The History of Harrisburg

Harrisburg was inhabited by Native Americans for around eight thousand years. Then, the European colonists landed here and history shifted its course. Harrisburg is considered to be one of the oldest human settlements. The French and Swedish came over in the 1600s, but they stopped short of settling a colony there. In 1710, an Englishman named John Harris established the first trading post and later on, a ferry service.

The Founder of Harrisburg

John Harris immigrated from England to Philadelphia and then further west to Lancaster County. He was searching for a new piece of land to do something productive. Harris managed to secure eight hundred acres of land through different contracts in Philadelphia. After half a century had passed, the son of John Harris teamed up with William Maclay, the first senator of Pennsylvania, to plan a new village north of the ferry crossing.

1791: The Year of Incorporation

Harrisburg developed soon after it was incorporated by an Act of State legislature in the year 1791. The city exhibits a powerful image of itself as a market for the suburbs, and a stop-over spot for travelers who came to buy different goods.

1812: Harrisburg Becomes the State Capital 

By 1812, Harrisburg had already shown its potential for being a hot spot for business. The state legislature recognized it as a strategic location and likewise decided to shift the capital of the state from Philadelphia to Harrisburg. The capitol building was completed in 1820 and now sits on top of a hill north of a four-acre reservation. Harrisburg became the administrative brain of the state.

Industrial Revolution

Gristmills and sawmills were established in Harrisburg, and along the Paxton Creek, brickyards were installed. Paxton Creek became more industrialized after the state allowed the establishment of the Pennsylvania Canal and a railroad line in 1826 and 1837 respectively. The railroad line, later on, turned into the famous Pennsylvania Railroad.

Civil War

Harrisburg grew into the spotlight during the American Civil War. Since it was the capital of the state and was also located just forty miles away from the Mason-Dixon Line, it served as a central point where Union troops were assembled and dispatched. Camp Curtin was named after Pennsylvania’s wartime governor, where a huge number of Union troops were recruited into service.

Harrisburg in the 19th Century

A fire broke out in the Capitol and government officials started meeting in a church. This muted the possibility of a relocation of the capitol to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. The meetings in the church continued for a while, but it was suggested that a new building should be constructed. 

Therefore, Cobb Capitol surfaced in 1902. In that same year, automobiles starting running on the city roads. Over a hundred passenger trains moved across Harrisburg daily, which unleashed the market potential of Harrisburg. The latest development in Harrisburg is the construction of museums such as the Whitaker Center to promote arts and science.