Monday, December 14, 2009

From Peshtank Through Frogtown to Harrisburg

Ken Frew. Building Harrisburg: The Architects & Builders, 1719-1941. Harrisburg, Pa.: Historical Society of Dauphin County and Historic Harrisburg Association, 2009.
Harrisburg architecture failed to develop a consistent image. Frequent demolishing kept changing the city image. Harrisburg, related to other cities, is and has been a smaller building market and has not attracted many big name architects to spend much time in Harrisburg. Harrisburg initially was European-settled by people of German descent, who traditionally spent little attention on architectural styles.
John Harris, given a traders license in 1705, settled Conoy (now Bainbridge, Pa.) and Harrisburg. Chester County then included Harrisburg. Dauphin County was later carved out of Chester County. It is not known for certainty when he settled Harrisburg.. He was assessed taxes for property in 1718, which could have been for Harrisburg but the details are lost. The first recorded document remaining of Harrisburg existing was written in 1719. Harrisburg exists in a town in a town Native Americans called Peshtank or “where the water stands.” The early records of John Harris living in Harrisburg are that he lived in Harrisburg as of 1722. A Presbyterian church was built in Harrisburg in 1719.
John Harris, Jr.’s house finished construction in 1766. A town plan was begun in 1785. Harris’s son in law, William Maclay, a civil engineer, established 207 lots where homes could be built which observed flood levels. A courthouse, jail, cemetery, and public square were placed.
George Washington stopped at Crabby’s Inn on Second and Market. He was headed to suppress the Whisky Rebellion,
William Maclay was one of Pennsylvania’s first U.S. Senators. He then served in the Pennsylvania state legislature. Most of the 244 buildings built in Harrisburg between 1719 and 1813 were stables, causing Harrisburg to be labeled a “one horse town”. Homes built in the 1820s mostly had second stories.
Frogs were prevalent in Harrisburg in the early 19th century, leading it to be called “Frogtown”.
In 1810, the legislature decided Harrisburg would be the State Capitol. Technically, the capital was built in the town of Maclaysburg, which was annexed into Harrisburg in 1838.
Several Harrisburg homes were bilt in the Federal/ Early Republican/ Adams Study architecture of Robert Adam, as well as Colonial / Post-Colonial, and some German architectural influence.
The Capitol was dedicated in 1822. It was destroyed by fire and the remains town down in 1874. A cast iron fence survived and is now at the Arsenal at 18th and Herr.
The Panic of 1837 created a building slowdown. Construction rebounded in the 1850s. Harrisburg became an incorporated city in 1855. Previously it had been a burgess government form. The Friends of the City Movement led a campaign for incorporation in hopes a stronger city government would drive out the prostitutes and vagrants roaming its streets. William Kepner, a Democrat, was the first city Mayor elected in 1860.
During the Civil War. Harrisburg was a rail hub where north-south and east-west destination trains met. It was an important location for the production of supplies and clothes for Union troops. Harrisburg was also the site of the Union’s largest traning camp and military hospital at Camp Curtin. Harrisburg was also a site to where many refugees fleeing Confederate troops fled.
The 8th ward had 20 to 30 homes where African Americans lived on land owned by William Verbeke. Verbeke had then moved to property he owned in the West District, where he charged below market rate prices.
Greek Revival, Gothic Italianate, French Second Empire, and Queen Anne architectural styles emerged in Harrisburg in the 19th century
The first sewers, made of wood, were constructed in 1841. They were made of manufactured brick in 1870 and terra cotta and concrete in 1900.
Joseph Huston, mostly known for giving the speech nominating John Wanamaker for the Republican nomination for Governor, was chosen as the architect for the new Capitol. A new Capitol was dedicated in 1906. A reporter George Wambaugh reported overpayments in the $13 million building. Huston was charged for being a part of the overcharging conspiracy. Huston claimed he signed documents unaware of the overcharging and all he had done was the building design. Huston was convicted.
Architects were required to be registered and pass examination beginning in 1919. Pennsylvania was the fourth state to pass an architect registration law behind California in 1901, New Jersey in 1902, and Colorado in 1909.


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