Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Capitol fire leads to church connection and church & state intersection.
John Harris Jr. plotted out the land on the hill by the Susquehanna River and named it after his father. He then gave 4 acres and 21 square perches to the state as part of his proposal in 1789 contingent on being used for the capital. Initially the legislature moved from Philadelphia to Lancaster for ten years because Lancaster had a larger population than rural Harrisburg. In 1812, the first of three Capitol buildings was finished. The Hills Capitol won the first ever contest to create a State Capitol, not because it was on a hill. It was the name of the winning architect. On Feb 2nd, 1897 the Hills Capitol burned to the ground.
Henry Cobb from Chicago was selected as the architect to build a new Capitol, which he started but ran out of funding. Governor Hastings selected a pay as you go method of paying. The homeless legislature meet in the Methodist church close by until 1899, then moved to the unfinished building that Cobb himself called ugly. In 1901 a new Capitol commission was formed and required a Pennsylvania architect. Joseph Huston was selected and continued to completion in 1906. Governor Pennypacker welcomed President Theodore Roosevelt to the dedication who proclaimed the new Capitol "the handsomest building I ever saw".
The journey of Pennsylvania State Capitol Harrisburg history is full of H's. Harris to Hills to Henry to homeless to Hastings to Huston until Pennypacker and Roosevelt found it to be the handsomest.
Grace Methodist Episcopal Church built between 1873 and 1878 was in the right place when the Capitol burned in 1897. Some historians say that it saved Harrisburg as the State Capitol. With no where to meet, Lancaster, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia pitched themselves as landing spots. The clergy and congregation opened it's doors and Sunday School rooms to the legislature for 2 years while the Henry Cobb Capitol was under construction. It's prominent location on State street was the perfect substitute.
One block to the East another prominent and beautiful church was built in 1859. Pine Street Presbyterian patrons met in Senate chambers for the first year during construction. One block south of Grace Methodist on State Street a third church building rose from chapel to Cathedral from 1807 to 1907. St. Patrick's Cathedral with it's green dome is actually at the corner of Church and State Street, directly in front of the current Capitol.
Most events now are held on the North side in the sprawling Capitol complex. If your visiting the Pennsylvania State Capitol you may want to swing around to the other side where the church bells toll and find a bunch of H H H H H H H history in the Harrisburg Capitol timeline.
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