Shipoke Walking Tour

Shipoke Walking Tour

(rev 4.2011)

 (Start walk in park at site of Harris grave)

 Introduction and Early History

  • Despite what many people believe, life in the area did not begin with John Harris

  • Before John Harris arrived, the area was rich with Indian activity. Two major Indian trails ran through the tract. The north-south route followed the river from above Shamokin to the Chesapeake Bay. The east-west route went from New Jersey to Carlisle and then down the Shenandoah Valley. The exact point of intersection is not documented, but one of the reasons why John Harris located his trading post where he did was to be near the intersection of these two trails.

  • French and Swedish explores came through the area before the English claimed Pennsylvania and undoubtedly travelled the Indian trails. Captain John Smith also explored the area.

  • A major Indian village existed on the opposite shore where the Yellow Breeches goes into the Susquehanna. This village is thought to go back to B.C. times. It is yet to be thoroughly excavated.

  • John Harris (Sr) came to the area in about 1719 and within a few years set up a trading post with the Indians. In 1734 he received a land grant from William Penn who wanted to have the area opened for development (Harris was given about 800 acres). John Harris Sr. died in 1748.

  • Harrisburg was not founded by the original John Harris, but by his son, John Harris II. Harris II was born in 1716. Both Harris Sr. and Jr. had reputations for dealing fairly with the Indians and were respected by them.

  • Most of the Indians had been driven west of Carlisle by the time John Harris Sr. established his trading post, but in 1736 a group of Indians, who reportedly had been refused alcohol from the trading post, tied Harris to a Mulberry tree and threatened to burn him alive. He was saved by one of his slaves, Hercules, who got help from the Indian camp on the West Shore.

  • The Harris family used the area that is now known as Shipoke as their farm.

  • Records indicate that the Indian Chief, Half King, died on the Harris farm on October 4, 1754. Half King was an Iroquois leader who played an important role in the French and Indian War. He also travelled with George Washington as sort of an “ambassador” to the Indian tribes.

  • In 1756 and 1762 two major ¨Council Fires¨ were held at the Harris home to negotiate agreements between the English government and the Six Indian Nations that populated the frontier.

  • As late as 1763 there was an Indian uprising in the region and several settlers were killed on the road between Harrisburg and Paxton. In 1764 a vigilante group known as the Paxton Boys made a retaliatory raid and massacred a village of friendly Susquehannak Indians living near Lancaster. Until the early 1800’s Paxton was the population center of the area—not Harrisburg.

  • Up until the 1790’s the area was still part of the wild frontier. Shad migrated up the river in the spring to spawn. Bald eagles nested on the islands in the river. Bears, wolves, wild turkeys and even buffalo were seen in the area.

(Move to the area near the RR bridge)

 A Family Business

  • John Harris Sr and John Harris II (and other assorted descendents and relatives) operated a trading post, a ferry house and a farm and other businesses as a family undertaking.

  • The Harris Ferry House is thought to have been located near this Tech School marker. It came later than the trading post. (George Washington came through the area, but he rode his horse across the river because he didn’t want to wait for the ferry—the river never has been much deeper than it is now—in fact, it is higher because of the Dock St. dam)

  • The Harris Trading Post is thought to have been located where today’s 331-333 South Front Street houses stand. (It was still in business in 1830)

  • As sort of a real estate development plan, in 1785, a plot plan for the area north of where the Harris mansion is today was laid out by William Maclay, the son-in-law of John Harris II. The northern boundary was North St. and the southern boundary was Mary St. John Harris II donated land for the capital, for the courthouse, a church and a jail. He named most of the streets after Philadelphia streets, hence Race St., Vine St., Market St, etc. It was a very ambitious plan. At the time there were only 300 buildings in all of Harrisburg. Paxton was the population center.

  • The area south of the mansion was not part of the Harrisburg plot plan and was kept as the family farm. There were also livestock pens, horse yards and a livery stable in the Washington Street area. In 1792 a wandering buffalo caused cows to stampede and was killed in the Harris stable on River Alley.

(Move south to the park behind the hotel)

Boom Times

  • Harrisburg and the surrounding area came into its heyday of development between 1800 and 1900. It boasted iron mills, banking, a canal route, lumber mills, agricultural exports, coal shipping and a railroad line. Harrisburg particularly distinguished itself as a transportation center.

  • In 1791 Harrisburg was incorporated as a borough and in 1860 it was incorporated as a city.

  • In the early 1800s where the hotel now stands was the Black Horse Inn, a favorite drinking spot of many rafters and barge workers who floated lumber down the river from the north to the saw mills to the south of Harrisburg.

  • Later a cigar factory operated on the site.

  • In 1870 the Susquehanna Planning Mill — which produced moldings, sashes, wooden scrolls and other components for houses — was located on the site.

  • The site of the hotel also hosted the Harris Park Elementary School ( built in 1873 and in operation till 1960)

  • Notice the flood markers on the railroad bridge—Shipokers know that the floods will come—and they choose to live here anyway.

(Move south to Pancake row)

  • The homes in the 500 block of Front were owned by the Planning Mill and built to house their workers. George Trullinger and Jacob Pancake owned the firm. Pancake had two sons, Alfred and George, who took over the business after the elder Pancake and Trullinger passed away.

  • The elaborate Victorian homes on Conoy Street were built by the Planning Company as rental properties and to show off their millwork—sort of like model homes today.

  • Most of the early housing was constructed to accommodate barge workers and workers at the local iron mills.

  • Most of the older homes still standing today in Shipoke were built between 1850 and 1900 of wood frame or brick.

(Start Walking Past Specific Homes)

Pancake Row

100 Block Conoy Street

  • The owner of the Planning Mill, George Pancake erected the townhouses on Conoy St. circa 1888.

  • The row again almost met its demise during the Ice Flood of 1996 when a faulty wire caused a fire and major damage.

  • The home at 113 Conoy Street was built circa 1900 by Harrisburg mayor and fire chief, William Verbeke. The elaborate front door and transom are surmounted by a bracketed cornice with incised carvings, and are flanked by imposing wood framing. There is dentil frieze under the roof cornice as well as decorative window heads. This wood frame house has more ornamentation than most in this area.

  • Built in 1876, 115 Conoy Street is a Second-Empire end-unit townhouse and was the birthplace of Pennsylvania political legend, M. Harvey Taylor, on June 4, 1876. It served as his childhood home. Senator M. Harvey Taylor, was the last old time “boss” of the Republican PA party. Taylor served 24 years and was President Pro Tempore for a record 18 years from 1947 to 1964. He lived to be 103. Harvey Taylor Bridge is named after him

(Stop at the end of Conoy and then Turn Right on Race)

  • Talk about Race St Park—landscaped and maintained by the volunteer neighborhood association. Race St. used to go straight through before the bridge access roads were built in the 1960s. Originally the city just put up a metal fence—neighborhood action got the wall built

  • Talk about the Shipoke Neighborhood Association—beautification projects, crimewatch, paint the plugs, website, meetings, Flea Market in July

  • Much of the initial housing in Shipoke was of log construction. A log house that once was on Race St was moved and can now be seen in Royalton Park.

  • 550 Race—note marker for Agnes Flood of 1972
  • Go to the end of Race. At the south end of the 600 block of Race Street, the roadway curves to the west and becomes Nagle Street. Point out storm drain where flooding begins—lowest point in Shipoke. Water comes out at 19.1 ft, doesn’t breach bank until 24.5—it is the real predictor for Shipoke residents.
  • The church on Nagle Street was built circa 1876. It was one of the first Church of God churches and was built from materials from the Union Bethel (The Mother Church) that was originally where Harrisburg Hospital now stands. John Winbrenner, the founder of the Church of God preached there.

(Turn left on Front and go to where there is a good view of Dock St Dam)

  • Dock Street Dam and City Beautiful Project. 1920’s.The earliest efforts towards urban renewal in Harrisburg began with Mira Lloyd Dock, who was a member of an affluent city family. She became a national leader in the City Beautiful movement. Beginning in 1896, Dock attempted to organize her fellow citizens to work towards cleaning up Harrisburg. At that time, Harrisburg had been the capital city of Pennsylvania for nearly a century, but it looked more like an “industrial village” than the seat of state government. Most of the city’s streets were unpaved and littered with trash. The Susquehanna River, polluted with sewage from Harrisburg and other cities upstream, supplied the city with unfiltered and untreated water. The Dock Street dam was put in to raise the water level past the City so it wouldn’t stink so much.
  • Chesapeake Nail Works explosion of 1878 and the stopped clock 24 minutes before 4 a.m. Three died.
  • Talk about coal barges on the Susquehanna and the coal dredges

(Walking North through Riverfront Park for the best view of the next listed homes).

  • 705 – 705-1/2 South Front Street was originally a single-family dwelling, the home of George Pancake, mill owner. Built circa 1874, the brick house has a mansard roof with slate tiles, the center band in a fish scale arrangement. A cornice with classic scroll incised design and brackets divide the second and third stories. The “705” single wood front door is original, as is the small oval window on the left side of the house. The tall French windows on the first floor still have their original interior shutters. In summer, these windows were opened to draw cool air into the house. There was formerly a glass gazebo on the roof; the windows in the gazebo were opened, drawing out the rising warm air from the house. The grounds were at one time enclosed by a tall iron fence and elaborate gate. The building style may be classified as Second Empire.

  • 707 South Front Street is the largest single property in Shipoke. Built circa 1873 by Robert Tippett, an early industrialist (owned a coal yard in the area). The house features an Italian influenced teardrop doorway with a large cornice supported by brackets of acanthus leaf design. The “horsewalk” passageway is typical of these row homes.

  • The home at 631 South Front Street was erected between 1850 and 1855. This Federal-style brick 2-1/2-story townhouse has endured several renovations with the most major occurring in 1936-37 when the original large house was rebuilt as 631 and 631A South Front Street. The roof was raised in 1981 and a third-floor master suite added. The home features traditional style molding and woodwork, and an open staircase terminating in semi-circular steps in the living room. It used to be a frame house. The bricks were part of the 1930’s remodeling. The two on the corner used to be one house as well and were also frame construction.
  • 625 South Front Street is one of Shipoke’s earliest homes, having been built in the 1850s as employee housing for the Susquehanna Planning Mill. The wood frame exterior is original.

  • “The Manse” at 623 South Front Street was built of wood circa 1850, and was originally the parsonage for the Nagle Street Church located around the corner. This simple clapboard house has a dormer window in the half story under the roof, and pediment shaped window heads. The small door at the left encloses a storage area and leads to a garden behind the house. The wrought iron boot scraper near the front steps and the breadbox-like cellar window cover are typical of the clapboard homes.
  • 585 South Front Street was built about a century ago. The house is an unusual “non-identical” twin; the adjoining house at 587, though very similar, is slightly wider. The three-story structure reflects traces of Georgian-styled architecture. This is presumably a Colonial-revival element which became popular in the decades following the 1876 Centennial. The home is the former residence of the late Congressman John C. Kunkel, who is memorialized by a lifelike statute seated on a park bench on Kunkel Plaza at Front and State Streets.

  • The Three Sisters: The three mansard-roofed houses at 571, 573 and 575 South Front Street were built circa 1890 in the Second Empire Victorian style. They were built by Constantine Miller, supposedly for his three daughters. The leaded glass transom, a harp and a lyre, over the door of 573 came from the old J. H. Troup Music House on Market Square. The homes all have simple incised pediments over the front windows, with identical cornices supported by carved and pierced brackets over the doors. A wood frieze with pierced stylized clover design runs the length of the houses under the roof cornice. Notice the identical iron grills bearing the head of a woman on all three basement windows. Foundations were constructed during the Great Flood of 1889. A portion of a log, which was floating downstream and became jammed into part of the foundation, remains as evidence of the historic flood. Construction drawings and specifications for mixing cattle hair plaster were found in the attic of one of the homes.

(Go Now to the East side of Vine and Front and head north)

  • Corner of Vine and Front. Harris trading post until 1830, then after that, a jail was built there—later the two Empire-style town homes that are now there).

  • Take short jaunt down Vine. 118 Vine Street is the home of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, a brick building which was dedicated in 1898, at a cost of $10,000. It replaced an earlier frame church built in 1859. The congregation was first known as “the Vine St. Church” and was an offshoot of the Young Men’s Home Mission of the Locust Street Church, now Grace Methodist. Beautiful stained glass windows are dedicated to early leaders of the congregation.

  • Fire station built in 1922—saved Conoy St from burning down in 1996.

(Go Back to Front)

  • The Federal brick house at 329 South Front Street was the home of General Joseph Knipe, a shoemaker and boot maker who was charged with the defense of Harrisburg when the Confederate troops were approaching during the Civil War. He organized a volunteer cavalry unit and also named the uptown military establishment Camp Curtin in honor of the then Governor even though he had been ordered by his superiors in Washington to name it Camp Union. After the war he served as postmaster of Harrisburg from 1866-74. Dated 1835, the Knipe house is one of the earliest standing buildings in Shipoke.
  • The four-story Victorian house at 331 has fourteen rooms and three working fireplaces, including a cooking fireplace in the kitchen. The arched cellar under the full basement extends under the sidewalk. The eleven-foot double arched front doors with teardrop windows are original. circa 1874

  • The John Harris Mansion located at 219 South Front Street is one of the few remaining 18th century buildings in Harrisburg. John Harris, Jr. built the mansion in 1766 near the trading post his father had established. Parts of the home date to 1740. The original design was Georgian Colonial. The building was almost square with two rooms on either side of a central doorway. The second floor had corresponding rooms. In the mid-1800s the home was converted to the Victorian style. The mansion has been changed and enlarged by various owners. In its 200-year history it has had eleven owners. In 1863 the mansion was the Pennsylvania Female College; it later became the home of Simon Cameron, a U. S. Senator from Pennsylvania and Secretary of War in Lincoln’s cabinet. It was lowered by several feet to accommodate large mirrors purchased in France by Simon Cameron.