Browse Exhibits (14 total)

Background to City Beautiful

In the late 1800s, Harrisburg was a rapidly growing city, and it faced some extreme challenges in the last decade of the century. The previous two decades, the 1870s and 1880s, had seen the thriving, health, and growth of the city, but in the 1890s, the city’s situation began to speedily go downhill. There were floods and leaky water pipes, and raw sewage seemed to be omnipresent.  Roads needed to be paved, and the threat of disease was constantly lurking in the background. The capitol building burned, and Harrisburgers had to fight to keep Pennsylvania’s capital from moving to Philadelphia. However, though luck did not seem to be with Harrisburg at the close of the nineteenth century, its citizens were aware of their city’s municipal and political challenges, and they had a desire to see their city thrive again. The 1890s were the prelude to the City Beautiful Movement, and at the dawn of the twentieth century, the citizens of Harrisburg, following the lead of other cities across the country, decided it was their turn to beautify their town.

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City Beautiful Network of Reformers


City Beautiful was a strategic effort to improve Harrisburg. With every effective project there are strong leaders. In the City Beautiful movement, these leaders each played significant and distinct roles.

J. Horace McFarland played a key role in influencing popular opinion, helping lead the Municipal League, and campaigning for improvements. Mira Lloyd Dock sparked the public’s approval for the whole idea of City Beautiful. Warren H. Manning was influential in developing the parks and green spaces. These are just a few of the main influencers in the movement. Others include James Fuertes and Vance McCormick— the future mayor.

In this exhibit, we focus on McFarland, Dock, and Manning. This exhibit explores their separate lives and their connections through their correspondence and other various items. The purpose of exploring these connections between the reformers is to discover their network and gain insight into how they influenced each other, and in turn how they influenced Harrisburg. This exhibit also explores the ways in which they diverged in opinions or connections. This exhibit starts with McFarland by searching through his correspondence and involvement in the Municipal League. Then it looks at Mira Dock’s letters and articles. Finally, it looks at Manning and various other reformers. 

City Green Spaces and Conservation


During the City Beautiful movement, the residents of Harrisburg, PA spent time and effort to bring their city out of industrial decay into the form of a pristine state capitol. In the course of the city's rebirth, a huge emphasis was placed on the physical beautification of the city through the creation and preservation of public spaces such as parks, play-grounds, and open land.  

Mira Lloyd Dock and J. Horace McFarland were the most prominent supporters of improved horticulture, actively promoting it in government associations like the Executive Committee of Harrisburg and teaching it abroad through the Pennsylvania Forestry Association. They wanted to ensure that cities all over hte state understood the importance of clean public space for the health and well-being of the population. Through government purchased land and many individual donations, the industrial landscape fo Harrisburg was transformed into one that pleased locals and welcomed visitors while expanding the city territory.

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Harrisburg floods

This exhibit examines images of flooding in the late 19th century in the city of harrisburg. Being along the banks of the Susquehanna river the city of Harrisburg has always been plagued by flooding. At anytime the river could rise and water could inundate much of the city. This collection of images gives a greater sence of the extent of these floods. Particularly the flood of 1889 which was one of the worst in the history of the city. Great floods can be found scattered throughout the city records but floods in 1889 and 1894 rank third and fourth in highest recorded water level. These images capture the devestation of the 1889 flood and give a sence to the 1894 flood. 

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Harrisburg's City Beautiful Movement and Mary Sachs

Paul Beers claims, "Mary Sachs was the city's savviest and most civilized entrepreneur," (2012). Sachs was a Jewish woman who never married. Instead, she developed a life of humble service. First and foremost, she was a business woman. Mary Sachs created a beautiful and fashionable shop across from Capitol Park on Third Street. Mary Sachs put a lot of work into her store. Unfortunately, it burned down. However, she was able to get back up and build a stunning new building. Plus, the architecture of the shop was clean and pleasing to look at.  Sachs’ work brought beautiful clothing and design to the city of Harrisburg. This ultimately helped to make the city more beautiful as whole.

Sachs' business life was much like her civil life.  She made advancements such as building a boy scouts camp for all races to come together. She also also helped Harrisburg hospitals and the Harrisburg academy. She brought beauty and life into Harrisburg through her store and kind charity. She is a true reflection of the City Beautiful movement because she helped lift Harrisburg in status and beauty to rank of Paris or London. 

While Mary Sachs might not be considered a “reformer” to the City Beautiful Movement, she was a woman who loved her home in Harrisburg and contributed a lot to making it a nice and beautiful place to live and that is all the City Beautiful movement was about anyway.

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Mira Dock's Correpsondance


One of the most important figures of the City Beautiful Movement was Mira Lloyd Dock, a botanist, conservationist, and political activist, who went to great lengths to beautify the city through conservation of parks and forests, the establishment of gardens throughout the city, and constantly writing state and government officials to have legislation passed or repealed on behalf of the city’s improvement. 

Mira Dock, the oldest of 6 children born to prominent Harrisburg businessman Gilliard Dock. She attended the University of Michigan in 1895 at the age of 42, earning a degree in Botany. She would return to co-found the Civic Club of Harrisburg, which would become instrumental in the beautification of Harrisburg during the City Beautiful Movement. She would also begin to “cast a net” of connections during this time to learn how people in her field of interest did their job. Her net did not return empty, as she would end up corresponding with some of the most prominent architects of that time, and received a lot of information of how they did their job. This would undoubtedly inform how she would go about beautifying Harrisburg once the City Beautiful Movement was in full swing.

This exhibit takes a look at the correspondence Mira Dock had before, during, and after the City Beautiful Movement. From the way she corresponded, she was eager to learn from others so she could expand her own knowledge. She was soon put into a position of authority, and everyone saw she was a smart lady, one they could take advice from.

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The Campaigns for Improvement

City Beautiful would not have begun, nor would it have had its initial success had it not been for the campaigns for improvement. The first campaign that will be discussed in this section is the Mayoral Race of 1902 Harrisburg. In this, Democrat Vance McCormick was elected and eventually became the most influential mayor of Harrisburg. The second campaign discussed is the campaign for improvements throughout Harrisburg. Starting with the Municipal League of Harrisburg, this section will discuss the proposed improvements for the city made by the Municipal League, including a filtration system for the water supply to eliminate the threat of typhoid, and cleaning up the streets of Harrisburg. Finally, Harmony and Opposition will explore the newspaper battle within Harrisburg at this time. Newspapers, the Municipal League of Harrisburg, and Mayor Vance McCormick all fought for the future of Harrisburg, and the belief that the city could be made beautiful.

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The City Votes

Viewed in retrospect, the campaign for beauty and improvement appeared to be a result of the city’s social harmony, as though the entire people united in their support for the bond issue that funded the city’s improvements. As Wilson argued in his chapter on Harrisburg’s successful city beautiful movement (1989: 134-139), two-thirds of the population of the city voted in favor of the bonds. Yet, certain wards were more in favor of the improvements than others, which raises the question why some parts of Harrisburg’s population voted against improvements while others voted in favor. In this exhibit, we highlight the social diversity and homogenity of the population in 1900 by tabulating the data of the United States census, which we digitized from the original records presented in Ancestry. We show that support and opposition for the bonds varied considerably at the level of ward and precinct. We use two case studies—two wards strongly in favor of the bond issue, and two wards strongly against it—to explore how the population voted the way it did. The demographic data shows complex patterns of social and ethnic diversity underlying the apparent homogeneity of Harrisburg’s population in 1900.

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The Controversy Surrounding the State Capitol Fire

 It is very unlikely that the people of Harrisburg thought the burning of the old capitol building would stimulate the begin of Harrisburg’s City Beautiful Movement. From our perspective, nearly 100 years later, the need to rebuild the capitol building seemed like the perfect catalyst.  At the time, however, the chaos of dealing with burned down capitol put the state government in a place of confusion with no location to meet. While the state government figured out how to find the funds to rebuild a capitol building and find funds for an architect, a certain question radiated throughout the state as to whether the capital itself should move. A movement such as this would most certainly impact the future of the city of Harrisburg, and Philadelphia was passionate about claiming the new title. Despite these conflicts, there was a strong movement from certain people in Harrisburg excited about the new opportunity for a new state house. Much of the popular pressure both positive and negative would fall on Governor Hasting who headed the organization the reconstruction of the building. The new capitol building was completed and officially inaugurated in 1906 leaving behind a controversial previous century. It is unfair to leave the less triumphant historical narrative after that began after the fire and lasted until the turn of the century, as it reveals the perspectives of Pennsylvanians from all over the state for their capital city. 

The Impact of Industry on Harrisburg


Though the Industrial Revolution began in late 18th century England, by the beginning of the 20th century, the United States became a leading industrial nation. This was especially true for the American Northeast, which was more industry-focused since the country's inception. The city of Harrisburg was no stranger to this process, for by the turn of the 20th century it was a booming industrial center (Barton 1998). While the population of the city grew and prospered, this economic progress had consequences. There was trash in the streets and waterways, bothersome posters plastered on brick walls, poles and wires strung along in jumbles across the city, and inadequate greenery for leisure. As a result, a group of Harrisburg elites united to found and support the City Beautiful movement, which William Wilson calls a comprehesive, patient, and careful popularly-approved study (1980). This campaign lasted from about 1900 to 1930, but the first half of this period was more vigorous due to the onset of World War I in 1914. Paul Beers states that this movement was like "a sudden awakening to how things should be" (2011). Of course, no single operation can result in an urban utopia, and even with the best intentions, the reforms could not benefit everyone.