The City Beautiful Exhibition features student and faculty projects exploring urban improvement in Harrisburg in the early twentieth century. The urban improvement movement began after Mira Lloyd Dock gave a public lecture in December 1900 lamenting the dire state of the city and advocating its potential for rebirth. Ultimately, a group of visionaries rallied the population to vote for a bond issue in 1902 to make improvements such as green spaces, drainage and sewage systems, and extensive street paving throughout the city. The new urban ideal of improvement would later permeate other facets of urban life in beautified schools, synagogues, churches, and homes. Not everyone benefited equally, however, as many new immigrants found rents too high, while other groups, such as the communities of the Old Eighth Ward, experienced eviction and relocation.
Through several Digital History courses, Messiah University students have explored the City Beautiful movement, conducting research through Digital Harrisburg’s databases and locating historical records at county and state archives. Some of this research became the foundation for a special issue (87.1) of Pennsylvania History titled “Harrisburg, Digital Public History, and the ‘City Beautiful’,” which simultaneously celebrated and problematized the city’s urban reform movement. Other research has been published on Omeka exhibits, WordPress websites, and Story Maps.
Explore the following exhibits created by students of Messiah College to learn more about the backgrounds of Harrisburg’s urban reform movement, the people and organizations who made it happen, and the reforms that transformed the city.