If you want to know which famous author visited Harrisburg in 1842, you can venture over to Market Square, near the site that once housed the Eagle Hotel.
There, you’ll discover one of the 113 historical signs scattered throughout the city, chock full of tidbits from Harrisburg’s past. Originally part of the “Harrisburg History Project,” many of these aging, worn-out signs are now being refurbished, thanks to Historic Harrisburg Association and the Midtown Action Council.
Spoiler alert—the author was Charles Dickens.
Originally installed between 2002 and 2004, most of the signs are badly in need of repair and replacement. The city replaced 30 of the panels in late 2017, but many others need work.
“The city was wonderful in allowing us to keep them up to date,” said David Morrison, executive director of HHA.
HHA currently has 40 panels to be replaced, 10 of which were ordered new and 30 that were found in storage. They will also be getting new stands for some of the signs, which have been damaged, hit by cars or aged over time.
Historical markers can be found all over the city, including in such areas as Midtown, downtown and Allison Hill. They include images from the state Archives accompanied by text highlighting historical sites and buildings.
“It’s available 24/7,” Morrison said. “It’s not like a museum that locks up at night.”
Harrisburg historian Jeb Stuart, who writes the text for each marker, explained the two-fold purpose the signs serve. They educate Harrisburg residents and visitors on the history of the city and provide a tourist destination.
“This is one of the most extensive systems anywhere for a city of this size,” said Stuart.
For the refurbishing, a majority of the funds have come through a Dauphin County gaming grant, which awarded Midtown Action Council $13,652 last year for the project. However, further fundraising will be needed to complete the replacement.
Morrison and Stuart hinted at the possibility of one or two new historical markers, but haven’t released information on that yet.
The markers hopefully help to brand Harrisburg as having a lot of history out there,” Stuart said. “A lot of people look at them.”
Now that’s a good sign.