Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Together Again: Library purchases historic Harrisburg building next door, will expand services

Karen Cullings, executive director of the Dauphin County Library System, spoke today in front of the newly acquired Haldeman Haly house.

For many years, two prominent parcels on N. Front Street in Harrisburg had common ownership and a shared history.

More than a century ago, those parcels separated, and the building’s side yard became the site of the McCormick Riverfront Library.

Now, those two properties are linked again.

In a ceremony today, Dauphin County Library System (DCLS) officials announced that they had purchased the original, two-century-old house next door to the McCormick Library, with plans to renovate and turn it into administrative offices.

“This project let us restore and preserve this historic structure,” said DCLS Executive Director Karen Cullings. “It is one of the oldest buildings in the city.”

Ken Frew, the long-time librarian for the Dauphin County Historical Society, affirmed the historic credentials of the building at 27 N. Front St.

Frew said that Stephen Hills, who came to Harrisburg to construct the original state Capitol, built the Georgian-style house for his own home around 1812. He owned the building for many years, eventually renting it out to Gov. John Schulze, one of a group of houses now known as “Governor’s Row.”

“If I had to compile a list of the top-10 most-historic houses in Harrisburg, this house would be in the top five,” Frew said.

In July, DCLS bought the 5,458-square-foot house for $295,000 from long-time owner, attorney William Balaban.

The library itself sits on land that originally was the side yard to the building, bequeathed by a later owner, Sara Haldeman Haly, who had a beautiful garden on the property.

“I am truly honored that we were able to acquire the property that was Sara’s home,” Cullings said.

Cullings said that DCLS was still “in the formative stages of the project,” as it still needs to raise money for the substantial renovation.

Once the renovation is done, DCLS plans to move its administrative staff into the house. That will free up space in the library for more family and children’s activities, including STEM and arts-related programming, Cullings said.

Next door, DCLS plans to renovate the house’s first floor for community meetings and events and also will allow public access to the courtyard in the back, she said.

“This expansion will not only provide additional space for children’s and family activities but also will preserve a historic landmark in perpetuity,” said Dauphin County Commissioner George Hartwick, who also spoke.

DCLS board President Andrew Enders wrapped up the brief ceremony with a pitch to the community to help the project come to fruition.

“It’s time for the Dauphin County Library System to continue to make our mark on this community,” he said. “But we need your support. Whether it’s your time or your money, we’ll take it.”

For more information about the Dauphin County Library System and to make a donation, visit the website.

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