Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Five buildings deemed “preservation priorities” by Historic Harrisburg

Balsley House in downtown Harrisburg

One of Harrisburg’s oldest structures is a top preservation priority for 2021, the city’s principal historic preservation organization has announced.

At a virtual presentation on Monday, Historic Harrisburg Association unveiled its top five proposed preservation priorities for the year.

The list includes Balsley House, a dilapidated, double building located downtown at 220 N. 2nd St. Dating back almost two centuries, Balsley House is one of the few remaining federal-period buildings in Harrisburg.

“It’s one of the oldest structures still standing in Harrisburg,” said Sara Sweeney, chair of HHA’s preservation committee. “It’s deteriorating. It’s in very bad shape, especially if you go around to the back.”

The 2,590-square-foot building, owned since 2006 by Dusan Bratic of Mechanicsburg, has housed many different businesses over its lifetime, but has sat empty and increasingly blighted for a number of years.

“We’re hoping to really raise awareness of this property over the next year,” Sweeney said. “With the revitalization that Harrisburg is really primed for, hopefully, we can make some strides to bringing this building back to life before we lose it.”

The other properties on the 2021 list are:

  • William Penn High School, Uptown Harrisburg
  • Camp Curtin Memorial Mitchell UMC, Uptown Harrisburg
  • Harrisburg State Hospital campus, Harrisburg/Susquehanna Township
  • Prospect Hill Cemetery Gate House, Allison Hill/city line

William Penn, Camp Curtin UMC and the Harrisburg State Hospital campus are all on the market for sale. Prospect Hill Cemetery Gate House was severely damaged last year when it was struck by a car.

Balsley House, William Penn, Camp Curtin UMC and Harrisburg State Hospital all appeared on the 2019 list, as well.

This year, the committee changed its ranking structure, reducing its preservation priorities to just five “key” properties then adding more buildings on a “watch list.” The proposed watch list properties are:

  • Dixon University Center
  • Donald Cameron Mansion
  • Riverside Firehouse
  • Cumberland Valley Railroad Bridge
  • Milestone Inn
  • Coca-Cola Bottling Works
  • Brinser Mansion
  • Grace United Methodist Church
  • Derry Street United Methodist Church
  • Christ Lutheran Church
  • Paul’s Methodist Church
  • Zembo Shrine Center
  • Paxton Firehouse
  • Beidleman House
  • Walnut Street Bridge
  • Historic Peace Church (Hampden Township)
  • Elks Theater (Middletown)
  • Bishop Bridge (near Bowmansdale)

The HHA board now must approve the list at an upcoming meeting.

Sweeney also offered updates for several properties that have been on HHA’s preservation priority list in the past:

  • Gerber’s Department Store, Midtown Harrisburg—proposed for conversion to an apartment building.
  • Sheepford Road Bridge, Lower Allen Township—transfer of ownership proposed
  • Brotherhood Relief & Compensation Fund Building, Uptown Harrisburg—new owner, proposed conversion to a mixed-use building
  • First United Methodist Church, Midtown Harrisburg—new owner, proposed conversion to an apartment building
  • Lemoyne Middle School—currently being converted to an apartment building
  • Bishop McDevitt High School—proposed redevelopment as an eco-village called The Bridge
  • Jackson Hotel, Midtown Harrisburg—recently collapsed and razed, now with plans to rebuild the structure
  • Ridge Avenue Methodist Church Parsonage (Swallow Mansion), Midtown Harrisburg—conversion to an apartment building nearly complete
  • Broad Street Market, Midtown Harrisburg—upgrades and restoration continue
  • Historic Harrisburg Resource Center—restoration continues
  • Harrisburg History Project—ongoing rehabilitation to historical markers around Harrisburg

Sweeney also noted several Harrisburg buildings that have been restored in recent years, calling them “wins.” These include the former Mary K mansions on Front Street, the former Fox Hotel in Shipoke, Locust Street Houses downtown and the former Moose Lodge in Midtown.

David Morrison, HHA’s executive director, said that he believes that the annual list has raised awareness of the need for historic preservation and has been essential in the rehabilitation of numerous structures in Harrisburg.

“As a result of this exercise each year, I can say that quite a few properties that were listed as priorities in the past have become ‘alumni’ of the list,” Morrison said. “In other words, they’ve been restored.”

For more information on Historic Harrisburg Association, visit their website.

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