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Mount Pleasant Historic District


The Mount Pleasant Historic District was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document prepared by George E. Thomas, Ph.D., The Clio Group, Philadelphia. Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.

On the bluff overlooking the river plain on which the state capital and its attendant commercial and business districts are located is a separate community combining work and residence, called Allison Hill. The community has its own identifiable history which evolved around work opportunities created by the construction of a rail line that by the 1880s was lined with factories. Before that time, the Allison Hill region was more bucolic: a sylvan glade dotted with houses of those who imitated the English notion of the lifestyle of country gentry. Here and there an irregularly sited building or a diagonal street recalls the region's origin. Most of the community was erected between 1880 and 1920 with handsome manufacturers" mansions interspersed with the brick and wood rows that are characteristic of the region. With schools, churches, a small commercial district and many of the original industrial buildings remaining near the rail line, Allison Hill presents a complete image of an industry-centered community that forms a contrast with the government based riverfront region of Harrisburg.

If the Allison Hill community is unified by space and time, it is also united by its development pattern. Research in business histories and city directories makes it evident that the owners of the principal businesses were also the holders and developers of the residential sections. Their housing projects in the 1880s and 1890s created the typical community form of the 19th-century industrial city where work and residence existed in close proximity. Though no studies of Harrisburg have been made of the kind prepared by Theodore Hershberg et al. of the Philadelphia Social History Project, it can be assumed that the residents who lived near factories walked to work. Further, the variety of work opportunities from heavy industry --the manufacture of railway cars and cast iron boilers --to the production of clothing, shoes and foodstuffs would make it possible for men and women from the same households to work in the immediate vicinity as so often occurred in industrial neighborhoods.

Few of the pre-industrial age artifacts of Allison Hill remain. The sole notable exception is the street system, which contains the irregular streets of the old agrarian village. Derry Street is the system's core and features a few gable-roofed early 19th-century houses concealed under later additions. It is presumably not a coincidence that the "Manufacturers' Rail-road" terminated between 13th and 14th Streets, in the vicinity of Derry; for that matter, the location of churches and schools on 13th Street between Kittatinny and Vernon Streets confirms the origins of the "Mount Pleasant" neighborhood, as the region was originally called. Forming a contrast with the diagonal streets is a regular grid that meshes with the later streets that cross the canal and rail yards on viaducts from the lowlands to the top of the hill. Especially in these gridded streets, the houses run to rows and repeated doubles that mark the imprint of the industrialists on this community.

The street system and the architectural hierarchy merge in the vicinity of 13th and Derry Streets. It is at that intersection that the major institutional and commercial buildings are found, and where some of the major residences are located as well. That type of centralization of elite housing, churches and commerce helps to emphasize the self-contained nature of Allison Hill. This then is not a suburb of another center; rather, it is a center itself. Of special note in the 13th Street corridor is the handsome Germanic brick Webster School (1889) with its powerful gabled front, the adjacent house to the south in the turn-of-the-century Colonial Revival style for the Olmstead family and the handsome yellow brick, mansarded house at the northwest corner of Kittatinny. Across Derry with its shops and stores are additional architectural landmarks, including the impressive early 20th-century brownstone Stephens Methodist Church at the corner of Vernon, and diagonally across the street at Thompson, the Christ Lutheran Church.

Those churches are one of the clusters that help make clear the separate identity of the Allison Hill section south of Markets Street from the very different community to the north. Though both areas developed at the same time, the absence of work opportunities beyond Market makes it apparent that the Eighth Ward and the north half of the Ninth Ward were suburbs of the riverfront community. Further, the Allison Hill district tends to be less well-to-do, and the variety of scale and materials is greater, with more economical wood clapboard (and its various re-sidings) rivalling brick for supremacy in the region, while the north side is almost all brick.

If we return to the churches, their location, particularly when splits occurred within congregations, further emphasized separation between the neighbor-hoods. Thus, when Christ Lutheran Church was organized, it split off from the already existing Memorial Lutheran Church, which stood just north of Market at 15th and Shoop Streets. As the church history noted, "The members [of Memorial Lutheran Church] living over in the Thirteenth and Derry Streets Section and who were the businessmen of the congregation thought the church should be changed to that Section 13th and Derry. The pastor and about half of the members were reluctant in giving up the old location. It was then that the members living mostly on Thirteenth and Derry Streets decided that there was room for another Lutheran church on the Hill and selected as their original site the corner of 13th and Thompson Streets as their choice." (Forty-fifth Anniversary Services. 1890-1935, Christ Lutheran Church, Harrisburg, 1935) Similar splits occurred with the Methodist and Presbyterian churches, so that where one church served the entire hill, after additional growth two churches emerged, one south and one north of Market Street.

The choice of architects for the large institutions is noteworthy as well. The elaborate stone perpendicular Gothic church for Christ Lutheran was designed by architects Ritchie and Eiler of Reading, Other churches, including the Olivet Presbyterian, were the work of Harrisburg architect Clayton Lappley. Schools are all local products, with the Shimmell School in the Brookwood subsection and the Edison School both the work of local architect C. Howard Lloyd. Thus, the architectural commissions look to local architects, or as in the case of the Lutherans to other German communities such as Reading.

The commercial core along Derry stretches east and west for two or three blocks with shopfronts on some older gabled roof houses intermingling with turn-of-the-century flat-roofed buildings with pressed metal cornices of the sort at 15th Street. Additional institutions on the street include the aforementioned Olivet Presbyterian Church by Clayton Lappley, while the lower end terminates in a small triangular public square where Mulberry intersects Derry.

The industrial zone of the community follows the line of the Manufacturers Railroad. It runs parallel to Vernon Street, crosses 16th and 17th, and then heads south to join the main railroad cut below Brookwood Street. On both sides are buildings remaining from its heyday as a manufacturing center, including some of the two- and three-story buildings for the Harrisburg Foundry and Machine Works (below 16th Street), the handsome brick Union Square Hall (Union referring to the Civil War and not to labor) and the two wings of the Harrisburg Boot and Shoe Manufacturing Company. The foundry produced castings and rolled steel to provide parts for the Harrisburg Car Company, one of the city's chief industries, and the owner of the foundry itself, to which it was joined by rail lines.

Of those buildings, the shoe factory is now most impressive, no doubt because shoe manufacturing lent itself to multiple levels, while the foundry was one story. The factory stands in the midst of two-and three-story brick and wood cottages, forming a contrast with the residential scale and the wood siding of its working class neighborhood again confirming the integral unity of the community. Its operators, Charles A. Disbrow and John Affleck, both lived in close proximity, the former at 18 S. 13th, the latter at 110 S. 13th, within the customary three blocks of the walking neighborhood, facts which again confirm the integral unity of the community.

Interestingly, the Hildrup family, which ran the Harrisburg Car Company, also lived in the community, with John having a house at Kittatinny near Hummel in 1890, and William living next door, across from the Webster School. The Hildrups also had extensive land holdings west of Kittatinny between Hummel and 14th Streets, and became one of the principal subdividers and developers of real estate in the region. By 1901, the atlas shows almost all of the Hildrup properties of the 1889 atlas sold and built upon, while other large land developers, especially A. Boyd Hamilton, had continued to acquire and subdivide land.

It was Hamilton and his successors, the firm of Hamilton, Lynch and Jennings, who had the largest impact on the growth of Allison Hill. Unlike the other developers, such as the Hildrups and carpenter/developers like the Biesters, or industrialists like Disbrow and Affleck who lived in the community that they shaped, Hamilton's interests were in the riverfront city where he lived at 315 Walnut, and where he worked as editor of the Teleeraoh. Presumably that position left him well-situated to hear of future development plans. It was Hamilton who laid out Brookwood, the first important extension of Allison Hill, located to the northwest between 15th, 17th, Derry and Hunter Streets in 1887. By 1889, the atlas shows most of the lots sold off and houses already constructed on each of the streets in the subdivision. In the next decade additional developments occurred to the south between Berryhill and Catherine Streets, to the east of 14th Street. These were by Hamilton, Lynch and Jennings — presumably Naudain Hamilton who was listed as a real estate developer in 1900 residing at the same address as his father.

Though Hildrup and Hamilton were the principal developers, their style of work came to differ radically and suggested both contrasting intentions and the impact of the changes of time. The earlier Hildrup and Brookwood schemes are varied in lot size and largely without uniform development. Some of the land was sold to carpenter/builders such as William H. Bolton or George Biester, which presumably accounts for the similarity of the houses on those lots. Thus the similar shingle style mansarded houses on both sides of the 300 block of South 16th can be attributed to George Biester, or his son William, both of whom were listed as living at 338 S. 16th. In contrast to the individuality of Brookwood, the later projects by Hamilton, Lynch and Jennings, especially those around Catherine, Berryhill and Naudain Streets above 14th, show repetitive block fronts that represent the larger assemblages of capital characteristic of the 20th century. The fact that A. Boyd Hamilton had the foresight to have built by 1889 a brick yard at the east end of his holdings between Berryhill and 18th Streets and the railroad suggests that from the outset he was anticipating getting into the building business.

One other building development deserves note: the so-called "East End" subdivision laid out by Dunkle and Ewing in May 1888. Though seemingly separated from the other industrial building groups, it had one factory at its edge, the "Star" heater and boiler works of the Harrisburg Boiler and Manufacturing Company. Not surprisingly, its president, Samuel F. Dunkle and Joseph B. Ewing, secretary and treasurer, were the developers. With that region, most of the 19th-century growth of Allison Hill was completed.

One last group of buildings deserves special note: the handsome row of double houses on Sylvan Terrace that replaced Frisch's brewery. Unlike the residents of the upper edge of the Hill who tended to work in the mills of the railroad, Sylvan Terrace (formerly Currant Street) attracted residents who worked along the canal and the tracks of the railroad. The row itself is of particular note architecturally, showing an awareness of contemporary late Victorian styling with a varied skyline, picturesque variety of materials and textures of red and tan brick and both rough-faced and smooth stone, composed in an essentially symmetrical arrangement. The porches fronting the houses add to the visual unity and give interest in the turnings and brackets that are repeated down both sides of the street and around the corner into Mulberry Street. Yet even this block participates in the essential characteristics of Allison Hill: like all the other zones of the district, work is only a short distance away, in the handsome brownstone J. Horace MacFarland Printing Company (formerly the Mount Pleasant Public School) at Mulberry and Currant and in the mills just below the handsome houses.

The remainder of the district, in the blocks below Market, is a continuation of the general fabric already discussed. Houses are small, with wood forming a contrast with brick in almost equal numbers. Indeed, it might be argued that the wood houses tend to be the more interesting, with more detail and ornament; for example, the houses on the 300 blocks of 16th and 17th Streets, or the wood row on the 1500 block of Swatara Street. Only later, after 1900, does brick truly predominate in the rows above 18th Street. In addition, the industrial neighborhoods continued to grow, with buildings from the 1920s and 1930s joining the first generation factories from the 1880s. The Coca Cola Bottling Plant on 17th Street is particularly notable. With these large industrial buildings and the smaller houses, the contrasting scale of Allison Hill remains and its role as Harrisburg's manufacturing center can still be understood. Further, despite losses in the industrial base as smokestack industries are lost or replaced, new work opportunities in the service industries have been added that help keep the notion of work and residence in close proximity a reality a century after Allison Hill was organized.

Allison Hill makes it clear that Harrisburg was more than a commuter dominated government center whose principal landmarks and architectural forms were imported. Though below Cameron Street. Harrisburg's chief landmarks have typically been the work of outsiders: the Capitol Building by Joseph Huston, the first railroad station by Joseph Hoxie, churches by Hoxie and houses by Button, Eobbs and Button, Allison Hill was largely created by and for Harrisburg residents, and describes their taste and aspirations. Moreover, the community which they created is an important example of the 19th-century industrial city, combining work, residence, commerce and transportation in a tight zone that describes with precision the lifestyle of the community. It was the creation of the principal industrialists of Harrisburg: William and John Hildrup, who headed the city's largest manufacturing concern, the Harrisburg Car Manufacturing Company; Dunkle and Ewing of the Harrisburg Manufacturing and Boiler Company; and Affleck and Disbrow, of the Harrisburg Boot and Shoe Manufacturing Company. It was they who pushed the rail line extension and acquired and subdivided the land for housing for their future employees. In addition, it appears from corporate director-ships that those same men set up a series of interlocking directorships that enabled them to control the region's development. Finally, though some of the industry that formed the core of Allison Hill has closed, the basic community remains intact, and describes by its buildings the vitality of Harrisburg as a significant industrial center in the state. Its factories stand across the street from its workers' houses; those houses show the variety of form and detail that characterize the industrial age, providing visual evidence of the creativity of the era. The principal streetscapes remain intact, enlivened by some of the most original and interesting speculative rows to survive from the late 19th century. These rows create a district that has its own identity, one made more apparent by the geographical setting that gives definition on the south, north and west.

It is as the creation of the principal industrialists that the interlocking unity of Allison Hill is most directly apparent. That type of integrated industrial/residential development has often been postulated in Manayunk and Nicetown in Philadelphia and in Cornwall, Pennsylvania. Here the evidence is readily available and conclusive. When Allison Hill was incorporated into the city in 1868 and 1869, it was little more than a picturesque suburb with large houses on generous lots. One of its landholders. Senator Simon Cameron, played a role on the national stage as Lincoln's Secretary of War in the early years of the Civil War. Incorporation and the economic interest of the industrial developers brought swift and dramatic change. With the construction of the aptly nicknamed "Manufacturers' Railroad" (in actuality the Rockville Branch of the Reading Railroad), heavy industry rode the rails into the region, beginning with the Harrisburg Car Manufacturing Company's foundry in 1872. That was quickly separated from direct operation by the railroad car company and was renamed the Harrisburg Foundry and Machine Works, with operation directed by William Hildrup, one of the original incorporators of the car company.

Hildrup was from Massachusetts, where he had pioneered railroad car construction; in Harrisburg, he pushed the development of casting technology, making the foundry known for its heavy machinery, including the pumps and standpipes for the city waterworks. Hildrup had the vision to purchase vast tracts of land in the community which he helped develop, but he remained general manager of the Harrisburg Car Company at its Herr Street location. His son, William Jr., was similarly occupied, serving as the Secretary of the car company, but also holding positions with the Harrisburg Pipe Bending Company (Secretary and Treasurer) and the Harrisburg Ice Company (Secretary), while brother John was the foreman of the Foundry branch of the car company.

Similar interconnections are apparent with the Harrisburg Boot and Shoe Company at 14th and Vernon Streets (Charles Disbrow, Manager and John Affleck, Treasurer) and at the Harrisburg Manufacturing and Boiler Company at 19th and Derry (C.A. Disbrow, President and John A. Affleck, Treasurer and Manager). The latter company was also the business of Samuel Dunkle (Vice President), who set up the East End development around the plant. When the boards of various public institutions are examined, the same men appear. Disbrow served on the City Common Council representing the Ninth Ward, while Joseph Ewing of the Boiler Company also sat on the real estate committee of the Board of Trade. More surprisingly, the same men show up on the boards of the churches and schools of the community as well, making it clear that these industrialists lived in the community. Thus John Affleck served as a trustee of the Stevens Methodist Church, and also as the Chairman of its Building Committee (Stevens Memorial Methodist Church: 50th Anniversary of the Erection of the Present Building, 1909-1959; 18 October 1959, pp. 13-14).

The importance of the factories should not be underestimated. An account of Allison Hill in 1860 describes "five or six houses"; by 1890, 700 workers were employed in the Foundry and Machine Works and 750 at the Boot and Shoe Factory. It is clear that they provided the impetus for the vast numbers of houses to be erected in the 1880s and 1890s, which accounts for the narrow time limits of the development of Allison Hill. At the same time, as pointed out in the description section, the type of work opportunities offered was also important, for the variation made it possible for both men and women to find employment. That in turn created the capital that made house purchases possible. Thus the development of the entire community is remarkably of piece, and that continuity shows in the similarity of detail, form, and the palette of materials, as well as in the actual cost and size of the houses.

Though the architecture is essentially of one era and style, it is from an era when architectural style was sufficiently varied to be continually entertaining. This has given many of Allison Hill's block fronts a level of architectural interest that is astonishing in our time when it is argued that economy of production is created by selecting the most minimally detailed materials. The nineteenth century discovered that metal could be pressed into a variety of shapes and textures, that brick could be molded, and that gesso ornament could be added to wood at a minimum of cost but to great advantage in the composition and styling of otherwise ordinary buildings. Some of the buildings in the region are repetitive, but others show considerable variety and innovation. In the former category are many of the houses in the turn of the century projects, Brookwood and East End, while Derry, Crescent, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Streets show a variety that describes the individual commissions. In some cases, such as Sylvan Terrace, variety was incorporated into the total design to create the kind of pseudo-individualism that marks the Victorian integration of commercial with aesthetic values. Other buildings are individualized because of the builder: for example, the Beister houses show Queen Anne detail derived from Palliser's 1880s publications, yet date from the 1895-1905 period and suggest the ongoing survival of essentially Victorian design values well beyond their disappearance in Philadelphia and Boston.

The architecture of the region has one additional quality of note, for it suggests a German or Continental based architectural style that runs from Baltimore through Lancaster and York and north of Harrisburg. That style is at once more conservative in adhering to the varied textures and forms of the Queen Anne, but rather than looking to English sources it looks to the rougher textures and more sculptural forms published in German trade journals. Baltimore connections occur with enough frequency in the region to suggest that their stylistic preferences were more in keeping with regional taste than the English-oriented high style designers from Philadelphia. It is presumably for that reason that Baldwin and Pennington from Baltimore were commissioned to design the late nineteenth-century buildings at Dickinson College in Carlisle; it would also explain why Ritchie and Filer were called in from Reading for the Olivet Presbyterian church on Derry Street. More than a few German-named architects practiced in Harrisburg in the late nineteenth century, suggesting that architecture was a trade that the ethnic group found appealing. With Peter Bernheisel, Miller Kast and Thomas Sullenberger listing themselves as architects and William Cassell, Christian Giede, Edward Moselein, Diller Sollenberger and John Vandling among the carpenters, the probability of German influence would seem clear. (In the 1887 directory 13 of 21 carpenters were clearly of German origin, while the iron cornice men, Faeger and Maeyer were presumably also German). The German influence shows, not only on the dramatically over-ornamented houses by George Beister and in the handsome Sylvan Terrace row, but in the Webster School as well (the Daily Telegraph of 21 March 1889 lists Bernheisel as architect of the Allison Hill school).

In conclusion, Allision Hill, a development by the principal industrialists of Harrisburg, offers an important example of a significant nineteenth century community form: the self-sufficient manufacturing center. With factories and railyards confronting the rows and small double houses and its own commercial district around 13th Street, the community survives with a high degree of integrity. Unlike lower Harrisburg, which gives evidence of the ability of the state capital to bring architects from the entire state, Allison Hill describes the nature of the regional style of Harrisburg. Finally, with the precipitous drop of the hill on the west, the rail cut on the south side and the larger mainly brick houses of Market Street on the north, Allison Hill is a highly identifiable neighborhood.

Mount Pleasant Historic District Map

Street Names
19th Street • Brookwood Street • Market Street • Sylvan Terrace

**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
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