Harrisburg: Recreation


Harrisburg can be conveniently divided into five districts for sightseeing purposes: Center City, the Shipoke Historic District, the Capitol district and complex, Old Uptown Historic District, and Allison Hill.

Highlights of Center City, where most historic buildings were spared in rebuilding, include Riverfront Park, a scenic five-mile stretch that features a sunken flower garden, and City Hall, where sightseeing brochures can be obtained and perused at an outdoor plaza bedecked with sculptural works.

In the Front Street area of Center City, Governor's Row preserves several townhouses that housed early state chief executives. Also of interest are the art-deco Dauphin County Courthouse and a number of nineteenth-century churches.

The Shipoke Historic District, a late nineteenth-century residential area overlooking the Susquehanna River, contains the John Harris/Simon Cameron Mansion as well as restored townhouses interspersed with modern dwellings.

The Capitol district and complex contains the Capitol Building, an Italian Renaissance structure covering two acres and surrounded by a 13-acre park. Considered by many to be the finest such structure in the country, the Capitol Building features a dome modeled after St. Peter's basilica in Rome and stairs patterned after those at the Grand Opera in Paris.

Hershey Park is a popular attraction for children.
Hershey Park is a popular attraction for children.
Also located in the district are the State Museum of Pennsylvania, with exhibits relating to the state's history from earth's beginning to the present time, and the beautiful churches and mansions preserved on State and Front streets.

The Old Uptown Historic District encompasses the Historic Midtown District. Highlights there include late nineteenth-and early twentieth-century residences of various architectural styles and, a short distance away, Italian Lake, created from a swamp in the 1930s and spanned by a picturesque Italian Bridge. Contained in the baroque park setting is the Obelisk, a memorial to Dauphin County's Civil War soldiers.

Allison Hill is the name used for the portion of the city that rises above the Susquehanna Valley. In the area are found the Mount Pleasant Historic District (Allison Hill's oldest section); Bellevue Park, an early planned residential community laid out in 1910; and McFarland House, an Italianate residence built in 1876 and later home to J. Horace McFarland, horticulturist, environmentalist, and publisher. State Street East is a grand boulevard that descends from Allison Hill to the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Bridge and State Capitol Complex.

Of special interest to children are the Museum of Scientific Discovery (on the third level of the Strawberry Square Mall) with a variety of exhibits on subjects such as aviation, Earth and space, and biology along with the Fire Museum of Greater Harrisburg, Indian Echo Caverns in Hummelstown, and Hersheypark in Hershey. Known as the most beautiful "company town" in the country, Hershey is the headquarters of Hershey Foods Corporation and was conceived as a story-book-like town for company employees. Sights there include Chocolate World, Hersheypark, Zooamerica, Hershey Gardens, and the Hershey Museum. The Hessian Powder Magazine Museum of Carlisle describes the contributions of Hessian soldiers to the American Revolution.

Arts and Culture

A major venue for the performing arts in Harrisburg is the 1,763-seat State Forum, an art-deco edifice located in the state government built in 1931. There the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1930, presents seven classical and three pops series, three outdoor summer concerts, and special concerts and guest artists. Market Square Concerts brings national and international performing artists to Harrisburg between September and May with most concerts held in the Market Square Presbyterian Church. Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz sponsors several performances at varied locations. Rounding out the musical offerings are performances by the Harrisburg Opera Association, the Harrisburg Singers, Chamber Singers of Harrisburg, Harrisburg Choral Society, and the Susquehanna Folk Music Society.

Theatre Harrisburg, formerly known as Harrisburg Community Theatre and founded in 1926, has its own playhouse and stages full-scale productions. Rose Lehrman Arts Center at Harrisburg Area Community College holds concerts and theatrical events and is home to Open Stage of Harrisburg, which presents works reflecting the area's multicultural population. One of the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet studios resides in Harrisburg while a lively network of local theater groups, historical societies, literary and music clubs, and art associations complete the city's rich cultural landscape.

The Art Association of Harrisburg (AAH) offers 10 annual exhibitions of works in all styles and mediums by artists from around the world. In Reservoir Park is a restored 1898 mansion that contains an art gallery as well as the National Civil War Museum at Harrisburg, the nation's largest Civil War museum, with artifacts and collections from both the Union and the Confederacy. One of the world's largest paintings, "The Battle of Gettysburg: Pickett's Charge," is displayed at the State Museum of Pennsylvania, home to an extensive collection of state historical documents and artifacts. Other museums in Harrisburg are John Harris/Simon Cameron Mansion, home of the Dauphin County Historical Society and its collections and library; and Fort Hunter Mansion and Park.

Festivals and Holidays

Harrisburg proper is the site of the well-attended Greater Harrisburg ArtsFest at Riverfront Park in May; the Central Pennsylvania Commerce Bank Jazz Festival and Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival in June; American MusicFest at Riverfront Park for the Fourth of July and Pennsylvania Pump Primers Muster in mid-July; and the Dauphin County 4-H Fair in August and the official Labor Day celebration, known as Kipona Festival, at Riverfront Park. The Harrisburg Holiday Parade opens the holiday season, and a New Year's Eve Celebration is held on Market Square. In addition, many arts and crafts fairs with juried exhibitions and ethnic festivals are held throughout the region.

The Pennsylvania State Farm Show Complex, a 25-acre exposition hall that is one of the largest of its kind in the country, hosts the Pennsylvania Farm Show and Pennsylvania Auto & Boat Show in January, the Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show in February, Annual Spring Craft Show in March, the Pennsylvania Relief Sale of Mennonite crafts in early April, the Eastern National Antique Show in late April, the RV and Camping Show in mid-September, the All-American Dairy Show in late September, the Pennsylvania State 4-H Horse Show in October, and the Pennsylvania and Gift Show in early December.

Sports for the Spectator

City Island, in the Susquehanna River, contains Commerce Bank Park, home of Harrisburg's Eastern League Class Double-A minor league baseball team the Senators (affiliated in 2005 with Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals), whose season extends from April to Labor Day. Spectators gather downtown each June for the Faulkner Honda Harrisburg Criterium international cycling event.

Hersheypark Arena is home to the Hershey Bears, an American Hockey (AHL) team that entertains fans from October through April. The arena also hosts the Ice Capades and the Harlem Globetrotters. Hershey Country Club is home to the Reese's Cup Classic in May, although this was cancelled in 2005 due to ongoing renovations at the club. Sprint-car racing goes on at area tracks, and Penn National Race Course in Grantville offers the opportunity for betting on thoroughbred horses.

Sports for the Participant

Harrisburg's Department of Parks and Recreation maintains a network of 17 recreational sites, 27 parks and playgrounds, two pools, and tennis courts. The city's recreational showpiece is City Island, located in the Susquehanna River only 400 yards from downtown. In addition to the usual park facilities, the Island offers riding stables, miniature golf, swimming, jogging and nature trails, volleyball courts, multipurpose playing fields, and much more. Recreational facilities are also available at Italian Lake Park, Reservoir Park, and Riverfront Park. Wildwood Park, a wildlife haven, has bike and hiking trails and picnic areas. Harrisburg sponsors the Harrisburg Marathon & Relay and other running events throughout the year. Fifteen public and private golf courses are located in the region. Fishing on the Susquehanna River is a popular pastime, and islands in the river may be explored by boat or canoe. Nearby Carlisle boasts the best fly-fishing streams in the East while Ski Roundtop has facilities for the winter (skiing and snowboarding) and summer (rock climbing and paintball) sports enthusiast.

Recreation Information: Department of Parks and Recreation, City of Harrisburg, 10 N 2nd St., Ste. 401, Harrisburg, PA 17101; telephone (717)255-3020; fax (717)255-6554

Shopping and Dining

Downtown shopping in Harrisburg centers around the Shops at Strawberry Square, two floors of enclosed shopping located in a huge office complex. More than 40 shops and galleries along with 10 food emporiums are contained in about 170,000 square feet of retail space. Harrisburg East Mall is the city's other main shopping area, a 90-store complex anchored by Hecht's, Bass Pro Shops, and Boscov's. Specialty stores can also be found at adjacent Walnut Place and along a number of streets in Center City. Broad Street Farmers Market, dating back to 1860, offers fresh produce Thursday through Saturday. It is located in the Historic Midtown Market District, a neighborhood shopping area that also features antique and art shops. Harrisburg is a major East Coast outlet shopping center—bus charters bring in thousands of shoppers annually.

Downtown dining opportunities have expanded to accommodate increased tourism and convention business. Cuisine ranges from Philadelphia steaks to seafood. One local establishment, The Fire House at Hope Station, is located on the first floor of an 1871 firehouse.

Visitor Information: Harrisburg-Hershey-Carlisle Tourism and Convention Bureau, 415 Market St., Rm. 208, Harrisburg, PA 17101; telephone (717)231-7788; toll-free (800)955-0969