The City Beautiful Movement Mobile Workshop: The Natural Features, Historic Factors, and How the City is Evolving

This tour will be hosted on Monday, June 27. Be sure to register for the conference in time to receive the Early Bird Rate by May 27! See the full schedule to learn more.

The city of Harrisburg with its neighborhoods, natural features and historic assets presents a unique backdrop for discussion on revitalization efforts, urban design, and initiatives that have shaped the city and create a livable community.       

In the early 20th century, the City Beautiful Movement through its leadership began to address water pollution and urban blight issues that had plagued the city. These actions transformed the physical structure of the Susquehanna Riverfront. They remedied the water pollution problem and created a more beautiful livable environment.

The “City Beautiful” Movement in the early 20th Century was a nationwide response to the urbanization and industrialization of America that accelerated after the Civil War, intensifying problems of urban blight, water pollution, and growing health and sanitation concerns. Gilded Age community leaders, returning from touring the capitals of Europe, could see how poorly their own cities compared.  They set about to resolve these problems through investment in modern infrastructure and urban beautification.

Harrisburg’s City Beautiful Initiatives were so prominent and so successful that they came to be seen as a national model.  Modern water and sewer systems, paving and lighting of streets, expansion of the municipal park system, and, uniquely, a master plan for the beautification of the Pennsylvania Capitol Complex all combined to transform Harrisburg into what some called “Athens on the Susquehanna.”

Although cities such as Dallas and Denver were especially prominent in carrying out City Beautiful initiatives, Harrisburg is deemed by academic experts as the frontrunner.  Indeed, a photograph of State Street in Harrisburg graces the cover of Professor William H. Wilson’s 1992 book, “The City Beautiful Movement.”

Today, the work continues by Capital Region Water, a water utility company and municipal authority, in their continuous stewardship from rain drop to river. Among other infrastructural systems, their efforts are evidenced in the construction of street bump-outs to capture stormwater runoff throughout the city.

During the tour you will learn about how Capital Region Water is employing decentralized green/grey stormwater control infrastructure to manage stormwater runoff and prevent flows from entering the combined sewer system, thereby reducing combined sewer overflow (CSO) activity.

The current Capital Region Water City Beautiful program represents their 20-year commitment to improving Harrisburg’s water and sewer infrastructure and health of city’s waterways.  Over the next 20 years, Capital Region Water will be implementing many projects, both big and small. Some will be clearly visible in neighborhoods, while others will be hidden beneath city streets. Along the way, they will be working with local community members to help shape the City Beautiful H2O program.

The City Beautiful Movement of the 1900’s was led by a number of prominent Harrisburg citizens including Mira Lloyd Dock and J. Horace McFarland in their efforts to eliminate the pollution problems and create a beautiful environment. A more recent initiative following the Agnes Flood of 1972, is a grass roots organization known as the Historic Harrisburg Association, which was created to address the effects of devastation upon the community and its historic fabric.

Mira Lloyd Dock, a Progressive Era activist, and early environmentalist, pioneered the charge in the City Beautiful Movement and co-founded the Civic Club of Harrisburg, one of the only buildings in the Riverfront Park.  J. Horace McFarland, was a prominent businessman and leading proponent of the City Beautiful Movement. He was a civic leader and horticulturalist and his work and policies helped to redesign the city’s physical environment.

The tours begin where Harrisburg began along the Susquehanna River in one of the older neighborhoods known as the Shipoke Historic District. Adjacent to this area is the John Harris Mansion where the original Harris Ferry was a transportation connection from Lancaster to Carlisle. The site was an east-west link whose origin may be credited to a northern and southern Native American trail crossroads from Canada to the Carolinas and east west routes. This location included a trading post.

The Susquehanna River is almost one mile wide at Harrisburg however, too shallow and was not considered a navigable river for industrialization. Typical of early development along our rivers, were the canal systems such as the local Union Canal and the Pennsylvania Canal system. This canal system sidestepped its influence over the Susquehanna River and was constructed inland creating the industrial corridor along Cameron Street. The Susquehanna River and its beautiful setting completely bypassed by riverfront industrialization lays a natural groundwork for a picturesque walkable and livable community.

This local water way system was part of the grand scheme connecting Philadelphia with Pittsburgh. The diminished canal system actually paved the way for the railroad and turnpike systems through Harrisburg. As an historical note, it was the existence of the major railroad system in Harrisburg that brought the intercepted Confederates to their battle at Gettysburg.

The aforementioned topics present a brief historical background about Harrisburg and some of the greater natural and historical features that bring us to our current city. We have not addressed the fact that Harrisburg is the capital city of Pennsylvania with additional political, cultural, and socio-economic implications. These topics and more details will be addressed only to provide an understanding of the development for sites on the conference tours.


Back to Top