The Quest to Discover more about Harrisburg’s City Beautiful Movement

Over this past week, our class has been studying the City Beautiful movement. The City Beautiful Movement was initiated to bring beauty and life back into the unpolished industrial city of Harrisburg. Harrisburg was made up of railroad industries as well as Iron and Steel developments. Paul Beers, journalist, claims that at one point, Harrisburg was one of the most productive factories towns in America. However, the industry came with a cost. Socially, the railroad industry was one of the most segregated industries in the world. Environmentally, the city was unhealthy. People were drinking sewage water which could often make them sick with typhoid. The streets were littered with trash and filth. The reformers pointed to these problems as justification for change.

Mira Lloyd Dock began the movement with a speech in which she stated that clean streets, parks, and recreation were compatible with a busy manufacturing town. Dock had traveled to cities in Germany, France, and England. There, she saw how beautiful cities could be. Therefore, Dock wanted to make Harrisburg look like those prospering cities in Europe. The citizens of Harrisburg were also feeling pressure to change because the state legislature was threatening to move the Capitol back to Philadelphia if things did not get cleaned up. Therefore, more people became interested in the idea of making the city more beautiful. A noteworthy historian, William Wilson, pointed out that much of the business elite were drawn to this plan and helped to sponsor it. The movement’s first accomplishment included building a new and massive State Capitol. Other advancements to make the city look more attractive also took form. Mayor McCormick began hiring street sweepers to keep the trash off the street. In addition, there were new street paving and flood controls put into place. However, according historian Paul Beers, the improvements that the reformers were especially excited about were the parks.

This is a document on Mary Sachs from the Pennsylvania State Archives.

While this knowledge is great, my class wanted to do a little more research in the City Beautiful movement. I originally chose the topic of the Jewish community. However, I thought that was a little too broad. Therefore, I chose Mary Sachs, a Jewish business woman. Mary Sachs was never married, yet she was able to become one of Harrisburg’s greatest Philanthropist and business women. She did much for the city of Harrisburg with bringing beauty to Harrisburg through her store across from Capitol Park. She was able to build a stunning new store after a fire consumed her last one. She made something wonderful out of the ashes of the old. She also made contributions to the United Jewish Appeal, Harrisburg hospital, Harrisburg Academy, and more. She never stopped bringing help to those less fortunate and brought a little beauty and light to Harrisburg in the process.

I learned all this through my research at the Pennsylvania State Archives and the Dauphin County Historical Society. The number of resources at the State Archive was impressive. To begin, we had to fill out call forms to get the boxes we needed. It was a little overwhelming at first. However, we were able to search online ahead of time for

This is me looking through a folder at the Pennsylvania State Archives.

the boxes with the information we needed. Therefore, we could get started looking at the documents and pictures relatively quickly. When looking at pictures, we had to handle them with gloves, so the oils on our hands did not destroy the pictures. Nevertheless, all the documents, not just the pictures, needed to be treated with care. As we were researching, we took pictures of the documents using a digital camera. Now, we plan to create an online exhibit with picture we took.

However, the process of digitization is not always easy and sometimes you have to make due with what you have. For example, we were not allowed to use a scanner at the Pennsylvania state archive, so we had to settle for a camera. In addition, our pictures turned out as JPEGs rather than TIFF scans; TIFF scans would have been preferable. Other problems with digitization also means respecting who has the rights to the items. It’s like Cohen and Rosenzweig say, “copyright law still exists online, and we have to respect that.” Despite setbacks, our class will still be able to create online exhibit with the documents that we are allowed to use.

-Robin, Junior History Major, Messiah College

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