Original Document
Original Document
J. Horace McFarland, “The Awakening of Harrisburg,“ 1914.

THE capital city of Pennsylvania, with unusual advantages of geographical situation, and surrounded by much natural beauty of river and mountain, island and valley, had pursued the even tenor of its growth in wealth and population for something over a century, with but little thought of esthetic development. To the problems of water-supply, street paving, sewage disposal and the other questions that must beset congestion of population, only incidental attention had been paid, without any comprehensive view of the situation or any attempt to provide adequately for the future.
In the course of time, individual citizens began to make comment on the failure of the town to measure up to the more agreeable conditions found in other municipalities, and numberless plans were proposed for improvement. As usual with such propositions, their most useful effect was in creating discussion, for it is seldom that the citizens of any community will agree to adopt as best the plans or suggestions of other members of the same community. "A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country."
It may fairly be said that the real improvement of Harrisburg began with an illustrated talk on "The City Beautiful," presented December 20, 1900, by Miss Mira Lloyd Dock, before a large number of Harrisburg citizens gathered in the Board of Trade auditorium. Miss Dock, one of the energetic founders of the Civic Club, had long been a prophet of improvement. She now showed pictorially the disgusting civic conditions in Harrisburg, contrasting these with enlightened conditions elsewhere. Hundreds of citizens then realized, for the first time, that a rarely beautiful river bank was not the best place for a public dump, and that a modern city owes its inhabitants, in return for taxation, something more than police protection, typhoid-laden water, imperfect sewerage, dirty and unpaved streets, and deficient park and playground facilities. …
The problem of a pure water supply was of the greatest importance to Harrisburg. Drinking unfiltered Susquehanna river water after it had received the sewage of twenty-four cities and towns, with 522,799 population, it was not to be wondered at that the typhoid fever statistics were disgracefully alarming.
We showed graphically that smallpox and diphtheria were innocent diseases compared with the less feared typhoid fever, and that a radical increase in the percentage of typhoid cases was occuring each year, taking into account the fact that all deaths from typhoid fever in excess of six in the one hundred thousand are insisted by sanitary experts to be simply municipal murder, we showed that Harrisburg, which could without fault answer for three deaths per year, had killed in the preceding year twenty-four persons beyond the proper limit. …
In addition to furnishing the water which Harrisburg drank unfiltered, the broad Susquehanna river, fronting the length of the city, received the sewage of the city, turned into it by means of many sewers, the outfalls of which caused an intolerable nuisance at the low stages of the river prevailing in the summer months. …
A serious menace to the health of Harrisburg existed through the turning of the sewage of about two-fifths of the city's population into Paxton Creek, a small stream running parallel to the course of the Susquehanna river, east of the low ridge serving as a backbone to the city. Paxton Creek, flowing through a beautiful natural park known at the beginning of this improvement movement as Wetzel's Swamp, but now much more appropriately entitled Wildwood Park, was an altogether clean and sightly stream until it flowed into civilization, where the usual adornment of dump, filth and liquid wastes changed it into a foul open sewer. The pictures following this stream through, its woodland course into the city, and giving in large detail the dumps, sewer outfalls and filth, so far as these could be represented by the camera (the stench being unphotographable!), invariably produced a sensation when shown. The fact thus impressed that, while Paxton Creek could receive at low water without damage to health the sewage of a thousand people, it was receiving all the time the sewage of twenty thousand, strongly enforced the vital importance of this part of the improvement work.
The engineer's plan for remedying this trouble included the erection of a great intercepting sewer paralleling Paxton Creek and receiving all but the flood -water discharge of the section of the city draining into it. He also provided for the improving of the channel of the creek, so that it would become a clean and wholesome stream. This work has been completely accomplished, and the intercepting sewer has been in successful service for more than two years. The improvement in the appearance of Paxton Creek is most noticeable.
Harrisburg had a most inadequate park provision at the inception of this movement, as has before been suggested. Setting aside the unkept and irregular strip of grass along the river front, sometimes edging an unpleasant dump, and the little Capitol Park of sixteen acres, mostly taken up by the buildings of the state administration, Reservoir Park, of less than twenty-five acres, inconveniently situated more than a mile from the center of the city, afforded the only recreation spot. Of playgrounds there were none, save as the ladies of the city had temporarily converted several of the unpleasant school-yards into summer playgrounds, maintained for a short time only. When the pictures of these playgrounds were shown to people, contrasted with an orchard view close to one of the schools -- but separated from it by a barbed-wire fence -- there was no difficulty in noting the desire of all the people for adequate park and playground facilities.
In this connection, some little attention was paid to the crowded streets of the city, to the telegraph poles which line its highways, and to the billboards which sometimes hide beautiful vistas. In one particular case, a billboard of a most offensive character shut out the view of a tract of land proposed in Mr. Manning's plan to be taken as a small park. When the question was asked, "Which do you prefer, the trees on the banks or the billboards on the streets?" there was always a shout of "Trees!" …
When entering this campaign, it had been my personal contention with the Executive Committee that I should have permission to enlarge upon the necessity for parks. My excellent associates were not convinced either of the absolute necessity for parks or of the advisability of pressing the park movement among the people.
Declining to do the work upon any other basis than that of giving full importance to the provision of proper outdoor recreation facilities, I was permitted to have my way. The presentation of our park needs to the people soon justified itself absolutely; for in some parts of the city in which little attention could be secured to matters of sewerage, filtration and paving, the appeal of near-by green trees and grassy lawns, located where tired mothers might give their children the recreation due to every American child, was noticeably strong. The park propaganda became a strong element in obtaining favor. I have mentioned before the possibility of a great natural park, known at the time this movement began as Wetzel's Swamp, and esteemed by most of the citizens of Harrisburg to be a boggy neighborhood, available only as a burial-place for deceased domestic animals and as a resort for tramps. Only a few of us knew that this "swamp," inserted, as it were, into the very center of what must be the future city of Harrisburg, was one of the greatest potentialities in America for a superb natural park.
Mr. Manning had enthusiastically advocated the including of all of it, so as to provide here a park of over five hundred acres in the city's system. Very little of the land included was used for agricultural purposes, and, at first laughed at, the proposition soon became a most important adjunct to our improvement propaganda. As pictures were shown indicating the beauties of this natural park, -- with its great trees, grassy roads and pleasant open spaces; with its succession of wild flowers, from the hepatica in earliest spring, through the time of violets, dogwoods, redbuds, irises, marshmallows, and other members of the rich flora of Central Pennsylvania, to the close of the blooming season with the witch hazel's defiance of the frost,-- a strong desire was evident to possess this land for the good of all. It required little argument to show the advisability of taking as park territory land in which great trees of the oak, maple, tulip and ash were already matured.
But after all this appeal, it was absolutely necessary to discuss each time the question of economics. This the Executive Committee had foreseen, and a statement had been secured from the city treasurer and a city controller, showmg the actual probable increase of taxation for five years, under favorable conditions and under unfavorable conditions. ...
So much for the situation on February 19, 1902. Full five years have now elapsed, and the city administration has necessarily been changed… It is therefore with intense satisfaction that I briefly detail the present status of the various movements thus inaugurated in what was probably the first concrete and comprehensive campaign for municipal advancement ever undertaken in America. I do not wish to be misunderstood in this statement, for the volume of improvements involved is not so great, compared with the many millions spent in the larger cities. It is the method employed: that of engaging expert advice for the preparation of a concrete plan so that all the needs of the town might be met through a coincidently proceeding and harmoniously interlocking plan of improvements, that challenges attention. With filtration incomplete and typhoid murders yet proceeding in Philadelphia after many years of effort, with wealthy (p. 15)Pittsburg drinking raw typhoid-laden water, with the inadequacy of even great Boston in some respects, with the limited success of spasmodic improvement movements in many other cities, it is distinctly the most important part of this story to call attention to the entire and unqualified success of this, the first movement undertaken upon a harmoniously complete and definite plan. …
[W]thin the time of Mayor McCormick's administration, but three short years, Harrisburg had the satisfaction of becoming one of the cleanest cities in the United States; for its twenty-two miles of paved streets are swept every day the year round, and the excellent asphalt pavements are really visible at all times.
Under this same highway department, the $I00,000 involved in the million-dollar loan for the payment of the cost of paving street intersections was combined with more than a million dollars realized by assessing abutting properties, so that the paved area of the city has increased, as I have stated, to twenty-two miles, all kept clean.
So changed has the attitude toward paving become in the city, that another loan has recently been voted by the people to pay for paving more intersections. This has permitted the making of contracts to increase the area of Harrisburg s paved streets to more than forty-five miles. …
The matter of the sewerage problem and the filtration of the water had, preceding the election of February i8, 1902, been placed in charge of the Board of Public Works, including, as I have before said, three admirable citizens.
The city councils promptly passed the necessary legislation to enable this Board to get to work. It selected the same excellent engineer, Mr. James H. Fuertes, and it has completed its work, except for the erection of the drainage dam (prevented by legislative difficulties) most successfully. Filtered water was served to the city beginning October, 1905, and thus in but a little over three years from its organization this Board, after making for six months exhaustive tests of the water of the Susquehanna, followed with the installation of a modern filtration plant able to supply from nine to twelve million gallons a day of pure, clear, sparkling. water, in place of the muddy, culm-mixed and typhoid- polluted fluid previously served to our defenceless citizens. Careful daily bacteriological examination of the filtered water is maintained.
 As previously mentioned, the great intercepting sewer has been completed, and a number of other main sewers have been added to the city's drainage system. Its term expiring, and several of its able members declining reelection because of the very great drain upon their time required in the three years of arduous labor, a new board was elected, of no less capable character, and under the new loan voted in 1905 is proceeding with further extensions of the sewerage system and with the rebuilding of a viaduct connecting two parts of the city. …
Naturally nearest my own heart is the park proposition involved in the loan ordinance. … To briefly recount its accomplishments, I may say that the riverfront has been combined into one splendid strip of green more than a mile long, giving a superb view over the unsurpassed panorama of river, and island and mountain to the west, and affording easily reached breathing places for a vast multitude of people. Just what this means can be realized when it is stated, upon the authority of the Harrisburg Park Commission, that 368,000 people used the Riverside parks alone during the six months of 1906.
More than two miles of additional river-front have been secured, or are in process of being secured, by the Park Commission, so that before long the city of Harrisburg will have the unique distinction of a river front untouched by commerce or residence, maintained as a continuous park and open for the pleasure and recreation of all its citizens along not less than four miles.
This Riverside park forms an essential part of the parkway scheme which is to encircle the whole of the city of Harrisburg, with approximately eighteen miles of driveway. Of these eighteen miles, nearly one-third (p. 18)have been already secured and partially opened. It is a notable evidence of the public spirit of property owners to call attention to the fact that all the property required for the parkway, which follows for the most part small streams in valleys of great beauty, but of little agricultural or residential value in themselves, has been contributed without cost to the city. While it may easily be argued that in thus permitting the establishment of a parkway, these citizens increase the value of contiguous property, it can also be shown that high prices have been exacted elsewhere.
The small and inadequate Reservoir Park has been more than trebled in size, including now eighty-nine acres of rolling land, topped by three notable summits. Lawns, drives, tennis courts, a golf course, swings, playgrounds, picnic grounds, rest-houses and a flower-garden have made this a most attractive spot. Each summer, through the liberality of the citizens and the local traction company, a series of band concerts is maintained in a great open natural auditorium, seating 2,500 persons and providing comfortable hearing for 4,000. This park is on the line of the parkway before mentioned….
The proposed great natural park to the north and east of the city, known in the campaign as the "Wetzel's Swamp" neighborhood, (p. 19)was fully included in Mr. Manning's comprehensive plan. By cooperation with the Board of Public Works, and in connection with a plan for the prevention of floods in the 1 woo Paxton Creek valley, a storage lake has been included with this park, now known as Wildwood Park. Fully two-thirds of the property involved has been acquired for the city, and portions of the park will be made available to the citizens during 1907. The total area to be included in Wildwood Park and Wildwood Lake approximate six hundred and fifty acres. …
In conclusion, I may properly call attention to the fact that there is no feeling of regret at the improvements undertaken and carried out. On the contrary, our citizens are looking forward to greater achievements. A modern sewage disposal plant ; the burying of the wires which now obstruct our streets ; the inclusion in the great Wildwood Park as part of a flood-protection scheme of a pleasure lake more than a mile long ; the erection of a City Hall in harmony with existing structures, so that there shall be even in this small city a proper grouping of public buildings — ?re all in mind; and "Harrisburg, a growing city," can fairly now lay claim to being also, "Harrisburg, a live city."

Credit: J. Horace McFarland, “The Awakening of Harrisburg: Some Account of the improvement Movement Begun in 1902; with the Progress of the Work to the End of 1906.“ Washington D. C.: The American Civic Association, 1914. 
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