History of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Harrisburg has been the capital of Pennsylvania since 1812. The site was settled by John Harris, at a point where the Susquehanna River was easily ferried. The date is not settled, but was probably around 1715 to 1718. This John Harris died in December, 1740.

His second son, also John Harris, is considered to be the actual founder of Harrisburg. He laid out the city in 1785 and provided its name. It was changed to Louisbourg later in the same year, in honor of the king of France, but the Harrisburg name was restored in 1791.

In 1812, Harrisburg replaced Philadelphia as the state capital. Temporary accommodations were used until 1819, when Governor William Findlay laid the cornerstone of a new capitol building. That two-story brick building served until February 12, 1897, when it was destroyed by fire.

Harrisburg was chartered as a city in 1860. During the Civil War, Camp Curtin, the first camp for Union soldiers, was established near Harrisburg. It escaped occupation by Confederate forces in 1863 when General Lee diverted his army when it was within sight of the city.

The present capitol, constructed of limestone and granite, was completed in 1906. About a third of the $12.5 million cost is estimated to have been attributed to graft, which resulted in the famous 1908 Capitol Graft cases that ended with the contractor and architect being sent to prison.

With 1,100 acres devoted to parks, Harrisburg once boasted more parks per square mile than any other city in America. The jewel of the system is River Park, which extends several miles along the Susquehanna, and where the first John Harris is buried in front of the Harris Mansion.

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