Remembering the Old Eighth Ward


The image above shows the picturesque sprawling green of Capitol Park. It is a beautiful extension of the impressive Capitol grounds with a remarkable fountain, tree-lined walking space, and view of the State Street bridge. For sure, many a visitor has marveled over this magnificent edifice; according to Lenwood Sloan, a local facilitator of cultural and heritage programs, “over 100,000 people per year enjoy a free tour of the Capitol building or a stroll around its grounds each year.” Also, locals have the pleasure of living in close proximity to such an area. However, with beauty comes consequence. Capitol Park did not always exist, and before this view looked as it does today, it was full of homes, churches, schools, businesses, and factories.

The Old Eighth Ward of Harrisburg, shown below (the area within the highlighted boundaries) as it existed in 1901, was an exceptionally diverse neighborhood of the capitol city. Looking at the Eighth Ward as a whole (all four precincts)

  • the 27% of the population was black and 69% was white, which is stark contrast than that of other wards like
    • First Ward (8% black and 92% white)
    • Fourth Ward (10% black and 90% white)
    • Seventh Ward (7% black and 93% white)

More specifically, within the Old Eighth Ward itself (mainly two precincts of the entire ward)

  • 41% of the residents were black and 59% were white.

Therefore, with the complete demolition of the Old Eighth Ward, the black community of Harrisburg was adversely impacted. Those who could not find alternative housing in the city had to move beyond the limits of the capitol area.


To briefly review the historical circumstance, under the auspices of the City Beautiful movement of early 20th century Harrisburg, the Fox-Tunis Act of 1911 called for the extension of the Capitol grounds. A new Capitol building debuted in 1906 after a fire destroyed the previous structure, and it was a magnificent sight. Established by the act, between the years of 1911 and 1917, the Capitol Park Extension Commission took control of the project to further the beauty of the new structure. Early on in the process, they notified the residents of the Old Eighth Ward that they needed to vacate their properties for the beautification of the city as a whole.

Lenwood Sloan took notice that though it sits on the footprint of the Old Eighth Ward, the Capitol Complex holds no structures or icons of the historic district. In addition, Harrisburg has no African American monuments, so Sloan began to work with the Pennsylvania State Senate and the House of Representatives to change this. The proposed monument will include a sculpture and the names of 100 people who lived in the Old Eighth Ward. Sloan desires this project to convey that while the Old Eighth Ward is no longer part of the Harrisburg landscape, its legacy remains in the memories of the descendants still in the Capitol area.

As a result of this effort, in January several Representatives and Senators will move for a joint resolution pertaining to the gifting of a monument to the Commonwealth. Taking place in August of 2020, the presentation of the monument will coincide with the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted suffrage to black men, and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which extended the vote to women. Along with its two partners, the Dauphin County Public Libraries and the PA Commonwealth Diversity Forum and numerous local organizations and individuals contributing to the commemoration, the project will take form over the next several years.


We, the Digital Harrisburg team, will research our population data to provide these names. It will reside on the State Capitol Grounds, since that it where those named on the monument lived before the leveling of the area.

Additional components of this project include “Look up and Look out,” “Re-imagining the Old 8th Ward,” and “Live and Learn: The Pathway to the 15th Amendment.”

  • “Look up and Look Out”
  • “Re-imagining the Old Eighth Ward” is a Chautauqua workshop co-hosted at the Dauphin County Public Library’s McCormick Branch at Front and Walnut Streets
    • They will be held once a month every other month of the year
    • The series involves descendants of the Old Eighth Ward bringing artifacts to share with historical professionals and learning about conservation and restoration of their materials
  • “Live and Learn: The Pathway to the 15th Amendment” is a series co-hosted at the Gamut Theater at Fourth and Aberdeen Streets
    • They will be held once a month, every other month of the year (opposite of  the Chautauqua workshop months)
    • The series will combine civic dialogue and interviews with contemporary authors and living history presentations

We are looking forward to the implementation of this remembrance, and we will continue to post with future information.

4 thoughts on “Remembering the Old Eighth Ward

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