Dauphin County: Chocolates, Coal, and a Capital

County Feature is a series of articles on each county in Pennsylvania and its history.

Dauphin County celebrates its two hundredth anniver­sary this year. The events and themes that are the history of the county reflect the experience of Pennsylvania and the United States. Dauphin County has never been a homogeneous commu­nity; indeed, it is difficult to consider it as a single commu­nity. From the beginning it has comprised individuals of diverse ethnic, national and religious heritage. The geogra­phy of the region has contrib­uted, too, to the formation of many distinct and separate communities.

Churches distinguished the earliest neighborhoods of significant settlement in what was to become Dauphin County. Presbyterian congre­gations were formed in the 1720s at Paxton, three miles east of the Susquehanna River; at the head of Spring Creek in the Barrens of Derry; and near the foot of Blue Mountain in the area known as Monaday or Manada, later called Hanover. Dugan, Duncan, Gordon, Galbraith, Houston, McKinny, Shaw; the names on the church rolls tell the origin of the people. They were Irish, Scotch-Irish to later genera­tions, descendants of Protestant Lowland Scots sent to colonize the north of Ireland in the seventeenth century. They came to the very edge of European civilization to escape oppressive British colonial policies.

A second line of settlement, to the east and south of the Scotch-Irish, was marked by Lutheran Churches at Middle­town and Hummelstown, settled by Germans in the 1760s. Germans had settled much earlier in the towns of Lebanon and Myerstown still further east. Germans started to come to Pennsylvania in great numbers during the second decade of the eighteenth century. James Logan, Secretary of the Province, complained in 1717: “We have, of late, a great number of Palatines poured in upon us without any recom­mendation or notice, which gives the country some uneas­iness, for foreigners do not so well among us as our own English people.” Ten years later German immigration was being compared to the fifth century Saxon invasion of Britain. More than a few individuals feared Pennsyl­vania would become a German province. Still they came in increasing numbers: more than seventy-thousand immigrants arrived between 1720 and 1770.

Some areas were distinctly marked by Irish or German neighborhoods. At times, in several places, the Irish and the Germans did not coexist peacefully, but as the eighteenth century progressed, ethnic and religious differences were overshadowed by conflicts between Philadelphia and the western settlements.

Dauphin County was created out of Lancaster County, in the ferment of the American Revolution. Years before the War for Indepen­dence, settlers living north and west of the Conewago Hills, in Lebanon, Hummels­town, Middletown, the neigh­borhoods around Paxtang, Derry Church, Hanover, and the settlements scattered north of Peter’s Mountain, seriously discussed forming a separate county. The few representa­tives allowed Lancaster County in the provincial assembly seldom included spokesmen from the isolated areas of the county. In addition, the trip to court in Lancaster was tedious and long.

In September 1783, just five months after the Treaty of Paris insured the indepen­dence of the United States, Pennsylvania’s assembly announced it sought proposals from citizens interested in “offering lands to the public, for the purpose of building a new town, or towns on the East bank of the Susque­hanna.” The intention was to make such a town the seat of a new county which was to be formed from Lancaster County.

John Harris, patriot, merchant, land owner and proprietor of a Susquehanna ferry. quickly proffered a proposal. He offered to divide his best wheat fields and orchards into two hundred building lots. Harris gener­ously offered to donate the streets, lanes and alleys to the inhabitants, as well as provide lots for a courthouse and jail, churches and burying grounds. He enhanced his proposal by providing four acres to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania “for such purpose as the government may apply the same.”

The creation of a new county caused immediate opposition. Jasper Yeats, judge of Lancaster County court, filed a formal complaint with the legislature in early 1784. He stated that the erection of a new county was irresponsible and such a waste of public money as to cause “distrust in the faith of government.” He further suggested that if people north of Peter’s Mountain were aggrieved by the trip to Lancaster, those settlements should be attached to Northumberland County, which Yeats thought a “natural and easy” solution.

Harris’ proposal was accepted despite such objec­tions. A legislative commis­sion reported it to be “highly acceptable to a great number” of people, and as being “attended with beneficial consequences to the commerce of this State.” The new county, named to commemo­rate the wartime alliance with France by honoring the Dauphin, heir to the French throne, was founded on March 4, 1785.

Many of those not opposed to the formation of a new county did take exception to the selection of Harris’ Ferry as the county seat, however. The assembly received petitions from Lebanon, Middletown, Lower Paxton and Londonderry Townships and places further east. All the petitions submitted that Harris’ Ferry was a “highly grievous and oppressive” location.

Nearly half of the taxpayers in the new county lived in or near Lebanon, about twenty­-five miles north of Lancaster. For them Harris’ Ferry was no improvement over Lancaster. They wondered why their sizable town, near the geographic center of the county, was not made the seat of government. There seems to be no logical answer, but the condemnation of Nicholas Haussegger, one of Lebanon’s leading citizens, as a Loyalist may have tainted the town with the pox of Tory senti­ments.

Middletown’s petition hinted broadly that the site of Harris’ town was prone to annual floods. The seven hundred residents of this prosperous and growing trade center at the mouth of Swatara Creek wanted the county seat to enhance the vision of Middletown as a hub of commerce in the interior of Pennsylvania.

Protest reached a climax when the new County Commissioners and the tax assessors refused to levy taxes to pay for the construction of a court house and jail at Harris’ Ferry. They reasoned that the assembly would soon see the grave mistake and move the county seat elsewhere. The Supreme Executive Council threatened the officials with charges of dereliction of duty and ordered them to levy and collect the tax. Even so, it was another seven years before the courthouse was built and the name and location of the county seat legally accepted as Harrisburg.

Agitated residents around Lebanon schemed for the next twenty-eight years to be separated from Dauphin County. Their efforts succeeded in 1813, when Lebanon County was organized as part of the agree­ment that brought the state capital to Harrisburg.

All Pennsylvanians did not rejoice in 1810 when the legis­lature voted to move the state capital from Lancaster to Harrisburg. “A Citizen” writing to a Philadelphia newspaper was astonished at the choice. He pronounced the move as a sign that Pennsyl­vania had “passed the merid­ian of her prosperity.” The presence of state government added to the prestige of Harrisburg, and helped the local economy by inspiring dozens of hotels, rooming houses and restaurants to serve the legislators. More important to the growth of Harrisburg and southern Dauphin County was its location.

Some time before 1720 one of the earliest settlers in the area, the elder John Harris, built a trading post at the best ford on the lower Susque­hanna. His establishment was also located on a great pathway, the broad valley that runs west from the Delaware River across Pennsylvania to the vicinity of present day Carlisle, then south into the backcountry of Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas. Tens of thousands of people followed Harris up this valley. By 1822, when the architect Stephen Hill officially turned the new capitol building over to the state, Harrisburg was at the center of a network of roads and turnpikes. The ferries at Harrisburg were put out of business in 1817 when Theodore Burr completed a covered bridge (now the Market Street Bridge) nearly a mile long across the river.

Within a few years, canals and railroads added to the growth of commerce and industry in lower Dauphin County.

The Fair Trader out of Phila­delphia was the first boat to pass the eighty mile length of the Union Canal from the Schuylkill to the Susquehanna at Middletown. It delivered a load of oysters on March 23, 1828. When the Pennsylvania Canal was completed shortly after, Philadelphia was linked with the Great Lakes, Pitts­burgh and the Ohio Valley. This system never lived up to its billing as “a golden link to the west,” although the canal gave the state a romantic legend. The increasing power and speed of steam locomo­tives put railroads far ahead of canals by the 1850s. Govern­ment subsidies and improved facilities kept the canals in business through most of the nineteenth century, but in 1884 the Union Canal Company declared in its annual report: “The Union Canal is non est; it having been sold out, property and franchise, by the sheriff of Philadelphia.”

Dauphin County in the nineteenth century was deemed to hold unlimited potential. The Susquehanna Valley was famous among European travelers for its magnificent scenery. In 1844, I. Daniel Rupp called Harris­burg “a town very pleasantly situated.” Guests at the United States Hotel were told they could enjoy not only “choice victuals and liquors of superior quality,” but also the view from the piazza that embraced the river “with its clusters of green Islands, and much of the surrounding country.”

The city’s real pride and joy was in its mills, factories, railroads and public works. Besides seeing the river, the State Capitol and the grave of John Harris the Elder, visitors to Harrisburg were encour­aged to take in such sights as the Harrisburg Cotton Mill, the Novelty Iron Works and the Mount Airy Water Works. Such sights were the marvels of an age when iron and steel were made by the tens of thousands of tons to build bridges, railroads and other machines. Cloth was woven by the mile, homes provided with running water, gas lights and central heat, and railroads seemed to shrink traveling time and distance.

Post-Civil War Harrisburg was an important center of heavy industry and transpor­tation. The valley of Paxton Creek and the flats along the east bank of the Susquehanna at Steelton vibrated with “steam whistles, hammers, [the] roll and click of machinery, and all the sounds which make up the notes in the anthems of labor when at its devotions.” The Northern Central and the Pennsylvania Railroads both maintained extensive yards and shops at Harrisburg. City residents also found jobs with such major concerns as Fink’s Keystone Brewery, the Harrisburg Cotton Mill and the Forney Brothers Shoe Company. The south Harrisburg neighbor­hood of Shipoke was the site of many industries, including large stock yards.

The Mayor of Harrisburg, Simon Cameron Wilson, boasted in January 1885 that the city was the “peaceful home of 40,000 people, repre­senting the highest civiliza­tion.” Those people celebrated the one hundredth anniver­sary of Dauphin County with a week of parades, exhibitions and orations in September, 1885. The Centennial Celebra­tion was a city affair, except for the inclusion of the Pennsylvania Steel Company’s Steelton works in the Indus­trial Day Parade on September 16. The festivities were conceived and planned by the Dauphin County Historical Society whose members were drawn from the elite citizens of the city: the Kelkers, Rutherfords, Hamiltons, Boyds and Boas – those for whom streets and parks were named. They were the men who arbitrated the city’s life and who wrote the county’s history. To them, Dauphin County was Harrisburg. The people who really counted were the members of the “old families” and the other descendants of the city’s early Scotch-Irish and German settlers. But there was much more to be considered.

Dauphin County stretches along the Susquehanna for nearly forty miles, from the Conewago Creek in the south to the Mahantango Valley in the north. The eastern border follows no natural course. The county can not be charac­terized by one word or phrase, nor represented by one community in the last quarter of the nineteenth century Harrisburg and Steelton offered a glimpse of urban industrial America. Other places in the county included small towns, large farms, mining and manufacturing centers and rural wilderness.

South of Blue Mountain the land was a patch-work of well­-tended farms and villages. The soil in the flood plain of the Susquehanna was fertile alluvial deposits, good farming for those who would gamble with the river. South of a line that runs from the vicinity of Harrisburg through Hummelstown and on into Lebanon County, the soil is limestone based, some of the most productive farm land in the world. Back toward the mountain the soil is gravelly and slatey, but made fertile with the intelligent use of manure and fertilizer. Each year the farms in the southern townships of the county produced hundreds of thousands of bushels of corn, wheat, barley and rye. Middletown’s prosperity was dependent upon a number of small and large industries. The local economy was hostage to the ups and downs of the national economy, and vulner­able to natural disaster. The case of the Middletown Car Works serves as an example. The company manufactured railroad rolling stock, compet­ing in the national and international markets. Fire destroyed the plant in 1884, leaving 250 men unemployed. The company rebuilt, but the loss of business due to the shutdown, combined with a decline in demand for cars, caused the company to reduce its staff to twelve men in 1888. The next year an order for 500 large steel gondolas put several hundred men to work. Business was good for a few years but in 1894 the Car Works laid off all workers indefinitely.

The American Tube and Iron Company fared well after it was purchased by James Young and George Matheson in 1880. Matheson, a classic example of a successful immigrant, was born in Scotland in 1828. He came to the United States as a trained mechanic before the Civil War. During the war he was in charge of fitting the machinery into the U.S.S. Monitor. Matheson and his son James made American Tube and Iron a world leader in the pipe business. The firm grew to employ 750 men at Middle­town; in 1884 a second plant was opened in Youngstown, Ohio. Sales offices took orders in New York, Boston, St. Louis and Chicago. Pipe was shipped to the gas fields of Indiana, the oil fields of Texas and Pennsylvania, as well as to carry water in Rumania and India.

Highspire, laid out in 1814 a few miles up the Susque­hanna from Middletown, was known for the quality of the whiskey distilled there. Until 1903, when it was made a borough, Highspire claimed to be the “largest unincorporated town in the county.” The town’s 750 people supported two churches in 1875. Neither had a steeple high enough to justify the name of the place that was probably derived from the Bavarian village of Spire from where the town’s founders originated. Cattle, pigs and sheep grew fat on grain and grass; orchards bore apples, peaches and other fruit. In 1900, the federal Census reported one million quarts of strawberries were picked in Dauphin County. Some sold in the local markets, but much of it was shipped to more distant consumers.

Derry township was described in the Historical Atlas of Dauphin County (1875) as the “moral, physical, political, social, and financial force in the county.” This community, the most populous township in the county, was centered on the United States Post Office at Derry Church. The Presby­terian church that gave the place its name was abandoned in the 1870s and sagged into ruin. In l 887 the old wooden building was razed to make way for a splendid stone gothic style church built by a revived congregation.

Hummelstown, founded in 1760, maintained a separate identity although surrounded by Derry Township. The town, incorporated as a borough in 1874, was the home of more than 1,000 people who enjoyed a weekly newspaper, three hotels, two restaurants, four churches and a post office. Hummelstown also rated a station on the Lebanon Valley Railroad.

Union Deposit was laid out by Philip Wolfersberger and Isaac Hershey in 1843, just a few miles up the Swatara Creek from Hummelstown. Located on the Union Canal and the creek, the town was a convenient place for farmers to bring their commodities for shipment. By 1885, Union Deposit had a post office, three churches, and one of the few high schools in the county. The canal was out of business, but the Lancaster and Quarryville Railroad served the transportation needs of the flour mill, brick yard and iron furnace.

Downstream from Hummelstown, the boosters of Middletown harbored hopes that their community would soon eclipse Harris­burg, The Historical Atlas stated unequivocally that “Middle­town is destined to become a vast and important city, for it enjoys a centrality and eligibil­ity of situation equal to any and superior to most inland towns.”

Six mountain ridges cut across northern Dauphin County. Blue, Kittatinny, Peter’s, Berry’s and Mahan­tango mountains make the upper end a region of long valleys and steep slopes. Farming was not as good here as in the south, but the land was covered with pine and white oak. In 1875, forty-three water powered saw mills were in operation in the twelve townships north of the Blue Mountain. Some of the lumber was used for homes and other products. Much of it went into the mines and collieries at the head of Lykens Valley.

“Black dirt” was found in 1825. It took nearly ten years before Simon Gratz, the Phila­delphia merchant, acquired the land and began to tap the load. Gratz and five other men formed the Lykens Valley Railroad and Coal Company in 1835. The gravity powered rail cars coasted the coal more than twenty miles to Millers­burg, where it was loaded on barges and ferried across the Susquehanna to the Pennsyl­vania Canal. The empty cars were towed back to the mines by mules and horses. Passen­gers were welcome on the fourteen hour return trip for a fare of five cents a mile. The gravity line with its wooden rails was replaced by an iron road with a steam locomotive between 1845 and 1848.

Lykens, Williamstown and Wiconisco were coal towns at the head of the Lykens Valley. Charles Miller, who grew up in the Borough of Lykens in the 1850s, recalled it as a homely village surrounded by wilderness. In 1875 the town had taken on the size of a small city with a population of 3,000, mostly English, Irish, and Welsh immigrants and their children. The mines and breakers always provided work, but not always enough to make life comfortable. The mines did not produce at a steady pace because of the seasonal market and attempts on the part of the owners to control the prices of coal. Miners could not always count on a full day or week of work. The companies gave the men enough work to hold them in place, keeping them from becoming desperate or frustrated enough to seek jobs elsewhere. But no one could amass a fortune by working in the pits. This issue was among the points of contention that caused Dauphin County miners to join the Anthracite Strike in 1902.

Two ferries crossed the Susquehanna at Millersburg, the town laid out by Daniel Miller in 1807 near the mouth of Wiconisco Creek. The town grew rapidly in the 1850s due to the coal trade and the arrival of the Northern Central Railroad. Boat yards special­ized in building the big canal barges capable of hauling 190 tons of coal. Millersburg was a quiet place despite its associa­tion with the canal and the river. Local ordinances dealt with the mundane nuisances: In 1865 the council prohibited the keeping of hogs, the burning of trash and the blocking of streets. They also set a speed limit of seven miles an hour for locomotives. The following year property owners were required to install paved sidewalks, but not forced to keep them clear of snow until 1886.

In 1890, the Millersburg Home Water Company started to provide safe, clean water to each home in the borough. By that time Wiconisco Creek was better known as “Black River” and the eastern channel of the Susquehanna was murky with coal culm. People who wanted to swim on hot summer days took the ferry across to the west shore where the water was cleaner.

Telephone service between Millersburg and Elizabethville was established in 1885. In 1891 Millersburg was electri­fied.

Outside the mining towns the people of the upper end were mostly of German descent. The towns were small and quiet, their citizens often described as “hard working, industrious and law abiding.” The town council of Elizabeth­ville voted funds to construct a jail in 1893, but there seemed to be no need and it was never built. Some true geniuses lived there, such as John Paul, Jr., surveyor, engineer, architect, clock and cabinet maker, but most were ordinary people. Jacob Eisenhower, whose father “came from south of the mountains,” lived in Elizabethville for more than twenty years. In 1878, Eisenhower moved to Kansas with his wife and children, including fifteen year old David whose son grew up to be President of the United States.

Such a place was Dauphin County at the end of the nineteenth century. Harris­burg was the largest of several egocentric communities; it was the big city, with more people, stores, factories and amuse­ments. Yet the city did not draw the other places into a sphere of influence, or become the focus of a larger regional community.

Harrisburg and Steelton were experiencing changes in the nature of their populations that further separated them from the rest of the county.

The Centennial Celebration coincided with the end of an era when Harrisburg and Dauphin County could be perceived as being white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. The people who would change the face and fabric of the county’s population and accentuate the differences between the various regions and towns were already arriv­ing as the festivities ended.

A Black community existed from the time of the earliest European settlement. The elder John Harris, before 1720, is said to have been saved from hostile Indians by his slave Hercules. By 1850 free Blacks established significant communities in Harrisburg and Middletown.

Most of the 900 Blacks living in Harrisburg in 1850 were segregated behind the Capitol in a neighborhood where churches, fraternal halls and homes crowded together with gambling dens and bawdy houses. Blacks were pushed into the most menial jobs, providing many of the town’s common labor­ers, most of the barbers, and nearly all of the waiters and kitchen workers al the more than fifty hotels and restau­rants. Yet Frederick Douglass praised this community in 1847 saying: “For order, neatness, and gentility they exceed any congregation of our oppressed brethern I have seen in a long time.”

Jesuits established a small Roman Catholic mission near Harris’ Ferry in the 1780s. A chapel and cemetery were established sometime after 1813. This evolved into Saint Patrick’s Church with the arrival of hundreds of Irish laborers to build the canals in the 1820s. These people contributed the money and labor to construct the church in 1827. In 1859, Saint Lawrence’s Church was formed to minister to the needs of a growing German speaking flock.

Jews in Harrisburg found it most convenient to shed their Jewish identity in the early days and blend into Christian society. But in 1848 five Jewish men were arrested for working on Sunday. Two of them had their property confiscated and sold by the County Sheriff in order to pay the fines. Jews began to worship openly in Harrisburg. In 1853, Ohev Sholam, the first synagogue in Dauphin County, was founded in Harrisburg. A small but viable German Jewish community was well established by 1860.

Dauphin County has always had a “foreign born” element. Between 1870 and 1900 immigrants made up from eight and one half to nine percent of the popula­tion. But their place of birth changed from Germany and the British Isles to southern and eastern Europe.

Many of these new immigrants made their homes in Steelton and Harrisburg. The 1880 census of Steelton shows 231 “foreign born” in a total of 2,447. Ten years later the figure was more than 2,100 of 9,250. By 1911, the U.S. Immigration Commission reported one-third of the borough’s 14,246 people were immigrants or children of immigrants. They represented thirty-three different nationali­ties, mostly Bulgarians, Croats and Serbs. Black migrants from Virginia and the Carolinas also made up an important part of the town’s population. Nearly all of these people in one way or another depended upon the steel company for their livelihood.

Black or white, these newcomers were not well received by the old stock Irish, English and German workers. Local newspapers carried letters and articles complain­ing about “dirty, illiterate paupers.” In 1905 the Steelton chapter of the Order of United American Mechanics petitioned for restrictions on immigration to protect “American” workers from the “Competitive Alien.”

Harrisburgers addressed other issues at the turn of the twentieth century. The city that was extolled in 1885 as “representing the highest civilization,” was, in 1900, described by several promi­nent citizens as a large indus­trial village, its beauty and potential lost in squalor. With a population of 50,167, Harris­burg ranked as the seventy­-seventh largest city in the United States, but it was dirty, with unpaved streets and shameful slums. Drinking water was drawn, unfiltered, from the sewage-fouled Susquehanna. Epidemics often weakened the town’ s residents.

State government officials knew Harrisburg’s faults. When the Capitol was destroyed by fire in February 1897 the legislature talked seriously of moving back to Philadelphia.

Mira Lloyd Dock, the well known conservationist and photographer, spoke out about the deplorable condi­tions before the Harrisburg Board of Trade on December 20, 1900. With lantern slides and commentary she explained what had been done to clean up and improve the quality of cities like Boston and Milwaukee. She bluntly said it was time to make Harrisburg a “city beautiful.”

J. Horace McFarland and Vance C. McCormick, a city councilman who soon would become mayor, supported Dock’s plea. A score of promi­nent businessmen, the city’s major newspapers, the Civic Club, the Board of Trade and hundreds of other citizens also took up the cause, leading the efforts to clean the city.

Between 1902 and 1925 the voters of Harrisburg authorized ten separate bond issues to pay for paving streets, a water filtration plant and sewage system, flood control projects and a chain of parks and parkways that completely encircled the city. Jn 1904, the new, modern Market Street Bridge replaced the flood damaged Camelback Bridge.

Private capital was heavily invested in such projects as the United States Fidelity and Guarantee building and the Penn Harris Hotel. Bellevue Park, a beautifully planned and exclusive neighborhood, was built in this period. State government was committed to stay in Harrisburg when a magnificent new Capitol was dedicated in 1906 with Theodore Roosevelt presiding. The state also razed the slums behind the Capitol and extended the complex of buildings needed to house the offices of government.

These physical changes enhanced city life. Some people who grew up in Harrisburg in the first three decades of this century recall it, perhaps with selective memories, as a great golden place. They remember the river, filled with boats and canoes, as the city’s front yard in warm weather. Sandy Point beach, at the north end of City Island, was crowded with bathers. The island was a sports fan’s delight featuring track and field meets, football and baseball.

Milton S. Hershey was conducting his own experi­ment in community planning while Harrisburg was being transformed. After receiving a large fortune from the sale of an earlier candy company, Hershey chose, in 1903, to build a chocolate factory in the fields surrounding his birth­place near Derry Church. As his name became synonymous with chocolate, Hershey lavished the huge profits from his company on the model town he created around the factory. He had a dream of a “cooperative” community, a workers’ utopia, guided by his wisdom and supported by his benevolence.

Hershey provided his town with a bank, stores, utilities, even a cemetery. When he sold building lots he insured the town would look the way he wanted by retaining control over the appearance and type of structure that was erected. in 1909 he founded the Hershey Industrial School for orphaned boys, endowing it with 500,000 shares of choco­late company common stock. For the people living in the town and for his employees, Hershey planned and built an amusement park, public gardens and athletic facilities. During the Great Depression, Hershey used the profits from the chocolate company to give work to hundreds of men who constructed the Hershey Hotel and the Hershey Community Center, both opened in 1933. The Community Center, a gift from Milton Hershey to the town on its fiftieth birthday, offered theaters, recreational facilities and a fully-equipped hospital to residents for a small annual membership fee.

Hershey’s vision of cooper­ation faltered, however, when “the people proved improvi­dent and distrustful,” accord­ing to an article published in Newsweek in 1937. Even before World War I, Hershey’s plans for cooperative stores and a single community church were rejected by residents. He ignored these setbacks and shaped the town as he thought best.

Despite an ugly and violent strike in 1937, when the Congress of Industrial Organi­zations tried to organize a chocolate workers union, the community retained the character and spirit of Mil ton Hershey. The town of Hershey continues to be a clean, wholesome place; a Pennsyl­vania-Dutch version of utopia.

The Harrisburg City Beauti­ful movement did not maintain the spirit and momentum of its early years. The movement was successful within the Limits set by its leaders. The city was made clean and relatively free of disease. “The Harrisburg Idea” was emulated by other cities. But the movement lost its key leaders. McFarland traveled around the country as president of the American Civic Association. leading a “Crusade against ugliness.” He was closely involved in the International Niagara Falls Board of Control and the development of the National Park System. McFarland also served in the administrations of Presidents Wilson and Coolidge. Vance McCormick ran for governor in 1913 and later served as an advisor to Woodrow Wilson, playing an important role in the Versailles Peace Conference. Mira Dock abruptly retreated from Harrisburg to live in the peace of the forest.

This public leadership was not replaced. No one came forward with the vision and enthusiasm to confront the changes that followed World War II. In 1950, when the population of Harrisburg peaked at over 90,000, steel companies and railroads employed 15,000 people in the city. Those two industries, after sustaining the local economy for over a century, fell on hard times in the decades following the war. State government became the area’s leading employer, offering mostly white collar jobs.

Despite centuries of upheaval, Dauphin County­ – home to a monolithic state government center and the chocolate capital of the world – remains constant in many respects. Its residents­ – both descendants of old, established families, as well as the recently arrived immigrants – help distinguish the county as one of the most diverse in the Common- wealth.


For Further Reading

Barton, Michael. An Illustrated History of Greater Harrisburg. Woodland Hills, Cal.: Windsor Publications, 1983.

Historical Atlas of Dauphin County. Philadelphia: Everts and Stewart, 1875.

Kelker, Luther R. History of Dauphin County Pennsyl­vania. New York: Lewis Publish­ing Co., 1907.


James F. Davis, former executive director of the Dauphin County Historical Society, has been actively involved in the study of county history. He has written a number of articles concerning the area’s history and culture, and this article was fostered by his research for Dauphin County’s bicentennial being celebrated this year.