A capitol idea
|The Rotunda of the state
If you have never toured the majestic state capitol building
(pacapitol.com), it should be your first stop. It opened in 1906
at a cost of 13 million dollars. During the dedication,
President Theodore Roosevelt called it “the handsomest building”
he had ever seen.
(Header photo is of the Capital.)
Its design was influenced by the great architecture of Europe.
Entering through the bronze doors, you’re reminded of the
celebrated doors of Florence’s Baptistery. In the Rotunda, the
impressive 272-foot high, 52-million pound dome echoes that of
St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and the Italian Carrera marble
staircase was inspired by the Paris Opera House. The Senate
Chamber reflects the French Renaissance style; the House Chamber
takes its design from the Italian Renaissance; and the Courtroom
mimics classic Greek.
America is represented by the work of extraordinary Pennsylvania
artists and artisans. While in the Rotunda, look down at the 377
tiles on the floor which were produced by Henry Mercer’s tile
work factory in Doylestown. They illustrate the history and
aspects of the state. Early 20th- century
Philadelphia artist Violet Oakley painted 43 murals throughout
the building, including those in the State Supreme Courtroom.
They, like most of the capitol’s artwork, have allegorical
meanings. Earlier in her career, she was the first woman to
break into the “all-boys’ club” of mural painting.
On weekends, free guided tours are offered at 9:00 a.m., 11:00
a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. or choose a self-guided tour.
|This replica of a mastodon is in
the State Museum of Pennsylvania.
The capitol is the centerpiece of the Capital City Complex that
encompasses government buildings, gardens, sculptures, groves,
memorials, fountains, walkways and seating. One of the
structures is the State Museum of Pennsylvania
(statemuseumpa.org). It houses over four million exhibits that
include artifacts, displays and dioramas that recount the
Commonwealth’s story, all the way back to its geological
beginnings. One of the most memorable displays is a replica of a
mastodon which was found at Marshalls’ Creek in 1968. Other
popular areas of interest are the Delaware Indian village, the
Civil War Gallery and the room with vintage vehicles that
features a western-style stagecoach that was made in Harrisburg.
Kids will especially enjoy the hands-on play area, the
interactive Dino-Lab and the multi-media planetarium.
Speaking of the Civil War, the National Civil War Museum
(nationalcivilwarmuseum.org) gives a complete and objective
account of the conflict. It’s the largest Civil War museum that
covers the perspective of both camps. Displays, artifacts,
memorabilia, photos, interactive stations, videos, gift shop and
dioramas fill the 24,000 feet of exhibition space. Visitors
should focus on a cast of video characters from the North and
the South whose individual stories continue from one gallery to
|One of the realistic dioramas at
the National Civil War Museum.
Among the 24,000 items is a collection of moving personal
letters, journals and belongings, like General Robert E. Lee’s
Bible and a ticket from Ford Theater, dated the night of
President Abraham Lincoln’s slaying. Dioramas with sound, light
and lifelike mannequins recreate the drama of battle. The museum
also showcases temporary exhibitions during the year.
Modern Day Must-Sees
Book lovers will be awed by the Midtown Scholar Bookstore
(MidtownScholar.com). With more than 200,000 used, out-of-print,
rare and discounted books of every genre, it takes readers to
another level. In fact, with six levels and a million books
online, it’s said to contain the greatest collection of pre-read books between New York and Chicago. But
Midtown Scholar Bookstore also serves the community by offering
free concerts, public lectures, children’s story times, poetry
readings, book signings, art shows and more. If all this
overwhelms you, take a breath and a seat to sip a beverage in
their inviting coffee bar – with or without a book.
Diagonally across from the bookstore sits a historic venue,
called Broad Street Market (broadstreetmarket.org), which fed
Yankee troops stationed at nearby Camp Curtin during the Civil
War. Open since 1860, it is America’s oldest continuously
operating market -- although today, it’s open only on Thursday
to Saturday. Forty
vendors sell fresh produce and meats, baked goods, hot and cold
meals in a food court setting.
A family enjoys a picnic area at City Island.
City Island (visitpa.com) floats in the middle of the
Susquehanna River, like an oasis in the desert. Its 63 acres are
dedicated to the pleasure of Harrisburg’s residents and
visitors. A quick drive or walk over the Market Street Bridge
will deliver you to a day of unexpected outdoor recreation. The
choices are numerous: miniature golf, volleyball courts, picnic
grounds, a fitness area, an arcade, a beach, batting cages, a
kids’ playground and more. For more serene activities, you can
sit back and relax on a steam train ride, a horse-drawn carriage
or a riverboat cruise. For a bit of history, visit the 18th-century
replica of a trading post owned by Harrisburg’s founder, John
baseball fans: City Island’s Metro Bank Park stadium is
where the Harrisburg Senators team plays from April to
The library in Char's at Tracy Mansion.
If you go
Char’s at Tracy Mansion (charsrestaurant.com) has restyled a
magnificent 1913 riverside house into an elegant restaurant.
Paintings, sculptures, murals and blown glass fill tastefully
decorated rooms. The eclectic French menu pairs well with the
posh setting. But Char’s outstanding and friendly service puts
diners at ease during lunch and dinner.
Bricco (briccopa.com) partners with the Olewine School of
Culinary Arts to prepare delectable dishes, using
locally-sourced produce. The cuisine that they adapt from the
Mediterranean and Tuscany are transformed into their own
creations, such as Polenta with Ragu and Mushroom Pizza. The Art
Deco establishment has earned accolades from Wine Spectator
Magazine, Opentable.com Diner’s Choice and others.
Polenta with ragu and vegetables
Located in the heart of Harrisburg, the four-star Crown Plaza
Hotel is close to many of the city’s attractions. It’s a
full-service facility with an excellent restaurant and a fitness
center. An overnight package is available that offers a $50
hotel restaurant voucher and free valet parking.
By air: Harrisburg International Airport.
By train: Harrisburg Amtrak Station.
By car: Pennsylvania Turnpike.
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