The City Beautiful Movement
Pennsylvania led the global economy in the production of many natural resources in the late nineteenth century. The exploitation of the various assets of the Keystone state included the toppling of ancient forests to fuel the lumber and tanning industries as well as the scraping the pristine soils for minerals and fossil fuels. Soon enough the consequences of these actions had become widespread throughout the Commonwealth. Environmental concerns including soil erosion, pollution, and unsanitary conditions began to affect densely populated regions including the Capitol city of Harrisburg.
The effects of the industrial revolution had altered American society with unprecedented change which had sacrificed our landscapes to allow more people to enjoy a higher standard of living. The City Beautiful movement had been a reaction to decades of uninhibited industrial activity. Poor water quality, failing infrastructure, and the stench of raw sewage motivated local leaders to solve the environmental issues of Harrisburg. The vivacious team of Mira Lloyd Dock and J. Horace McFarland campaigned to spread awareness and gain support of the City Beautiful Movement among local residents and politicians. As public support grew, Harrisburg’s leaders battled over how such massive plans would be funded until they finally agreed on a plan to fund the City Beautification projects.
The period between 1900 and 1930 had been extremely busy for the city of Harrisburg. A new capitol park was planned for the Commonwealth which included the new Capitol building, the State Street viaduct, and several new government buildings. Improvements on the Susquehanna River included a dam for river recreation and flood control, Riverfront Park and its famous river steps, as well as Island Park which is now known as City Island. Other Infrastructural improvements included the construction of the Rockville Bridge, seventy-four miles of paved streets, and later the Market Street Bridge¹. Water filtration plants were installed to properly clean and filter both potable water and sewage discharge. Parks, playgrounds, and gardens were installed to increase recreation as well as improve air quality.
Mira Lloyd Dock and J. Horace McFarland used Harrisburg as a crucible to launch the nationwide City Beautiful movement. Their passion for the environment allowed the many grand improvements within Harrisburg to be successful. These achievements in Harrisburg motivated leaders across the nation to identify and improve their own ecological and social issues within their urban landscapes. A century later, Pennsylvanians continue to enjoy the iconic parks which were constructed during the movement including Wildwood Park, Reservoir Park, and the Capital Area Greenbelt. The City Beautiful movement began as a vision which evolved into a national movement which not only benefited Pennsylvanians, but all Americans and the land which we inhabit.
For additional information, visit the research websites of both Messiah College and Penn State Harrisburg.
¹ Wilson, William H., Harrisburg’s Successful City Beautiful Movement, 1900-1915. (Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 47, no. 3 1980) 229.