Blog of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office

Walking the Harrisburg Historic District

Did you know that the first American Heart Month took place in February of 1964, over two years before the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966? 

Well I didn’t. But I do find it interesting that both American Heart Month’s proclamation and the passage of the groundbreaking historic preservation were passed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. 

It seems apropos to marry the two initiatives of Johnson’s administration to fulfill my New Year’s resolution to visit more authentic historic sites and perhaps get more heart-healthy exercise in the process.  

Harrisburg Historic District Healthy Heart Circuit

Other PASHPO staff members take advantage of our proximity to the East Shore YMCA during their lunch breaks, but I generally just wander through the surrounding neighborhood. 

I’m lucky that the PASHPO offices are surrounded by the Harrisburg Historic District (Key number 000508). 

Harrisburg Historic District, Photo by PHMC.

The historic district was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on January 19, 1976 and is significant for its architecture, community planning and development as well as its association with Pennsylvania State government. 

This 20-block neighborhood includes some 500 residential and commercial buildings that express the growth of the small-town surrounding John Harris’ ferry in 1785 into the bustling nineteenth century state capital. 

Federal style building on State Street, Photo by PHMC.

There is a lot to see here and many of the sites are open for visitors as well.

One of the obvious buildings that I pass by are the William Penn Memorial Museum & Archives Building (Key number 102700) that houses part of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. 

The building was listed individually to the National Register of Historic Places in August of 2014.  The building was designed by Lawrie & Green and opened in 1965. 

State Museum of Pennsylvania, Photo by PHMC.

The building exemplifies 20th-century Modern architecture with its use of abstract geometric forms rather than ornamentation.  On rainy days, I will wander through the exhibit galleries that range from prehistoric times through current events of Pennsylvania history. 

There is a wonderful fine art collection and displays related to the American Civil War, as well as an extensive collection of industrial and technological innovations.  It is well worth a visit – feel free to check out their upcoming exhibits at

The other amazing state building I pass is the Pennsylvania State Capitol (Key number 000515).  Designed by Joseph Miller Huston in 1902, it is a tremendous piece of public architecture. 

The Beaux Arts building was deservedly designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2006.

Pennsylvania State Capitol from State Street, Photo by PHMC.

The exterior of the building is a sight to behold (I should mention that I NEVER run up these steps), its interior is just as lovely.  Artwork is utilized throughout including murals by Violet Oakley and Edwin Austin Abbey, stained glass and murals by William B. Van Ingen, and the unique mosaic tile floor by Henry C. Mercer, which depicts the history of Pennsylvania. 

Even though it is an active government building, visitors are welcome and you can start planning your visit here

John Harris Mansion, Photo by PHMC.

To get my steps in, I travel the historic district to stop by three past Keystone-funded projects: John Harris/ Simon Cameron Mansion, 219 South Front Street (Key number 000506); Civic Club of Harrisburg, 612 North Front Street in Riverfront Park;and Preservation Pennsylvania Headquarters, 257 North Street (both of the later buildings contribute to the Harrisburg Historic District). 

The PHMC partnered with these organizations in their capital projects to ensure that their character-defining features were protected. 

Preservation Pennsylvania’s turret, Photo by PHMC.

These investments not only benefited the non-profit organizations and the direct community that they serve; but also benefit all of Harrisburg by maintaining the streetscape and atmosphere of the historic district.

Keystone Historic Preservation Grants are back!

Could your local community benefit from the Keystone Historic Preservation Grant program?

Remember that the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission due date for the 2019-2020 fiscal year Keystone Historic Preservation Grant program is on March 2, 2020. 

Applications may be found on DCED’s Electronic Single Application for Assistance system at

PHMC Grants Staff hosted an informative webinar highlighting the grant program on Wednesday, January 22nd.  If you weren’t able to join us, feel free to listen to the program at any time at

If you want more information about the Keystone Grant program or to inquire if your project may qualify, contact the me at the PHMC-PASHPO at (717) 783-9927 or

Celebrate American Heart Month on your own 

I’m glad I celebrated with the American Heart Association – but somehow, I ended up at the National Register-listed Broad Street Market with a chocolate chip cookie.  I need to walk another lap!

Selfie of Karen with her chocolate chip cookie at the Broad Street Market.


  1. David Morrison

    Bravo Karen!
    Thanks for showcasing the oldest of Harrisburg’s 11 municipal and National Register historic districts! We are fortunate to have PASHPO, PHMC and Preservation Pennsylvania all within a five-minute walk of our own headquarters in the 1893 Central Trust Company building at 1230 N. Third Street, across from the Broad Street Market.
    David Morrison,
    Executive Director
    Historic Harrisburg Association

  2. Linda Shaffer

    Hi, is there an actual map or route noting where to start (park) and to follow? I’d like to bring our granddaughters, aged 8 and 10 and very interested in history but don’t want to bungle around without a plan. Or perhaps another website with recommendations? Thanks a bunch!!

  3. Karen Arnold

    Hello Linda, What a nice idea to spend some time with your granddaughters in Harrisburg! I don’t have a formal map of my route, but you may want to reach out to Historic Harrisburg Association at to see if they have a self-guided tour brochure that they can share with you. If they don’t, circle back with me and I can sketch my route. Make sure you stop in at the State Museum during your visit. There are some great exhibits I’m sure the kids would enjoy!

  4. Dealmakers Properties

    Overall, it was an enjoyable adventure and one that I would recommend highly

  5. Peter Good

    All in all, a visit to Harrisburg’s Historic District is well worth your time if you’re looking for an educational walk with plenty of physical activity thrown in!

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