The 30-minute Harrisburg Experiment

I’m usually interested in towns big enough to have a downtown, particularly when they’re capitals. A few years ago I zipped through Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (shown above; courtesy of the Library of Congress), and didn’t stop. It had a distressed, morning-after air, and in fact declared bankruptcy a couple years ago. Later, I once said anything place can be interesting — except for Harrisburg. I felt bad.

So I just did a 30-minute Harrisburg experiment. Starting simply with GoogleMaps then Wikipedia, I wanted to see what I could find out online to make me want to go. And it worked.

Here’s what I found:

  • Fifteen miles north, at Millersburg, is the last wooden double stern-wheel paddle boat in the USA — whatever that means. What it IS though is a $7 car ferry that’s been in operation since the early 1800s. I want to do that.
  • Robert E Lee’s real target 150 years ago was not Gettysburg, just south, but the state capital, home to Camp Curtin and where over 300,000 Union troops would train during the Civil War. Harrisburg’s Smithsonian-linked National Civil War Museum tells about that, and is proud to claim itself the only museum in the US with equal coverage of both sides of the war. Plus they offer Civil War dance classes.
  • The Susquehanna River is pretty nice. There’s jogging trails. And walkers and bikers can cross the partially collapsed Walnut Street Bridge to the City Island, where a soccer team plays and a street is called Championship Way. Watch it collapse.
  • The City House B&B is right on the river, near downtown where you can go to the Broad Street Market, a farmer’s market running since 1860. The cheapest room in the 1920s house is $125. Looks good.
  • There was once a fake Statue of Liberty made from venetian blinds IN the river.
  • The German band Kraftwerk’s song ‘Radio-Activity’ mentions Chernobyl and Harrisburg, three years before the nearby Three Mile Island nuclear plant had a meltdown in 1979!
  • John Smith, aka The Man who Pocahontas Saved, aka Colin Farrell, paddled up here from Jamestown in 1608 and found a Native American community that had settled here since 3000BC.
  • One time in the Office, Dwight drops off some ‘day laborers’ here and tells them it’s Canada.
  • And there’s always the state capitol.

I could do a day there. Just took a half hour to figure out.

About Robert Reid

Lonely Planet's US Travel Editor. Written 24 LP guidebooks and articles for NY Times, WSJ, ESPN & CNN. Into cereal, Dylan, travel.
Tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The 30-minute Harrisburg Experiment

  1. Brett Domue says:

    And with Hershey, PA very close by as well…Hersheypark and ChocolateWorld can help add some more time to your stay!