Browse Exhibits (7 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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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 Improvements

During the early twentieth century, the city of Harrisburg had poorly paved streets, buildings that lacked proper foundation, and a lack of parks. Additionally, the Susquehanna River had faulty sanitation supplies, and the river steps leading to the entrance of Harrisburg was demolished. As a result of these deficiencies, the city Beautiful Movement promoted the improvement and beautification of these areas. During the implantation of these improvements, Harrisburg's new landscape emerged with the help of J Horace McFarland, Mira Lloyd Dock, and Warren Manning. Capitol Park was expanded, concrete steps by a walkway defined the riverfront park, and sanitation levels improved. Additionally, streets were paved and installed with sidewalks, playgrounds were implemented, forests were grown, and historical buildings and landmarks were preserved.

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The Visionaries

The City Beautiful Movement needed help from people with a vision to pioneer the project. City elites such as Mira Lloyd Dock, J. Horace McFarland, and members of the city’s Civic Club were key players in the initiation and implementation of city reforms. Mira Lloyd Dock, a prominient city member, travelled to Europe in 1899. There, she was inspired to make improvements to her own city. In December of 1900, Dock gave a speech that would help bring City Beautiful into existence. Dock then founded the Civic Club, an organization dedicated to improving and beautifying Harrisburg. Dock’s friend and colleague, J. Horace McFarland, was secretary of the Municipal League and resided as President over the American Civic Association. His interest in plants and nature helped lead him to urban reform. The contributions of Mira Lloyd Dock, the Civic Club, and J. Horace McFarland were vital to the City Beautiful Movement. 

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