Old Uptown Historic District
The Old Uptown Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The Old Uptown Harrisburg Historic District is a cohesive and architecturally and physically intact neighborhood of duplex and row housing, with some detached buildings. The buildings are of predominantly Queen Anne architectural styling, but also of Italianate, Romanesque, Second Empire, and Colonial Revival styles. The District is located near to and parallel with the Susquehanna River north of both the City's central business district and older inner city neighborhoods of the mid to late 19th Century. The district is contained within the original boundaries of the City of Harrisburg and was principally developed between 1895 and 1905, although contributing buildings can be found in the district as early as 1885 and as late as 1930. Consequently, Old Uptown Harrisburg period of significance is 1885-1930.
Old Uptown Harrisburg remains remarkably intact and is very similar to its original appearance. The principal construction material is brick with frame and stone trim and brownstone foundations. The building stock for the most part is in good condition. The building scale is three stories throughout, with several exceptions, with both zero setback facades and stepped-back facades where front porches meet the front sidewalks.
The area is located in the low lying flood plain and is bounded on the west by N. Front Street and the Susquehanna River, to the north by housing erected in the Art Moderne style after 1910, on the east by N. Third Street and earlier, principally frame housing, and on the south by the Hardscrabble and Midtown neighborhoods which represented earlier development and off-shoots of the original Borough of Harrisburg.
The district's street pattern is a grid with its principal streets, being N. Second, Penn, Green, Susquehanna and N. Third Streets, running north/south. Although Penn and Susquehanna are narrower than the district's east/west cross streets, they are considered as the principal streets because the north/south blocks are longer than the east/west blocks and consequently contain more housing units. The district's central north/south concourse is Green Street which contains buildings similar in character to that of Second Street but are a bit scaled down in terms of building size and degree of building setback given the narrower width of the street. On Penn and Susquehanna Streets many of the homes are vernacular Italianate row houses. The side streets of Reily, Harris, Hamilton, and Kelker, as wider streets, were similar in character to Green Street, but usually in row house form without front porches. The narrowest streets in the district are the east/west alleys of Boyd, Clinton, Granite, Dauphin, Delaware and Geiger Streets. None of these alleys, with the exception of a portion of the 200 Block of Delaware Street, are fronted by housing.
N. Second Street is the premier street in the district. Just one street back from prestigious Front Street on which the mansions of Harrisburg's elite were erected, N. Second Street was "second best" as was reflected by the design of the houses. Rather than being built in continuous rows, or in three or four unit groupings, they are principally duplexes and the most elaborate in Queen Anne styling to be found in Old Uptown; elaborate in terms of larger size of buildings, treatment of roof lines and gables, cornices, porch column capitals, third story window treatments, and number and treatment of bay tower roofs. Today these buildings are essentially preserved with some changes where office conversions dictated limited exterior alterations. The west side of Second Street has some detached housing as these were built toward the end of the district's period of significance as subdivisions of oversized Front Street properties.
Benjamin Engle, the first developer of Old Uptown, built nearly every building between Reily and Kelker Streets and Second and Third Streets. The vast majority of these buildings are Queen Anne in design all basically having the same floor plans. The market appeal was achieved through the varied and colorful treatments of the facades. Turrets, domical and tent roofed bays, fish scaled shingles, cross-gables, stone trim, leaded stained glass and fanciful front porches adorned with lattice-work and brackets all characterize Engle's homes. In several instances, these homes have been demolished due to building deterioration or fire, but a look at the city's 1901 atlas reveals that the neighborhood remains basically intact.
The balance of Old Uptown north of Kelker Street was developed in the first several years of the 20th Century. Gettys and Girvin, the principal builders in this area, continued Engle's Queen Anne theme, not just on Green Street but also on Penn and Susquehanna Streets, however in a more simplified fashion, typical of the close of the Queen Anne period. Rather than alternating and employing varied facades, here rows of four, eight and ten buildings were built simultaneously with duplicative facades resulting in a rhythmic effect achieved through continuity of row. The cross streets of Muench and Peffer for the most part did not share this feature in that pockets thereon were developed randomly both before and after Gettys and Girvin. As was displayed through Engle's homes, the Queen Anne homes north of Kelker Street also featured turrets, mansard roofs, leaded stained glass, and embellished porch work.
N. Third Street, forming the district's eastern boundary, reflects somewhat earlier development than that prevailing in the district because, as an early northern artery and horse car line, earlier development pressures were brought to bear. Much of the original Italianate building stock which was developed at the time of Old Uptown remains on N. Third Street. Those blocks which have experienced substantially earlier or later development or are physically deteriorated, have been omitted.
In the center of Old Uptown stands the Simon Cameron School at Green and Muench streets. The building is the architectural centerpiece of Old Uptown for which it was initially built to serve. This was recognized by Charles Howard Lloyd's employment of the highly stylized Second Renaissance Revival, which at that time would have only been considered for larger public buildings rather than for the single family home. The building, as a centerpiece, remains as the largest and one of only a handful of buildings in Old Uptown which was not originally built for single family residential purposes. It was individually listed on the National Register in 1986.
Another anchor building in the district is the Harris Street United Methodist Church. This Romanesque Revival brownstone edifice, having some Gothic features, was erected in 1910 falling a bit later than the prevailing building stock in the area but well within the district's period of significance, and was designed by Abner Richter of Lebanon and built by local contractor, Diller Sollenberger. It is the only church building in Old Uptown.
Old Uptown's southern extension to Calder Street, between Front and Second Streets, is considered appropriate as it is a particularly cohesive block with no gaps, voids or alterations. The 100 Block of Calder Street contains mansard roofed townhouses of the late 1880's; a bit earlier than the majority of Old Uptown residences but never-the-less significant. An original farm house still stands on Front Street in Old Uptown. Though while significant unto itself, it is considered to be non-contributing due to its early period of the mid 19th Century.
However, the balance of the development on Reily Street, Second Street and Front Street in this block is of the 1890's and coincides with the period of other areas of Old Uptown's southern sector. Several of the homes on Front Street, which are built right up to the street, are Queen Anne, while those on Second Street feature Romanesque treatments. Reily Street residences are Italianate with highly embellished Eastlake porches. Development to the east of Second Street and south of Reily Street is of a much earlier period and consequently not included within the district.
Non-contributing resources are at a minimum. Although a number of buildings on N. Second Street have been converted to office use, given their location on what is one of the City's main thoroughfares, exterior alterations to only two buildings are adverse enough to render the buildings non-contributing. Most of the alterations included enclosing frame front porches for additional interior space for professional offices. Although these changes have been made, the upper stories, roof treatments and basic building envelopes are intact to the extent that the basic historic fabric of the buildings are not lost and thus are contributing. Non-contributing resources include several buildings whose facades have been "colonialized," or buildings which have lost upper stories through fires or other damage. Also, several vacant lots do exist, such as in the 200 Block of Kelker Street and the 1900 Block of Green Street, where buildings have been demolished. Some building deterioration has taken place in homes which face several of the district's narrow back alleys, in the 1900 Block of Green Street, and on certain blocks of N. Third Street particularly north of Muench Street.
Other areas of Old Uptown, though not structurally deteriorated, have not been well maintained due to disinvestment in the area which started to occur in the 1960's. Many buildings have lacked proper maintenance, and although occupied, may worsen in condition. In other instances, inappropriate siding materials such as aluminum siding and scribed stucco have been applied to portions of the exteriors of buildings, usually to the most vulnerable areas of deterioration such as cornice and dormer areas, however typically not in a manner where a building's overall architectural character has been destroyed.
Conversely, a great deal of rehabilitation has occurred in Old Uptown. Spinning off from the Old Midtown Harrisburg National Register Historic District to the south, private rehabilitation activity began to occur in the late 1970's in the 1600 and 1700 Blocks of Penn Street and consequently spread to Green and Susquehanna Streets and to the cross streets south of Kelker Street. This activity resulted in neighborhood group cohesion and the dubbing of this area as "Engletown," mistakenly confused with the more accurate "Engleton." More recently, rehabilitation has spread north of Kelker Street onto Green Street, Susquehanna Street and Penn Street in the several block area around the Cameron School Building, which through its rehabilitation, has helped to stimulate such activity. Also, new sidewalks and street trees were added to many areas of Old Uptown in the early 1980's as much of the area was included in an Urban Renewal Area which was created after the 1972 Agnes Flood. This Urban Renewal area, however, did not result in the demolition of buildings, with the exception of the 2000 Block of Penn Street for neighborhood parking, as the flood did not heavily impact the Old Uptown area.
The Old Uptown Harrisburg Historic District is important in the area of architecture as a cohesive, late 19th/early 20th Century residential district in the City of Harrisburg. The district was developed rapidly to serve a greatly expanding population in Harrisburg, particularly of merchants, professionals and service related business people. A consistent and well executed Queen Anne thread unifies the district, though other styles are represented, particularly Italianate with some Colonial and Georgian Revivals, Romanesque and Second Empire examples. Turrets, bays, porch trim, roof lines and shapes, and cornices collectively worked as a marketing theme to attract the original home buyers to a newness and freshness of design which could be found no where else in the City. These blocks of homes most fortunately have been preserved with a minimal amount of alterations and demolition.
Old Uptown Harrisburg was developed at the turn of the 20th Century at a time when Harrisburg was transformed from a town to an urban center. When incorporated as a City in 1860, the northern municipal limit was substantially expanded from Herr Street to Maclay Street, however development was limited to Reily Street with only farmland to the north. In 1860, Harrisburg's population was only 13,405. However, the city's population almost doubled to 23,104 by 1870 given larger annexed areas though its incorporation, a rise in new industries and no doubt growth resulting from its role as a strategic transportation center during the Civil War.
Between 1870 and 1890, land east of N. Third Street to Seventh Street and running north to Maclay Street was in the process of being developed for residential use. This area was closer to manufacturing and the railroad industries which were concentrated between 7th and Cameron Streets. In that this housing was principally built for the blue collar worker, much of it was frame and of a smaller size and scale than that of Old Uptown which was principally geared to upper income families.
Much of the land west of N. Third Street and above Reily Street was owned by the Reily's for whom Reily Street was named, an old, and wealthy Harrisburg family. The Reily mansion was situated on the northwest corner of N. Second and Reily Streets and was demolished in the late 1950's for an office building. Most of the northern section of the district was owned by Maurice Eby who was a grocer and Mayor of Harrisburg in the 1890's. Eby's home was located at the opposite end of the district on the southwest corner of Third and Maclay Streets and like the Reily homestead was razed several decades ago.
Although the homes of these two land owners are gone, what remains between their home sites is Harrisburg's largest and most cohesively developed Queen Anne styled neighborhood; the original "uptown" and fashionable northern tier area which, by 1910, was developed to the City's original 1860 boundary at Maclay Street. The homes of the Reily's and Eby's, although significant unto themselves through examination of old photos, did not play a role in the development of Old Uptown for these people merely sold the surrounding land to developers and were not developers themselves.
In June of 1891, electrified trolley cars were introduced in the city, which replaced the horse car lines on such principal arteries leading from the City as Derry, State, Sixth, Third and Second Streets. Such improvement in speed and frequency in scheduling of urban transportation opened up new areas for development which formerly would have been located too far from the downtown to have been marketable. Also, between 1870 and 1890, Harrisburg's population again substantially jumped from 23,104 to 39,385, a true indication that if continued, a huge housing demand would be imminent. Beginning in 1893, Benjamin Engle, a local lumber dealer and real estate salesman, went into partnership with Clinton Hershey, a surveyor and civil engineer, under the name Engle and Hershey. The firm acquired lots between Second and Third Streets and Reily and Kelker Streets and built speculative housing. In 1897, the firm's shop was located on the northwest corner of Second and Harris Street, logically within the neighborhood of the areas of development. A house constructed later within the district's period of significance now occupies the site. By 1900, the firm's operation moved to the southwest corner of Susquehanna and Granite Streets, also within the neighborhood, which likewise was later built upon with a row of houses when Engleton was completed.
While it was not unusual prior to that time for local developers to build townhouse rows for sale, as opposed to house by house construction by the owners, it was totally unprecedented for a developer to build houses on twelve city blocks within an eight year period. Such rapid development, to meet an exploding population within the City, resulted in a remarkable consistency in setback, scale, design, material and quality of workmanship in that, 1) the buildings were erected by the same developer and, 2) they were built close enough in time to each other so that they were not affected by later changes in lower density development (e.g. deeper back and side yards).
The blocks developed by Engle, who apparently was the principal of the business, resulted in the area being called "Engleton" by its early inhabitants no doubt because the area had a characteristic look which was unique as compared to what was built in the city up to that time. Engle continued in this area up to approximately 1901, after which he dissolved the partnership with Hershey and moved to Hummelstown to pursue construction in Derry Township (at the time of his death in 1911, he had moved back to Harrisburg and was building homes on Allison Hill).
Engle's construction surge inspired others to grab what land was remaining south of Maclay Street which essentially involved tracts north of Kelker Street. The Harrisburg Telegraph (one of the City's principal daily newspapers of the time) reported in July of 1905, "...to Benjamin Engle belongs the credit of starting the erection of modern residences in unbuilt sections of Harrisburg. Only a few years ago he built the first homes above Reily Street between Front and Third Streets and started the boom which has since continued, leaving only a few lots as yet vacant below Maclay Street."
With the growth of Engleton and the anticipation of rapid development to Maclay Street, the Simon Cameron Elementary School (individually listed on the National Register) at Green and Muench Streets, was completed in 1897 to fulfill the need of a new educational facility for the increase in school aged population. So great was this need that the school was almost doubled in size only a few years later in 1900 when the eastern addition was completed. Both sections were designed by noted Harrisburg architect Charles Howard Lloyd and both were identical to each other in the Second Renaissance Revival style.
Those who followed Engle were William L. Gorgas, developer of homes on Muench and N. Second Streets and member of the City's Public Works Board as well as one of the organizers of the Harrisburg Trust Company, and the firm of Gettys and Girvin, a partnership of Malcom H. Gettys and Ovid R. Girvin. Gettys and Girvin would become the other principal developers in Old Uptown, in addition to Engle, in the blocks north of Muench Street. Up to 1903, Girvin had been a grocer in the 200 Block of Hamilton Street, however in that year teamed up with Gettys, who was already a small contractor, to build most of the houses in the 1900 and 2000 Blocks of Green Street, and the respective side streets in that area.
By 1905, the Gettys and Girvin firm either completed or was nearing completion on approximately one hundred and forty homes in this neighborhood. Like Engle, a developer simultaneously built rows upon rows of housing for sale on a speculative basis. The Harrisburg Telegraph reported in July of 1905 that the "...firm has been very fortunate in selling nearly all their houses before completed due, no doubt, to the handsome finish and superior workmanship and materials...under the personal supervision of both members of the firm."
The upper half of Old Uptown Harrisburg was developed at the turn of the 20th Century, a time of a new and progressive community spirit which launched the Harrisburg League of Municipal Improvements and consequently the City Beautiful Movement in 1901. The new century brought new focus to the citizenship as a whole in cleaning up the town's environment while properly implementing plans to improve its park and street systems and public works infrastructure to accept a growing community.
This movement, plus another phenomenal jump in population (from 39,385 in 1890 to 50,167 in 1900) no doubt gave developers the comfort of building for a new age. With the knowledge that the City was properly planning for its future, massive, urbanized and speculative development occurred for the first tine ever catering principally to the growing force of white collar, rather than the blue collar worker. By 1910, toward the end of the majority of Old Uptown's development, the city racked up an impressive population of 64,186 (10,000 more people at that time than it has today) which when added to the growth of the 1890's totaled more than 12,000 new residents per decade.
Old Uptown, west of Third Street, came at the right time as land closer to the Susquehanna River and to prestigious Front Street demanded larger and higher quality housing and consequently attracted people of higher means who needed not to live nearby to their work and could afford the transportation costs of commuting to the more white collar oriented central business district. The 1903 City Directory indicates that many of the people living in Old Uptown were professionals and merchants. Civic engineers, contractors, real estate brokers, bank executives, doctors, and insurance salesmen made their homes in Old Uptown. Merchants had businesses both in the central business and in what was evolving as the uptown business district along N. Third Street around the Broad Street Market. Merchants included grocers, clothiers, and dealers of hardware, gas fixtures, wall paper and paint.
A number of famous Harrisburgers, whose names became even more prominent later in the 20th Century, lived in Old Uptown during its period of significance and prior to moving to even more prestigious addresses in neighborhoods which had yet to be developed. Several of these include Mary Sachs, 1510 Green Street, whose downtown women's department store in the 1930's and 1940's was nationally known; Charles Adler, 1923 N. Second Street, who was the first of three generations of Adlers in the real estate business and founder of Charles Adler and Sons; Claude R. Robbins, 2016 Green Street, who was in the wholesale jewelry business and Mayor of Harrisburg in the early 1950's; and William M. Hargest, 113 Reily Street, who was President Judge of Dauphin County Court.
With respect to architecture, Queen Anne, being a popular style in Harrisburg, not to say the nation after its introduction to this county by the British at the Centennial Celebration of 1876 in Philadelphia, can be found in certain other Harrisburg neighborhoods. Examples on Allison Hill include areas along the State Street corridor, certain blocks bounded by 13th, 18th Streets, State Street and Market Streets (with the best examples along 17th and 18th Streets in this area), as well as certain areas in the National Register listed Mount Pleasant Historic District between Hummel and 17th Streets and Berryhill and Derry Streets. Specifically in this District, the best examples are found on Sylvan Terrace and along Berryhill Street and on two block stretches of perpendicular streets thereto to the north such as 14th, 15th and 16th Streets. Other examples can be found farther uptown along the N. Sixth Street corridor between Maclay and Schuykill Streets with off-shoots on the related side streets of Seneca, Emerald, Woodbine, Wharton Alley and Forrest Streets, and thence running in a southwesterly direction across Reel, Fifth and Fourth Streets to N. Third Street.
However, these areas, based purely upon architectural considerations, are not considered to be comparable to the architectural significance of Old Uptown because; 1) they are randomly dispersed, 2) are now situated in areas suffering from a greater degree of urban blight resulting in more wide spread building deterioration, loss of fabric and increased intrusions through demolition and inappropriate alterations, and 3) are scattered among buildings of a much greater range than Old Uptown of building materials, periods, styles and uses. Examples of this last point can be found between Fifth and Sixth Streets north of Maclay Street where new townhouse construction has been introduced in formerly cleared blocks and in the Mount Pleasant Historic District where there are a wider variety of uses and consequently buildings designed for such, e.g. churches, industrial buildings, and commercial buildings intermingled with the residential. Also in Mount Pleasant there is a greater proportion of Italianate styled buildings and earlier two and one half story, frame structures mixed with the Queen Anne structures.
To further elaborate, in the areas north of Maclay Street, there is an intermingling of the Queen Anne with later periods of Colonial Revival which becomes more pronounced the farther north one travels. This reflects a lack of a comprehensive development period at the end of the 19th Century no doubt due to its far distance from the downtown and riskier speculative market. Accordingly, builders were more cautious by developing on a block by block basis while other blocks lay fallow for homes which were built later. Also, certain areas were in filled in the 1970's with new residential construction thus partially disrupting the original fabric of the neighborhood.
With respect to areas on Allison Hill, there is also an intermingling of other architectural styles with the Queen Anne; in this case with earlier two and one half story frame homes of the factory workers and certain other revival styles. While this intermingling, which is common on Allison Hill especially given the angled and haphazardly planned street system, does not render the area insignificant, the building fabric does differ from that of Old Uptown as it is not as homogeneous.
After 1930, by which time all contributing buildings in Old Uptown had been erected, the area remained predominantly single family in use until the close of World War II. With the return home of soldiers, new families and the commencement of the baby boom era, many of the homes, which were becoming large by mid 20th Century standards, were converted to apartments and rooming houses. This was particularly true on N. Second Street where the largest of the district's houses existed. Third Street began to decline in the 1950's as a desirable residential street given its proximity to the older, shabbier neighborhoods to the east which were beginning to fall on hard times, no doubt due to their older and less substantial building stock. Also during this period, N. Second Street buildings, if not apartments, were being converted to professional offices as a shift of these uses was occurring from the downtown due to congestion and difficulty in parking.
The side streets remained residential with some apartment conversions, however disinvestment in the City and mass exodus of its population in the 1950's, 60's and 70's, resulted in many of these homes being occupied by fixed-income elderly and the poor, neither of whom had sufficient funds to either move or maintain the properties. Consequently, a demand for lower income housing arose, resulting in the speculation, of absentee landlords to operate properties at low rents without reinvesting through proper maintenance. Accordingly, many of the properties in Old Uptown, have become shabby, but not severely deteriorated and have more recently become the focus of historic preservation efforts through property rehabilitation both for single and multi-family use.
Despite the area's exposure to common urban problems, Old Uptown's architectural integrity is clear; uniform in scale and continuity of row and situated on the urban grid extended from the downtown. The district grew in an area of value which generated confidence in the original developers to undertake mass, speculative development.
________, Boyd's Directory of Harrisburg and Steelton (Reading: W. H. Boyd Co., 1897)
________, Boyd's Directory of Harrisburg and Steelton (Reading: W. H. Boyd Co., 1903)
________, Boyd's Directory of Harrisburg and Steelton (Reading: W. H. Boyd Co., 1909)
________, Boyd's Directory of Harrisburg and Steelton (Reading: W. H. Boyd Co., 1919)
M. B. Cowden, Manager C. E., Atlas of the City of Harrisburg Dauphin Co. Penna. (Harrisburg: Harrisburg Title Company, 1901)
Thomas R. Deans Associates, Harrisburg Historic Sites Survey (Harrisburg, 1981)
George P. Donehoo, Harrisburg: The City Beautiful, Romantic and Historic (Harrisburg: Telegraph Press, 1927)
George P. Donehoo, Harrisburg and Dauphin County: A Sketch of the History for the Past Twenty-five Years (Dayton: The National Historical Association, 1925)
________, Harrisburg Pennsylvania Insurance Maps [of buildings] (New York: Sanborn-Ferris Map Co., 1890 and updated 1897, 1902, 1903)
________, Harrisburg Pennsylvania Insurance Maps [of buildings] (New York: Sanborn-Ferris Map Co.. 1905 and updated 1909, 1912, 1915, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926)
The Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pa.), July 1, 1905
The Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pa.), June 15, 1911
Marian Ingelwood, Then and Now in Harrisburg (Harrisburg, 1925)
Interview with Frederick L. Morgenthaler, resident of neighborhood 1907-c.1920, June 10, 1989)
Interview with James K. Bowman, resident of neighborhood 1907-c.1920, July 15, 1989)
Luther R. Kelker, History of Dauphin County (New York: The Lewis Publishing Co, 1907). vol. III, pp. 93-95
George H. Morgan, Annals of Harrisburg (Harrisburg: L. Frances Morgan Black, revision, 1906)
The Patriot (Harrisburg, Pa.), June 15, 1911
Fred B. Roe, Atlas of the City of Harrisburg Dauphin County, Penna. (Philadelphia, 1989)
Richard H. Steimetz, Sr. and Robert D. Hoffsommer, This Was Harrisburg (Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 1979)