The City Beautiful Movement officially began in 1900 with Mira Lloyd Dock’s “City Beautiful” speech about Harrisburg's problems and potential.
Those problems reflected the typical conditions of a dirty industrial city. In the late 19th century, they included poor water filtration and sanitation, unpaved streets, animal waste and garbage, improper and sometimes crowded housing, and constant flooding. But the city's problems also centered on the palpable absence of a monumental state capitol building. After the old capitol building burned down in 1897, the state legislature was actively considering recommendations to move the capital to Philadelphia, which left Harrisburg in precarious position. What would this dirty city be without capital status?
Mira Lloyd Dock partnered with notable business man J. Horace McFarland to make a difference. Dock's speech to the Board of Trade in 1900 rallied the business elite, as well as a broader citizen base, to make changes to urban infrastructure, water and health systems, and pavements. City leaders banned together to address these issues and campaign for change through a variety of civic organizations, religious bodies, and the press. Newspapers, correspondence and letters, speeches and homilies, and a campaign in the schools convinced most of the rest of Harrisburg citizens to follow suite and support a bond issue vote in 1902 to take loans and make changes.
As a result of this cooperation, between 1902 and 1915, the city built an expansive park system, paved numerous city roads, improved sanitation, and encouraged its citizens to become more actively involved in their city. These changes also ushered in a period lasting until 1930 in which the progressive mood make "improvements" to the broader facets of life: homes and gardening, churches and synagogues, the clothing industry, new suburban neighborhoods (Bellevue Park), health and prevention of disease.
Not all changes were equally positive for everyone: the demolition of the Old Eighth Ward, the neighborhood near the new Capitol, sought to serve the broad public and government agents with a new park, but at the expense of the city's most vulnerable population.
To learn more about our broader efforts to document Harrisburg's City Beautiful Movement, visit our About page.