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Harrisburg: The City Beautiful

The Municipal Improvement Plan

Before any work could actually be done in the city, the government had to be won over. For the improvement of public green spaces specifically there were no city committees or organizations in existance before the City Beautiful movement. (Dock 1) J. Horace McFarland, with parks as his number one priority, worked with the Harrisburg Executive Committee to create the Municipal Improvent Plan. Outlined in the minutes from October 1901, his plans showed studies conducted by Warren H. Manning that showed a major population growth within cities, but no such increase in public space for them to use. (Harrisburg Executive Committee 25) McFarland argued that it is a person's right to have these healthy, clean spaces for recreation and that the city should adjust according to its expanding population. (Harrisburg Executive Committee 25) This plan proposed the acquisition of several pieces of land near the Susquehanna river, extending Resevoir Park, and the conversion of Wetzel's Swamp in the north of town into a large natural protected area, or Wildwood Park. (Harrisburg Executive Committee 26). The addition of places like Wildwood Park and Island Park or City Island today expanded the borders of the town's reach and created new attractions for locals and vistors alike. McFarland's work with the city government spearheaded the beautification movement and sparked a nation wide interest in park preservation. As the movement progressed, he was able to spark national interest and became president of the American Civic Association, fought for the national parks and Niagra Falls, and wrote several books. (Beers 90) His efforts in fighting for public space, though, were not always appreciated by those he kept from building. When creating Bellevue Park, he mapped out irregular shaped lots and even tried to block $948,000 apartment bid near the park territory in the 1940s. (Beers 89) However, without McFarland many of the City Beautiful improvements would not have been made or endured as long as they have. 

Beers, Paul B., Michael Barton, Eric Robert Papenfuse, and Catherine Lawrence. 2011. City Contented, City Discontented: a History of Modern Harrisburg.

Dock, Mira Lloyd. Mira Lloyd Dock to president of Pennsylvania Forestry Association. November 10, 1906. Pennsylvania State Archive.

Harrisburg Executive Committee Minutes. Historical Society of Dauphin County. Pennsylvania