Situated on the bank of the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, you'll find Harrisburg's historic mansions, which have stood the test of time tell the story of our region’s history. Learn about some of Harrisburg’s distinguished properties and the prominent Pennsylvanians they housed.
Have you ever wondered where the “Harris” in Harrisburg originated from? The capital city of Pennsylvania is named for John Harris, Jr., as is the mansion he built overlooking the Susquehanna River in 1766. He chose the site for his mansion to keep it safe from periodic flooding. In addition to operating Harris’ Ferry to transport goods across the river, Harris, Jr. championed for the creation of a new county near his home, established in 1785 as Dauphin County.
For nearly 100 years, the Mansion was a private residence until 1853, when it became the Pennsylvania Female College. After the Civil War broke out and the school’s headmaster passed away, Simon Cameron, notable statesman and member of the school’s Board of Directors, bought the Harris Mansion for $8,000. Cameron served as Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of War and later as Ambassador to Russia. During his travels across Europe, he collected décor to furnish his new home, including two 14-foot mirrors which he squeezed into the front parlor by lowering the floor three feet into the basement. He also updated the house with a solarium and a grand staircase to impress his colleagues.
In the early 1900s, Cameron’s grandson, Richard Haldeman, added the West Alcove and its magnificent Art Deco bathroom, and upon his death in 1933, he was the last of the Cameron family to reside in the house. In 1941, the Historical Society acquired the house and its family heirlooms.
What to Expect When You Visit
Guided tours are offered Tuesday through Friday at 1 PM, 2 PM, and 3 PM. From the desk and family china of Simon Cameron to the clock and chairs owned by John Harris, Jr., you’ll find history everywhere you look.
The picturesque location of Fort Hunter in north Harrisburg offers beautiful views of the Susquehanna River and the Blue Mountains, as well as a wealth of history. Settled in 1725 by Benjamin Chambers, then inherited by its namesake Samuel Hunter, the property included grist and saw mills and was known as Hunter’s Mill. It later became Fort Hunter when the British erected a series of military posts along the Susquehanna from Harris’ Ferry to Sunbury in preparation for the French and Indian War.
In the 1780s, Captain Archibald McAllister bought the land and transformed it into a frontier village, adding a country store, a blacksmith shop, a school, a tavern, and a distillery. McAllister built the first part of the Mansion on the site of the old fort and the mansion was home to several families through to the 1950s until it became a museum. Fort Hunter has a total of 14 structures, including the impressive Centennial Barn, built in 1876 to house dairy cows for John W. Reily's successful milk business.
What to Expect When You Visit
The former war fort, frontier village, and dairy farm is now a park, open daily 8 AM to dusk. Mansion tours are offered Tuesday through Sunday, or you can download a walking map and stroll the grounds on your own. Be sure to bring a camera because the grounds are beautiful and offer scenic vistas of the Susquehanna River and the Rockville Bridge, the longest stone masonry arch railroad bridge in the world.
Private Mansions of Harrisburg
Among our most notable historical properties and mansions, there are many Harrisburg landmarks and private residences that help tell the story of our region’s past. Each year the Historic Harrisburg Association hosts a Candlelight House Tour through Harrisburg’s Midtown, Uptown, and Academy Manor neighborhoods highlighting our city’s architectural heritage. Our residents have upheld the building styles, as well as their collections of artwork and interior furnishings. Escorted and self-guided walking tours are available year-round!