Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

“Draught of Sundry levellings and gradings of the public ground around the State Capitol,” dated 1827, offers a firsthand look at a proposal for sculpting the land surrounding the building in Harrisburg, which had been dedicated five years earlier. The plan bears notations giving detailed instructions for the work, including the volume of earth to be removed. The document also depicts the two fireproof buildings that flanked the State Capitol in which irreplaceable state records were stored. Since a state archives would not be created for three-quarters of a century, not until 1903, these buildings, identified as the North Wing and the South Wing, proved critical in preserving important government records during the inferno that devoured the State Capitol on February 2, 1897 – seventy-five years and one month to the day after its formal dedication on January 2, 1822.

From its inception in 1682, Pennsylvania’s General Assembly conducted business in a variety of places, among them inns, meeting houses, markets, and private residences in and around Philadelphia. The Assembly began holding sessions in the new State House (now Independence Hall) during the 1730s. When the British forced the General Assembly and the Continental Congress to flee Philadelphia in 1777, the Assembly reconvened in the old county courthouse in Lancaster while the Continental Congress assembled in the York County Courthouse. After the enemy forces withdrew from Philadelphia the following year, the Assembly returned to the State House. With westward expansion, the General Assembly, by then a bicameral body under the Constitution of 1790, again took up residence in Lancaster in 1799. Eleven years later lawmakers approved an act to move the state capital even further west, to Harrisburg, where the Dauphin County Courthouse became the seat of government in October 1812.

On May 31, 1819, Governor William Findlay (1768-1848) laid the cornerstone for the first permanent state capitol building in Harrisburg, a Greek Revival-style building designed by Stephen Hills, a well-known English-born housewright who had been living in Lancaster. The legislature conducted its first session in the building in January 1822. Harrisburg’s founder, John Harris Jr. (circa 1727-1791), had donated the four-acre parcel of land for the seat of state government in 1785, which was accepted by an act of the legislature twenty-five years later, in 1810. This draught (Map 2451) is one of three versions in the Land Office Map Collection {Series 17.522} in the Records of the Land Office (Record Group 17) at the Pennsylvania State Archives depicting the proposed changes to the Capitol grounds.

The collection contains nearly thirty-eight hundred maps, including completed warrantee tract maps for about one-third of the counties in Pennsylvania, as well as connected draft maps for portions of many additional counties, worksheets for connected drafts, survey outlines, and various other types of maps either used or created by the Land Office.

 

Willis L. Shirk, Jr. is an archivist at the Pennsylvania State Archives.