Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

HBG FAQ: Welcome to Harrisburg. Now read this.

Illustration by Rich Hauck.

Recently, I got an early tour of Harrisburg’s newest boutique apartment building.

At the Bogg on Cranberry, the units are fresh and beautiful, but, sure, I understand the kneejerk response among locals when you mention the location—the heart of downtown’s entertainment district.

Who would want to live there, with a birds-eye view of whatever’s going down along 2nd Street late on a Saturday night?

It turns out—a lot of people.

When I was there, the place was buzzing with construction, swarms of workers measuring, hammering and sawing throughout the building’s 11,000 square feet of space. The 12 units had already been leased, well before the building was done. The first tenants were just weeks away from moving in, so the rush was on.

But who were these people and where were they coming from?

“From outside Harrisburg mostly,” said tour guide Brad Jones, CEO of Harristown Development, which owns the Bogg. “They’re newcomers.”

And, after this apartment building was done, Harristown had two more in the pipeline, larger projects on Pine Street, which will add another 69 units to the neighborhood.

That’s great, I thought—new blood, new spending money, a few extra bucks in the city’s pockets. But then I had another reaction, one that can best be described as, “Uh-oh.”

It was a selfish thought, but one born of experience. More new people meant more questions—or, actually, the same questions asked over and over and over again: What is this? Why is this? How do I?

Indeed, Harrisburg is a quirky place with numerous rules and customs you likely have never encountered coming from, say, D.C. or Pittsburgh or another similarly civilized city.

So, as a public service, I thought I’d dedicate this column to answering some of the questions that I’m most frequently asked. And welcome, newcomers, to the often endearing, sometimes perplexing little city that is now your home.

Why is the city called Harrisburg?
The Harris family, natch. You can visit where they lived, then, risking your life, cross the street and see where they’re dead. If you’re new to town, a visit to the Harris Mansion is a must.

Why is such a tiny city the capital of such a large state?
Geography, politics, free land. But buck up. I’ve been to Jefferson City, Mo.

Is Harvey Taylor more than a bridge?
Back in the 1940s and ‘50s, Harvey Taylor was a powerful state lawmaker and powerbroker. But, today, yes, he’s basically a bridge.

So, what, um, happened to Harrisburg?
Depression, deindustrialization, suburbanization, flood, flood, flood. Every city has an off century now and again. So, yes, Harrisburg remains a work in progress. But, trust me, it’s a zillion times better than a decade or two ago.

Who’s this Steve Reed guy I keep hearing about?
Steve Reed was Harrisburg’s mayor for 28 years and, to mangle a phrase from Homer J. Simpson, he was either the cause of—or the solution to—all of Harrisburg’s problems.

I hear that Harrisburg went through some kind of financial crisis. How’d that happen?
Do you know that old cliché about your eyes being bigger than your belly? It’s like that, but, instead of food, the city ate an incinerator, a bunch of museums, parking garages, a university, a baseball stadium and a hundred other things. Essentially, one little city ordered everything on the menu then couldn’t pay its bill.

Is Harrisburg now out of the woods financially?

Why is there a Civil War museum in Harrisburg?
The phony answer is because the war almost reached the city. The real answer is because Steve Reed wanted one here. Just be glad that you’re not asking, “Why is there a Wild West museum in Harrisburg?”

OMG, I heard a gun battle at 7 o’clock this morning!
Those are just duck hunters, because that’s allowed in the middle of a densely populated city, for some reason. Unless it was a gun battle. But it probably was duck hunters.

OMG, I heard explosions at 10 o’clock tonight!
Those were just fireworks. Unless they were explosions. But they probably were just fireworks, to the great distress of every dog in the city.

Speaking of dogs, is it true that Harrisburg is about to get its first public dog park?
It is true, thanks to the good people at Friends of Midtown. For such a small city, Harrisburg is full of wonderful civic and church groups trying to move us in the right direction. Find one that interests you. Become part of the solution.

Will the 3rd Street repaving project ever get done?
That’s what they tell me. Ditto the two-way 2nd Street conversion and the river walk rehab.

Dammit, I’m really mad about schools, parking and street cleaning. I’m gonna give the city a piece of my mind!
You’re not actually mad at the city government, but you are mad at the Harrisburg school district, Park Harrisburg and Capital Region Water, respectively. You’ll need to go complain to them.

I almost got hit crossing Front/Forster/State streets. I’m gonna march right down to city hall . . .
Stop. Also not controlled by the city. They’re state roads. So, you’re gonna have to march right down to PennDOT for satisfaction. And good luck with that. I’ve been trying for years.

What’s the deal with all the bugs?
Yes, the annual outbreak of mayflies is pretty gross, but that’s the small price you pay for living along a wide, gorgeous river.

What’s the deal with all the spiders?
When you have billions of mayflies, you get millions of spiders.

Why does this tiny city have so many fantastic restaurants?
Lawmakers, lawyers and lobbyists like to eat, and we’re the lucky beneficiaries. So, we can all eat and drink ourselves silly thinking about all the land we can’t tax.

What, pray tell, is the Harrisburg beaver?
My new friend, the elusive Harrisburg beaver is a mysterious beast, as deep as the river, as fleet as the freeway and as pleasant as a mid-February day.

Harrisburg’s a weird little place, isn’t it?
Yup. How great is that?

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