Historic Harrisburg Association, Inc. was established in 1973 as a nonprofit organization largely in response to two fateful events: the devastating effects of the flood caused by Hurricane Agnes in June 1972 and the demolition of Harrisburg’s spectacular State Theater. The first meeting was held on February 22, 1973 at the State Museum of Pennsylvania (which at the time served frequently as the cultural gathering place of the Capital Region.) Marianne Faust, a Midtown community activist, was elected the first President.
Organized as a membership organization led by a board of directors, Historic Harrisburg has devoted itself to the revitalization and preservation of Harrisburg’s residential, commercial, economic and cultural life. HHA’s mission statement, simplified in 2015 states that HHA has been “promoting historic preservation, urban revitalization and smart growth since 1973.”
HHA has been a regional organization since its beginning. Members, leaders, donors and volunteers have always come from throughout the Capital Region, recognizing the regional – and statewide! – importance of Pennsylvania’s Capital City.
Membership meetings, open to the public free of charge, were convened on “fourth Mondays,” a practice that continues today. The meetings include educational programs and discussion of issues of importance to the association.
The following milestones stand out in Historic Harrisburg’s history:
1973: Demolition of Penn-Harris Hotel signifies “bottoming out” of Downtown.
First Candlelight House Tour is held, Sunday, Dec. 9, 1973, a tradition that has continued on the second Sunday in December ever since.
1974: Harrisburg’s first Municipal Historic District is established.
1976: US Tax Reform Act of 1976 provides for historic preservation investment tax credits.
1979: Commonwealth of PA aborts plans to demolish what is now Old Fox Ridge for Capitol Complex expansion, in favor of concentrating future office growth in the central business district.
1980: The Governor’s “Downtown Policy Statement” sets forth the State’s commitment to historic preservation and the downtown.
1981: HHA purchases and rehabilitates the property at 112 Conoy Street on “Pancake Row” in Shipoke as a fundraiser.
1982: Old City Hall is sold to Historic Landmarks for Living, becoming the City’s first historic preservation tax credit project.
1983: Candlelight House Tour features properties on Allison Hill for the first time, in anticipation of creation of a National Register Historic District in that area.
1986: HHA institutes historic preservation awards and an annual awards ceremony in observance of National Historic Preservation Week.
1988: HHA’s first home, via a five-year lease with the Historical Society of Dauphin County, includes an office and shared use of space for board and membership meetings.
Harrisburg’s last movie theater, the Senate on Market Square is razed to make way for the long anticipated Hilton hotel.
1990: Old Uptown is designated as both a municipal and National Register historic district, fueling investment in “Engleton” vicinity.
HHA’s logo (still in use) is adopted via a design competition among HACC graphic design students.
1992: HHA hires its first executive director, David Morrison.
“Elegant Progressions” is launched as a partnership with the Kidney Foundation of Central Pennsylvania.
1993: HHA realizes a two-decade-old dream of obtaining its own headquarters, receiving the landmark Central Trust Company building for one dollar, deemed “a space breathing in architectural splendor which truly mirrors the soul of the Association.”
1995: HHA launches annual spring House & Garden Tour, which will continue until 2007.
1996: The wintertime Flood of 1996 ravages the Walnut Street Bridge and Pancake Row. Pancake Row is rebuilt, receiving HHA’s Preservation Award.
HHA’s Community Historic Preservation Fund is established through a six-figure funding commitment from Penn National Insurance Company; a Council of Trustees is appointed to manage the funds and determine grants and other uses intended to spur historic preservation in the community.
1998: The 25th Anniversary Candlelight House Tour features “25 properties for 25 years.”
2000: HHA and Capitol Area Neighbors successfully thwart plans for a high-rise parking garage on North Street in the heart of an historic residential neighborhood.
2003: HHA launches a year-long 30th anniversary, gathering 100 members and friends at the Historic Harrisburg Resource Center for champagne and cake.
2005: A proposal to demolish three historic riverfront mansions in the 2900 block of Front Street fuels one of the community’s bitterest preservation crises. The proposed condominium project never materialized, but it would take 10 years of uncertainty before the preservation of all three landmarks would be assured.
2011: HHA begins issuing its annual “Preservation Priorities” list to highlight properties and landmarks whose preservation is deemed a community priority.
HHA hosts “A Toast to David Morrison” at Char’s Tracy Mansion (one day before it opened to the public), launching an annual spring gala event that honors persons or entities whose civic contributions have helped to advance HHA’s mission and the city’s fortunes.
2013: HHA’s 40th Anniversary includes “A Toast to Our Founders,” becoming a reunion of HHA’s founders and pioneers, some of whom returned from other states for the occasion.
Largely because of the work of the Historic Harrisburg Association and its civic partners, Harrisburg now stands as a primary example of how historic preservation can contribute to the reversal of decline in American cities. In Historic Harrisburg’s 40 plus years of existence, dozens of multi-million-dollar preservation projects — and thousands of smaller ones — have contributed greatly to the quality of life, economic vitality and visual attractiveness of Pennsylvania’s capital city.