Rethinking Harrisburg, the City Beautiful: Call for Contributions

A call for contributions to a special issue of Pennsylvania History: “Harrisburg, The City Beautiful: Rethinking Urban Improvement in the Pennsylvania State Capital”

edited by James B. LaGrand and David K. Pettegrew


Harrisburg’s City Beautiful Movement has an important place in the history of urban reform in America. Among the very earliest progressive reform movements, it was also among the most successful in moving the population to reform. A compelling lecture by the conservationist Mira Lloyd Dock to the Harrisburg Board of Trade in December 1900 incited the elite to organize the League for Civic Improvements, assemble a group of renowned city planners, and rally citizens to vote in favor of a bond issue in February 1902 that funded an extensive program of urban revitalization. In short order, the filthy industrial center along the Susquehanna River was remade as a modern and beautiful city with extensive green spaces, miles of freshly paved roads, new water filtration systems, and an elaborate and glimmering state capitol.

This significant story, however, is neither widely known nor fully explored. William H. Wilson wrote a path-breaking article in Pennsylvania History four decades ago, concluding that Harrisburg’s improvement campaign was both successful in implementing urban improvements, and influential nationally in spurring other cities to embark on similar programs. But important questions remain unanswered concerning the causes and character of the improvement campaign. For example, how did Harrisburg residents respond to the bond issue campaign of 1902? Why did some groups and precincts support it and others oppose it? Wilson’s analysis highlighted Harrisburg’s improvement campaign as an elite-driven movement led by mostly Protestant men, but women’s groups, African American educators and pastors, and Jewish rabbis clearly played an important but understudied role in the movement. Other questions relate to the effects of the reform movement. Who were the long-term economic winners and losers in property value following reform? Those in the Old Eighth Ward, the city’s poorest neighborhood, especially experienced the significant costs of losing homes, businesses, synagogues, and churches to the buildings of an expanding state Capitol.

This special issue of Pennsylvania History reconsiders Harrisburg’s City Beautiful movement in light of both new digital tools for describing and mapping space and society, and public perspectives and memory about historic Harrisburg. In the first part, we address historical questions about the city’s urban improvement campaign—the character of urban populations, the champions and opponents of progressivism, the effects of urban reform, and the losers and winners over the long term, among others—by mining the data of the Digital Harrisburg Initiative, a collaborative project that has digitized federal census records and historical maps of Harrisburg and Steelton. The encoding of demographic information at the level of individual street address has created a fine-grained digital image of an early-twentieth-century urban community that offers new perspective on the urban experience of the city. In the third part, we consider the people and institutions of Harrisburg in the early 20th century more broadly.

We invite short contributions (<1000 words) to Part III that reflect on and remember Harrisburg’s citizens, places, and institutions during City Beautiful, defined broadly to encompass the entire period of 1900-1930. While we are especially interested in stories that connect in some way to the success or problems of urban reform, we welcome submissions on all aspects of urban life in this period. We will review and select several essays (200-1,000 words) for inclusion in this special issue of Pennsylvania History. For more information or questions, contact Jim LaGrand ( or David Pettegrew (

2 thoughts on “Rethinking Harrisburg, the City Beautiful: Call for Contributions

  1. On Tue, May 22, 2018 at 6:28 AM Digital Harrisburg wrote:

    > David Pettegrew posted: “A call for contributions to a special issue > of Pennsylvania History: “Harrisburg, The City Beautiful: Rethinking Urban > Improvement in the Pennsylvania State Capital” edited by James B. LaGrand > and David K. Pettegrew Abstract: Harrisburg’s City Be” >

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.