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Harrisburg At A Glance

By Elizabeth Elstien

Located on the east bank of the Susquehanna River between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Harrisburg is the capital of Pennsylvania. This fertile yet industrialized city of 50,000 is known for its dairy and steel production, and its interesting history. Part of the rich land known as the Pennsylvania Dutch County, see why Forbes magazine recently rated Harrisburg the second best place to raise a family.

Brief History

Native Americans lived along the banks of the Susquehanna River as early as 3000 B.C. as the area was a trail crossroads from different areas. In 1719 John Harris Sr. got 800 acres of land, which his son later turned into the town of Harrisburg. It began as a trading post for those heading west. The town was incorporated in 1791 and named the state capital in 1812. An impressive, domed brick capitol building was constructed in 1822 costing $200,000 -- a fortune at the time. Late 1800s saw the predominance of steel, iron and railroad industries brought about by the building of the Pennsylvania Canal and Pennsylvania Railroad. During the American Civil War, the Union Army trained many soldiers in Harrisburg. It also was a main artery between the East Coast and the Midwest. The population was at its peak prior to the 1920s. After that, the decline of industries lead to depressed times of later decades where inner city residents headed for the suburbs only to return in the late 1990s. Today, the city is in a financial mess, charged with securities fraud by the federal government, but it is not in danger of collapse.


Harrisburg is quite racially and ethnically diverse. African Americans and Hispanics comprise a large part of the populace. Cultural heritages include Latino, Vietnamese, German, Italian, Irish, Polish and Slovakian.


The city has 36 neighborhoods with many homes built prior to World War II. There are several popular neighborhoods, such as Skyline View, City Center, Oakleigh, Oberlin Gardens, Linglestown and Paxtonia. Walking is a pleasant way to see many of these areas. City Center is the financial and business center in downtown. Skyline View is a high-income, quiet neighborhood of mostly single-family residences built between 1970 and 2000. Many older single-family homes and apartments in the Oakleigh area date from the 1940s to 1960s.


The city's roads, railways and waterways provide the means for warehousing and distribution, as well as easy access. Although Harrisburg has its share of recent financial woes, the city is stable due to the proliferation of state and federal employers providing over 40,000 jobs. Healthcare, technology, retail grocery and the Hershey Company also employee a significant number of Harrisburg and surrounding area residents. Although steel is still an important local industry, major companies with headquarters in Harrisburg are IBM, Hershey Foods/Park/Resorts, Rite Aid Corporation and Tyco Electronics, among others.


Enjoy the July 4 this year at Harrisburg's Independence Weekend Walkaround. Various city locations host free music performances, martial arts tournament, Declaration of Independence reading and fireworks. Visit the National Civil War Museum or the State Museum of Pennsylvania. Since 1999, Harrisburg has a center unique to the U.S., The Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts, that houses not just performing arts events, but also those of science and education. The city has a symphony that performs out of The Forum, run by the state. The inner cities resurgence is attributed to the increasing nightlife showcasing events, festivals and clubs. Animals and competitions are featured in the annual Farm Show, billed as the largest agricultural exhibition in the U.S. Who can resist the temptation to visit the nearby town of Hershey, home of the famous candy bar, to have fun in their candy-themed park and tour the chocolate-making plant.

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