Each month, during 3rd in the Burg, a stream of people enter and exit an old bank building at the corner of Verbeke and N. 3rd streets in Harrisburg.
It’s the Historic Harrisburg Resource Center, a brownstone-faced building that monthly features art, often of a local historical nature.
For many people, that’s their sole exposure to the Historic Harrisburg Association. But HHA, as it’s known, does so much more than mount the occasional art exhibit. All year long, it focuses on preservation, education and programming.
According to Patricia Cameron, a preservation activist and founder of St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, HHA was spearheaded by Harrisburg activist Marianne Faust in 1972.
“In the months after the June 1972 flood, she went around the devastated neighborhoods, particularly Shipoke and Midtown, identifying houses that should be saved,” Cameron said.
In the next year, Faust was named the president of the association.
“Two important things happened in Marianne’s presidency,” said Jeb Stuart, the association’s preservation advisor. “The Candlelight House Tour was initiated in December 1973 to showcase and promote city living in historic neighborhoods, just as it does 45 years later, and Harrisburg’s first historic district was established shortly thereafter by City Council.”
Since then, HHA has made it its mission to teach people about the history of Harrisburg. Members do this through their awards ceremonies, the annual Candlelight House Tour, the Elegant Progressions dinner and, more recently, a Speakeasy event.
The Candlelight House Tour, a walking tour of Harrisburg held each December, highlights residential and non-residential preserved buildings. The tour regularly features the best of the city’s preserved homes, all decked out for the holidays.
The Elegant Progressions dinner, another wintertime event, allows guests to visit some of the area’s most stylish homes, a different dinner course awaiting in each one.
The Speakeasy event arrives a few months later, in early springtime, and features Prohibition-era cocktails and dancers, with the circa-1920s HHA building adorned in period décor. It’s one of HHA’s newer events, organized by and tailored to a younger crowd.
“In doing [these events], the hope is to inspire others to take action to preserve, protect and to enhance historic resources,” said David Morrison, HHA’s executive director.
As a nonprofit, the association is nearly all volunteer. This diverse group ranges from high school students to retired Harrisburg residents. All proceeds that are donated help fund Historic Harrisburg and the Kidney Foundation of Central Pennsylvania.
“It’s more than saving old buildings,” said Chris Zyroll, the operations director. “It’s making sure neighborhoods keep their architectural history.”
To that important end, HHA hands out annual preservation awards.
This year’s ceremony, which took place in May, honored Donna and David Schankweiler for preserving the historic Stroh Mansion on N. Front Street and the Harrisburg Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society for creating the Harris Tower Railroad Museum on Walnut Street.
The award winners received a bronze plaque to showcase to their community.
“Since 1986, HHA has recognized excellence in historic preservation in our community,” said HHA President Tom Darr. “With the award of the bronze plaques, more than 130 can be seen around the city and the area on buildings of every description and in every neighborhood.”
At the ceremony, which this year took place in the Harrisburg Transporation Center, HHA also toasts a person or organization for their general preservation efforts. This year, Harristown Enterprises received that honor for work in renovating and repurposing several historic buildings in downtown Harrisburg.
HHA also awards preservation grants, which recently have gone to the Midland Cemetery, just outside Harrisburg, and Christ Lutheran Church in Allison Hill to help with their projects, Morrison said.
Friends of Midland Cemetery has been undertaking a multi-year effort to restore the historic African-American burial ground, which predates the Civil War and is the final resting place of slaves, of U.S. Colored Troops from the Civil War, of Buffalo Soldiers from World War I and of many prominent African-American community leaders from the Harrisburg area. The grant to Christ Lutheran Church helped finish interior plaster renovations to the 130-year-old, Gothic-style building, Morrison said.
Morrison has been with the group for decades, chronicling and facilitating the redevelopment of Harrisburg. Besides overseeing the organization’s day-to-day operations, he often can be found running events, moderating lectures and leading neighborhood tours. Together, these activities reflect his holistic view of historic preservation, which goes far beyond handing out an annual award or two.
“We not only care about preserving old buildings,” Morrison said. “We promote urban revitalization, economic development and smart growth.”
The Historic Harrisburg Resource Center is located 1230 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. For more information on the organization or to see previous award winners, visit historicharrisburg.com.