Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Monday, February 21, 2011

PA State Capitol Building

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

The Rotunda / Detail
(Photo Credit / The Patriot News) 
Hey campers it's time to check out the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building in the state's capital city of Harrisburg on the eastern shore of the Susquehanna River.  Completing some graduate work over the summer of 2008 required me to spend a week in Harrisburg in a hotel on Market Square, a short distance from the Capitol Complex.  One afternoon we were given some free time away from class for a few hours to explore the city of Harrisburg on our own.  I headed to the Capitol Building where I was able walk around inside on my own.  I found out that they offered free tours during the week and decided to return with the kids to check it out.  They were thrilled!  The forty minute tour was really informative and the building more grand and beautiful than we could have imagined.  It was like a castle from Europe somehow transported to the center of the state of Pennsylvania. 

Pennsylvania State Capital Building
Many might question why the capital of Pennsylvania would not be located in the city of the region's birth within William Penn's City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia?  The answer is, it was... for a while.  The truth is, Philadelphia had served as the capital of Pennsylvania since the colony was created in 1682 and remained the state's seat of government up until the year of 1812.  Events surrounding the Revolutionary War with Great Britain revealed the vulnerability of the large city serving as the capital of Pennsylvania and the newly formed nation of the United States of America.  The problem with the city of Philadelphia is that it was just too close to the Atlantic Ocean and the foreign enemies that were lurking in the waters off the Atlantic coast. 

Interior of the Rotunda
The Second Continental Congress was meeting in the State House in Philadelphia and were running the day to day operations of the war effort for the Continental Army.  The Declaration of Independence, that had created the United States of America, had been penned by Thomas Jefferson in rented rooms a short distance from Independence Hall, where it was later ratified.  The British set their sights on key cities in America, hoping to bring an end to the rebellion, with New York City and the capital city of Philadelphia at the top of their list of planned invasions.  Supreme Commander General Thomas Gage of the British Army in Boston instructed General William Howe to make his way south toward Philadelphia to capture the city and the leaders of the rebel government.  General George Washington and the Continental Army planned to intercept General Howe and the British infantry at Brandywine Creek thirty miles outside the city of Philadelphia. 

Capitol Rotunda / Staircase
General Washington's received conflicting information on Howe's complex, multifaceted attack plan that was full of decoy movements, which caused confusion within the American lines.  Howe was able to exploit Washington's flank at Brandywine Creek, causing the Continental Army to break and abruptly retreat towards Chester.  The doorway to Philadelphia was now wide open, leaving the capital city of the young nation completely defenseless.  General Howe methodically marched toward the city as the Second Continental Congress made preparations to flee to safety, sixty-five miles to the west in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  One day later the Continental Congress moved another 26 miles further west to the city of York, on the other side of the Susquehanna River.  Fifteen days after Washington's army fell apart at Brandywine, General Howe captured the capital city of Philadelphia without resistance and set up his official headquarters residence within Independence Hall.

Moral Paintings Throughout
After the fall of the capital during the American Revolution and with a new fight with Great Britain on the horizon that came to be known as the War of 1812, it was decided to move the state capital further inland from Philadelphia, far from enemy threats.  The site of Harrisburg was chosen because it was centrally located and a transportation hub that would make it an easy destination for lawmakers from the far corners of the Commonwealth.  The new capital city looked out over the beautiful Susquehanna River from the eastern shore.  The first state capitol building was called the Hill Capitol Building and was tragically destroyed by fire in 1897.  The state legislature was moved to a nearby Methodist church, where they conducted state business until a new building could be built.  The new replacement building project ran out of funding mid-construction and was never completed.  There was talk that the state government should be moved to Pittsburgh or even back to Lancaster, which would devastate the local economy of Harrisburg that had been built around the business of state government.  The city of Harrisburg had to provide a new capitol building, to remain the chosen site of Pennsylvania's state government.
President Roosevelt at Dedication / 1906
(Photo Credit / Pennsylvania State Archives)
In 1902 a new plan was quickly put into action to build a new grand capitol building that could house the bulk of the state government offices and keep the state capital from moving away.  The new building was completed four years later at a cost three times the price originally quoted.  This led to a scandal investigation that ended in several arrests, including the buildings designer, Joseph Miller Hudson.  Political scandals are as old as history itself!  Hudson's Italian Renaissance style building was dubbed the Palace of Art because of the abundance of sculptures and mural paintings found throughout the building's interior.  Much of the artwork depicted scenes from the state's history, including several stained glass windows.  The building's dedication ceremony in 1906 was attended by President Theodore Roosevelt, who claimed it was the most beautiful building he had ever seen!

 State Senate Chamber / Recess
The building is truly magnificent and is impressive inside and out.  Many states built their capitol building as a monument to their state's wealth and as a symbol of power.  The Hudson State Capitol Building sits as a crown of pride on the head's of all Pennsylvanians and the state's proud history.  In 2006 the building was designated a National Historic Landmark during the building's centennial celebration. Today the building houses the Pennsylvania General Assembly, which includes the chambers of the State House of Representatives and the State Senate.  The Governor's office and State Supreme Court are also housed within the building.  The tour was really interesting and I was surprised at all the places we were given access to see, including the chambers of the General Assembly, while the lawmakers were on a lunch break.  The House Chamber was a mix of the old with the new, as computer monitors glowed Pennsylvania blue. 

Capitol Building / Rear View
The impressive building's highlight is the 272 foot tall, fifty-two million pound rotunda that was designed to resemble Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.  The rotunda is what sets the capitol building apart and identifies the structure from the rest of the Harrisburg skyline.  The massive five story building was constructed of granite, quarried from the state of Vermont.  The building contains 475 rooms on four floors accessible from the grand marble imperial staircase, designed in the image of the famous staircase at the Palace Opera House in Paris, France.  The Capitol Building is surrounded by the Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex which contains forty-five acres, where fifteen of the state's government buildings and administrative offices can be found.    

The Harrisburg Skyline
(Photo Credit / Flicker Images)
In 1982 the Capitol Preservation Committee was formed to preserve the beautiful building and the historical contents inside for the future generations of Pennsylvania.  It is an ongoing process that has yielded ongoing results.  Over 100,000 people take the free tour every year and it is well worth forty minutes of your time.  You can literally see your state tax dollars at work!  The kids were impressed by the size and scope of the building, which encompasses a full two acres of land in the center of the city. It was time for lunch and time to explore the other buildings within the Capitol Complex.  The rear side of the Capitol Building was equally impressive with a symmetrical design containing multiple balconies and cascading fountains.  The entire area is a beautiful walk and a fun place to explore, especially the waterfront park and walkway along the Susquehanna River.  Take the time to check it out for yourself!
Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex 
(Photo Credit / Google Earth)

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