic and international progress lost its popularity, and the nation chose, instead, the administration of President Warren G. Harding which sought to restore "Normalcy." Unfortunately, this was soon marred by corruption and scandal. At the same time, a nationwide fear of militant communism, the "Red Scare," led to a rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan's terrorism, and it spread to Pennsylvania and other northern states.

Senator Penrose's demise on December 31, 1921, left Pennsylvania Republicans with four rivaling factions: The Vare brothers' system in Philadelphia which relied largely on city business, the wealthy Mellon family interests, Joseph Grundy of Bristol and his Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, and forester-politician Gifford Pinchot, who perpetuated the Theodore Roosevelt "Bull Moose" Progressive spirit. With Grundy's support, Pinchot was elected Governor in 1922, something Penrose would probably have been able to block. Pinchot appealed to women voters, prohibitionists, the farm vote, public utility customers, election reformers, nature lovers, and those who wanted more honest and efficient government operations.

Prosperity, Building, Culture Distinguish City

Steel and other industries continued to play a major role in the local economy throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century. The city was the center of enormous railroad traffic and supported large furnaces, rolling mills, and machine shops. The Pennsylvania Steel Company plant, which opened in nearby Steelton in 1866, was the first in the country it is now operated by Bethlehem Steel. Harrisburg Car Manufacturing Company began as a railroad car manufacturer in 1853 in 1935 the firm changed its name to Harrisburg Steel Company then in 1956 to Harsco, a diversified Fortune 500 company. Many fine schools and churches were built banks and other institutions were founded. Stately residences were erected overlooking the Susquehanna River. The first three decades of the twentieth century saw the building of high-rise department stores and opulent hotels. A $12.5-million expansion of the state capitol complex was completed in 1906, and many cultural institutions were founded.

Coming 2020-2021 — a curated collection of social and historical datasets of Harrisburg available for download. Harrisburg Population Population Data Census Table 1900 (.xls) Census Table 1910 (.xls) Municipal League for Civic Improvement members (.xls) Residents of Bellevue Park in 1920 and 1930 (.xls) Geospatial Data 1901 Geospatial Population Data (.zip) Spanish Influenza Outbreak 1918&hellip


Paxton Township was created in 1729 within Lancaster County. Organized long before the City of Harrisburg, it was at that time about the size of Dauphin County. In the years after Dauphin County was established, the township was slowly divided. Hanover Township was cut off the east in 1736 and Upper Paxton Township was cut off the north in 1767. What remained in 1767 was then renamed Lower Paxton Township. The divisions continued.

Harrisburg Borough (now the City of Harrisburg) was formed in 1791 and Swatara Township was created in 1799. In 1878 more land was cut of the north and became Middle Paxton Township and in 1815 Susquehanna Township was formed.

Settling within the township during its colonial period were many German and Scotch-Irish immigrants. They established several farms and settlements throughout the area which eventually developed into the township's three villages. The oldest established village was created in 1765, and named "The Town of St. Thomas." After its founder, Thomas Lingle, died in 1811 the name was unofficially changed to Linglestown, as it is known today. The Township's other two villages, Paxtonia and Colonial Park, were developed in the 20th Century.

Nineteenth century

During the first part of the 19th century, Harrisburg was an important stopping place along the Underground Railroad, as escaped slaves would be transported across the Susquehanna River and were often fed and given supplies before heading north towards Canada. [4] The assembling here of the Harrisburg Convention in 1827 led to the passage of the high protective-tariff bill of 1828. In 1839, Harrison and Tyler were nominated for President of the United States at Harrisburg. By the 1830s Harrisburg was part of the Pennsylvania canal system and an important railroad center as well. Steel and iron became dominant industries. People from the rest of the nation were added to the original German settlers, along with. immigrants from throughout the Old World, especially Scots-Irish, Welsh, French, and Huguenots. Because farming was still the predominant industry, Harrisburg did not develop in the arts, music, and science as did Philadelphia. In 1860, Harrisburg was chartered as a city.

Steel and other industries continued to play a major role in the local economy throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century. The city was the center of a large amount of railroad traffic and supported large furnaces, rolling mills, and machine shops. The Pennsylvania Steel Company plant, which opened in nearby Steelton in 1866, was the first in the country later operated by Bethlehem Steel. [5] Harrisburg Car Manufacturing Company began as a railroad car manufacturer in 1853 in 1935 the firm changed its name to Harrisburg Steel Company.

History of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania - History

Starting with call letters WKBO and tracing backwards in time, all records of ownership and call letters for WKBO stop (begin?) with WPRC. WPRC started in October 1925. (It was WCOD for several years in the late 1920s and early 1930s before it became WKBO.) There is no indication in FRC records that WKBO was connected with any stations prior to WPRC in 1925.

FRC records also show that WABB was on the air from 1924 to 1927, meaning that WPRC and WABB overlapped for two years (1925 to 1927). Obviously WPRC and WABB could not be the same station if they overlapped!

In 1927, WABB completely disappeared from FRC records with no indication of a sale to a new owner or a change of call letters. The station folded, as did WBAK in the mid 1930s.

In 1971, WKBO was in a bad way. It was generally 4th in a then 4-station market (FM hadn't really begun to develop yet). It's 1930s era equipment, including the 1938 Western Electric Board, was showing its age. The transmitter and tower were located on top of the Old Penn Harris Hotel (now where Strawberry Square is located). The ground system wasn't maintained and hence, WKBO's class IV 1,000 watt day/250 watt night signal was the worst in Harrisburg.

Camp Curtin

In April 1861, shortly after Abraham Lincoln asked for troops to gather to defend America, thousands converged on Harrisburg. With nowhere to train, the Dauphin County Agricultural Society offered the use of their land on the outskirts of Harrisburg. All told, approximately 300,000 troops from Pennsylvania and seven other states passed through Camp Curtin on their way to the front lines.

It was likely that Harrisburg’s importance on the Union’s rail lines and Camp Curtin were the reason Robert E. Lee was headed towards the Pennsylvania capital when he was stopped in Gettysburg.

Today, little evidence of Camp Curtin remains. Sitting in a high crime area of the city, it’s not highly visited. Only the historical marker and a statue of Governor Curtin mark the spot. Nevertheless, a nearby church and school have both taken up the moniker “Camp Curtin”.

If you are interested in seeing the site, the Camp Curtin Memorial-Mitchell United Methodist Church next door is quite beautiful and worth seeing. There is also a bit of information about Camp Curtin at the nearby National Civil War Museum.

History of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania - History

They called it "a farmer's heaven," "the best poor man's country," "the breadbasket of America," and a place where servants could become rich men. Blessed with a mild climate, plentiful rainfall, and rich soils, southeastern Pennsylvania was ideal for farming.

For centuries Native Americans had grown nutritious gardens of corn, squash, beans, and other vegetables. Although the temperatures and weather were more varied than those in Europe, the conditions were similar enough to be very hospitable for most Old World grains, fruits, and livestock.

Drawn by the promise of religious freedom and economic opportunity, Quakers from the British Isles, German Lutherans, pietists, Scots-Irish Presbyterians, and others poured into the colony and pushed deeper and deeper into Indian lands.

From the 1720s until the 1840s, Pennsylvania led the colonies and then the states in the production of food. Sown in immense quantities, wheat quickly became "the grand article of the province." The great wheat fields supported a flourishing flour milling industry along streams that provided the waterpower for gristmills. Pennsylvania farmers grew a huge variety of crops, and created many processed products as well everything from flax seed to cowhides left Pennsylvania farm gates, much of it for use nearby. Its ties to commercial networks in Philadelphia and Baltimore that linked to markets in Europe and the West Indies made colonial Pennsylvania major exporter of agricultural and forest products to the West Indies, Europe, and markets across the globe.

Land was abundant in Pennsylvania. For more than a century many of its farmers mined the soil, drawing out its nutrients to grow their crops, then cleared more acres to keep up overall production, or moved on to new ground as the yields decreased. Driven onwards by the desire for untilled land, generation after generation of tough, hardscrabble farmers moved the Pennsylvania frontier westward, cutting down millions of acres of primeval forest they replaced with family farms.

The period between 1790 and the 1840 was the golden age of farming in Pennsylvania. The ideal Pennsylvania farm, with its large barns, well-tended fields, and fat livestock, became a symbol of America as a land of independent and prosperous family farmers. In 1820 more than 90 percent of the working population was involved in agriculture. Twenty years later more than 77 percent of the 4.8 million employed persons in Pennsylvania were in agriculture. Agriculture was still the dominant industry in Pennsylvania in the 1860s, but by then a great agricultural revolution was making it harder for Pennsylvania's farms to compete with those in other states.

The average Pennsylvania farm family possessed a range of skills that today's specialists would find astonishing.

Farm work demanded enormous physical stamina. Prior to 1840, farmers' simple hand tools had changed little since the times of the ancient Romans. But the industrial revolutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries transformed farming from a small family enterprise based on manual labor and folk wisdom into a highly specialized, capital intensive, mechanized, and scientific industry.

Beginning in the 1840s, the nation witnessed the invention and manufacture of a broad range of threshers, harvesters, binders, and other farm machinery that reduced work, increased labor productivity, and, in some cases, increased yields. Small farm equipment manufacturers sprang up across the state to produce the machines used by Pennsylvania farmers.

Using gadgets ranging from hand-cranked apple peelers to dog-powered churns to sharp-pointed grubbing hoes, Pennsylvanians sought to reduce the extreme drudgery of farm work and increase their productivity.

The intricate processes of farm labor were undertaken by the family and others in a carefully choreographed ritual. Men and women cooperated closely and often worked together in butchering, haying, making apple butter, and other tasks. Women were generally responsible for buttermaking, poultry management, and raising swine. Their market production was as important as men's, especially in areas that produced butter.

Farm families and neighbors depended on one another to get things done. They "changed works," routinely exchanged services, labor, and goods, employed hired hands who lived with the family, and sometimes loaned a child to work for a neighbor or relative.

Farm men and women kept scrupulous records of what they owed each other and every so often they would "settle up" and begin again. But as a rule little cash changed hands, even though work and goods were reckoned in cash value equivalents.

The 1800s also witnessed the shaky beginnings of scientific agriculture. Concerned about soil depletion and the general backwardness of farming in America, gentlemen farmers like John Beale Bordley and Frederick Watts formed organizations for the scientific study of agriculture, built experimental farms upon which they tested the latest theories, and lobbied for state-funded agricultural schools and agencies. "Scientific" agriculture, however, struggled in its infant years. Even the greatest European researchers could not figure out the complex processes of plant physiology, nutrition, soils, and genetics. Gentleman farmers sometimes made valuable contributions, but their expensive experiments were far beyond the reach of ordinary farmers. For quite a long time, most farmers regarded "book farming" with suspicion, if not contempt.

To bring the agricultural products and raw materials of the state's interior to market, the Pennsylvania legislature in the early 1800s helped fund the construction of an ambitious network of roads and canals. In the mid-1800s, railroads revolutionized land transportation and, in the process, transformed American agriculture. Linking previously distant and isolated regions into a national economic system, the railroads enabled regional specialization of agricultural production, the growth of the corn and wheat belts that extended from the Midwest to the Great Plains, the booming fruit and produce industries of California and Florida, and the beef industry of the Great Plains.

Home markets continued to account for most of Pennsylvania farm sales. Unable to compete with the huge volume of crops and meat that flooded eastern markets, Commonwealth farmers adjusted their farming patterns to focus on supplying city dwellers, mining and lumbering communities, and villages with milk, butter, maple sugar, hay, potatoes, truck crops, poultry, eggs, fresh meat, and other products.

The late nineteenth century was an era of agricultural surpluses, wild cycles of economic boom and bust, and hard times for American farmers. Represented by a majority in the state legislature until the 1840s, Pennsylvania farmers lost their political power as the state's booming oil, steel, coal, railroad, and manufacturing industries took control of state government. To protect their interests in Harrisburg, Commonwealth farmers organized Granges and other farm associations that lobbied for better schooling, consumer and farm protection legislation, and a State Department of Agriculture.

In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, regionally specialized agricultural industries emerged. Fruit specialists, for example, replaced old farm orchards, while tobacco became an important market crop grown only in a few areas. Raised initially to feed livestock the potato was one of the state's major crops by 1940.

Urban residents' demand for tomatoes, leaf vegetables, onions, and other fresh produce gave birth to a flourishing market garden industry as "truck farms" sprang up on farmlands near cities.

The rise of canned food and the frozen food industries after 1920 provided state farmers with other new markets. Based in the Pittsburgh, the H. J. Heinz Company became a huge buyer of tomatoes, sweet corn, green peas, and other "canning crops." While regional specialization had occurred, individual farms were still highly diversified. As late as 1930, most farms in the state were not considered "specialized" in the sense that they received more than 40 percent of their income from a single source. General farming, part-time farming, and even "self sufficing" farming were still the norm.

Dairying and livestock had always been important in Pennsylvania, but by the twentieth century they became more prominent than ever before. Up until the late nineteenth century, women made milk into butter and cheese on the farm. Refrigeration, rail transportation, and the rise of huge urban markets hastened the advent of fluid milk dairying and the shift of butter and cheese production to industrial "creameries" or "cheese factories." As quantity of production became the main concern (butter and cheesemakers didn't have to worry so much about this), more homogeneous populations of well-known European breeds of dairy cows (Holstein, Guernsey, Jersey, and others) replaced the motley herds of past years.

Machine milking, refrigeration, sanitary milk separators, disease control, pasteurization, dairy inspection, and other innovations gave rise to market milk industry that by 1940 generated 40 percent of the state's farm income. By 1940, the Pennsylvania poultry industry was a highly specialized form of farming, dependent upon commercial hatcheries, pure-bred birds, scientifically developed feed, and modern disease control.

By 1930, Pennsylvania farmers were within trucking distance of thirty million consumers - if only they had the paved roads necessary to reach them. During the Great Depression, the Commonwealth built and paved close to 20,000 miles of "Pinchot roads" to connect farmers to the outside world. At the dawn of the 21st century, rural electrification cooperatives provided service to more than 200,000 rural households, businesses, and industries through electric distribution lines that covered nearly one-third the Commonwealth. The arrival of good roads and electricity drew more farmers into the modern world. These changes also contributed to a plunge in the number of family farms.

After peaking in number in the early twentieth century, farms in Pennsylvania plunged from 225,000 to 59,000. More than 170,000 Pennsylvanians left rural regions in the 1920s and more than 300,000 in the 1960s. Berks County, for example, lost 63 percent of its farms between 1945 and 1987. As agricultural companies and suburban housing developers swept in to buy up properties in the county, more than 100,000 acres were bulldozed into roads, shopping centers, industrial parks, and housing developments. The state's most productive agricultural region, southeastern Pennsylvania was losing farmland at a historically unprecedented rate. Indeed, the losses in the late twentieth century became so alarming that in 1989, the Commonwealth created a State Agricultural Land Preservation Board that by 2003 had preserved more than 250,000 acres of prime farmland.

In response to a growing shortage of agricultural workers, Commonwealth farmers employed growing numbers of migrant laborers from other states and nations. Despite these changes, in 2000 Pennsylvania still had one of the largest rural populations in the nation and more than two million residents employed in agriculture and agribusiness. Generating about $45 billion in revenue each year, state agribusiness - which includes food processing, forestry, and the sale of feed, fertilizers, and farm equipment - was the Commonwealth's largest industry. The state's 2,300 food-processing companies led the nation in the value of chocolate, canned fruit, vegetable specialty products, potato chips, and pretzels, and won Pennsylvania the slogan "Snack Food Capital of the World."

Agriculture, by comparison, generated about $4.5 billion a year, but still represented one of the state's major industries. The nation's leading producer of mushrooms, Pennsylvania was a major producer of greenhouse nursery and floricultural products, grains, soybeans, and several varieties of fruits and vegetables. Dairying, the state's leading agricultural industry, was fourth in the nation in the production of milk and ice cream, and accounted for about 40 percent of the state's agricultural economy.

The History of Pennsylvania's Early Capitols

From 1681 until 1729, Pennsylvania's colonial legislature would meet wherever it could find the space, ranging from local taverns, private residences, and town halls to other meeting places. However, by the close of the third decade of the 18th century, population growth made this option unrealistic.

In 1729, the Pennsylvania Assembly voted to appropriate money to build a state house. The house was finished and occupied in 1735 and became famous as the colonies moved toward revolution. It was the place where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the new nation were debated and signed. From 1790 to 1800, when Philadelphia was the nation's Capital, the state and national legislatures both met in the building. By 1799, the State Assembly, citing reasons ranging from disease to population growth, moved westward to Lancaster, and a year later Congress convened in Washington, D.C.

The Capitol's existence in Lancaster was short lived. In 1785, John Harris, Jr. donated four acres of land along the Susquehanna and recommended this as the site for a new state capitol. In 1812, the Assembly used Harris' donated land, combined with more than ten acres purchased from William Maclay, to build two state office buildings. Local architect Stephen Hills was chosen to construct the buildings, and in 1812, the Legislature moved to Harrisburg. Until 1822, they met in the old Dauphin County Courthouse, which was modified for the state to use.

Stephen Hills began assembling materials to build the Capitol in 1816, although he was not officially chosen as architect until 1819. Actual construction began on April 19, 1819, with the cornerstone for the new building put in place in May. Construction progressed rapidly, and by December 1821, the new building was ready for occupancy. The total cost for the building, including furnishings, was $158,000. On January 2, 1822, Hills and 80 workmen formed a procession leading the legislature and dignitaries to the new building and into the House Chamber for the dedication ceremony.

During the course of its seventy-five-year existence, the Hills Capitol saw several additions and alterations. But on February 2, 1897, in the middle of a snowstorm, hundreds of Harrisburg residents stood helpless as the Capitol burned out of control. The Legislature, which was in session at the time, was forced to evacuate and reconvene in the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church. It was uncertain whether Harrisburg would remain the capital because measures were taken to try to move the seat of government back to Philadelphia. These were later postponed when the Legislature voted to tear down the remaining brick structure of the burned-out Hills Capitol and replace it with a larger and more modern structure, appropriate for a state that was then an industrial giant. To do so, they appropriated $500,000, held a design competition, and afterwards chose Henry Ives Cobb to create their new building.

Cobb's well-intended ideas and design for the new, grand building looked good on paper. However, part way through the project, the Legislature realized there were not enough funds to complete the building according to the plans they had approved. They instructed Cobb to provide only the shell of the building and make it functional. Although never completed to the full scale that the architect intended, the Cobb Capitol served an important purpose in Pennsylvania history by allowing the seat of government to remain in Harrisburg.

Dissatisfied with the end result, in 1901, the Legislature again issued a design competition to complete the existing Cobb Capitol with funds that were now accruing through recovered debts owed to the State. A young aspiring Philadelphia architect named Joseph M. Huston won the competition. From the beginning, Huston was determined to make his building one of the most brilliant architectural and artistic public governmental seats in America. He modeled the building in the Renaissance Revival style, studying and imitating many of the great buildings in Europe such as the Paris Opera House and St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Construction began in 1902 and lasted until October of 1906. A crowd of more than 50,000 people came on special Pennsylvania Railroad excursion trains to Harrisburg to hear President Theodore Roosevelt dedicate the building with the words, "It is the handsomest State Capitol I have ever seen."

Watch the video: Harrisburg Pennsylvanias Capital Historical Tour (May 2022).