Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Harrisburg, PA: Then & Now

Taking advantage of the beautiful weather we had in Harrisburg today, I took the opportunity, on my lunch break, to take a stroll over to Capitol Park to reconnect with some "Emergency" history.
Created in 1810, Capitol Park, located adjacent to the Pennsylvania Capital building, was originally set aside by Harrisburg founder John Harris "for use by the state".  In the late summer of 1862, the state found another use for the park as a camp and parade ground for the thousands of Emergency Militiamen that were flooding into the city.  These citizen soldiers were answering Governor Curtin's alarm for defenders of the Commonwealth from the northward moving Rebel army of Robert E. Lee.  The scene below was captured by artist Theodore R. Davis, and was printed in the October 4, 1862 issue of Harper's Weekly.  In the picture, militiamen, donning civilian "uniforms", can be seen marching and drilling in the park, as well as marching northward along 3rd Street. 

The scene 150 years later has changed somewhat.  The park has undergone landscape changes, most notably during the construction of the Mexican War memorial (built 1869, out of frame to the right), and Harrisburg's own "City Beautiful Movement" in the early 20th Century.  Most recently there has been construction of a sidewalk and retaining wall along 3rd St.  The original capital building, which burned in 1897, was later replaced by the current Capital, which was built in 1906.  Many of the buildings along 3rd St. have been removed, but the Pine St. Presbyterian Church (built in 1860) can still be seen standing as a witness to those troubled times in our history.

Frew, Ken. Building Harrisburg : the architects & builders, 1719-1941. Harrisburg, PA: Historical Society of Dauphin County and Historic Harrisburg Association, 2009.

"John Harris' Gift". Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission historical marker, located near corner of 3rd & Walnut Sts., Capitol Park, Harrisburg, PA.

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