I have been working on a project regarding the soldiers of the Spanish American War who lived in Harrisburg both before and after the war. My goal is to chart out the soldiers’ places of residence, jobs, and marital status. The idea is to see if the soldiers were able to assimilate back into the community after their experience in war, and see if there were any significant changes in life status such as career and marriage.
To pursue this research, I recently had the chance to go to the Pennsylvania State Archives. My experience was enjoyable and interesting. The State Archives is a large building but the area dedicated to public research portion in my featured image is small.
I was able to examine the muster in and out rolls for the Governor’s Volunteer Cavalry, which contained a large contingent of Harrisburg residents. The muster in and out roll listed the name, rank, age, address, occupation, and more descriptive material. With this information, I should be able to work on graphing out where these soldiers lived and what they did for work before enlisting. Then I can compare that to demographic data for the census in later years.
The information I was able to analyze is quite interesting and extremely useful to my project of determining what the soldiers’ jobs were before entering the military, where they lived, and if their marital status changed. This will allow me to follow a small portion of the troops from Harrisburg and I will be able to track their status when they returned from service. I did run into a little of a snag though, when I was reading the document, I did find it quite difficult to read portions of the handwriting.
While at the archives, I attempted to digitize portions of the documents that I was researching. This is when I learned just how difficult it is to digitize a document without the right materials. As can be seen below, I have taken a picture of the muster roll with creases, lighting differences, faded writing.
This time in the archive has given me a greater insight into the work of a historian and the challenges of finding material and categorizing it for research. I have also learned about the availability of information through digital history as some of the material I had access to could be found entirely online.
As I was reading through City Contented City Discontented A History of Modern Harrisburg, I began to see that in the early 1900’s, Harrisburg was thriving. There are many ways to describe thriving, but I will look at it through economic, social, and public lenses.
For the economic lenses, there were successful businessmen and women such as Mary Sachs who operated a successful store, and successful realtors such as Joe Kline who built the first high rise in Harrisburg. There was a robust steel industry and many jobs and opportunities open to many of Harrisburg’s residents.
For the social life, there were clubs such as the Dauphin County Bar Association and the Harrisburg Club. There was a thriving elite class and a growing middle class. In 1904, associations such as the Harrisburg Elks had 1,700 members and sold $200,000 yearly in food and bar sales.(Paul Beers, City Contented, City Discontented, p. 63) This dollar amount may seem small nowadays but calculating for inflation, this would be worth about $5,812,988.76. The large spending helps to further confirm the thriving social life in Harrisburg.
The public life was also improving and growing rapidly. Due to the City Beautiful Movement, the roads got paved, parks were introduced, water purified, and the waterside cleaned up and beautified. That was not all. There were 400 trolley lines which connected to Harrisburg (Beers, p. 122) There were also libraries, bookstores, and hospitals that were built (Beers, pp. 65-69). The pride of public life was the public schools. An example of an excellent school was Harrisburg Technical School, which was recommended to a French Diplomat who was residing on the staff of Lehigh University (Beers 129)
Upon reading City Contented City Discontented A History of Modern Harrisburg, I was disappointed by the lack of focus or even mention of those of the Harrisburg community who served in the armed forces. This is why my project is important. It allows for an almost forgotten group in Harrisburg’s history to get a voice. I hope to show how the veterans were distributed after returning from war and how they returned to the communities they had left.
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