When the decision was made in 1810 to designate Harrisburg the Pennsylvania State Capital, the prophecy of John Harris Jr.'s town plan of 1785 was realized. At that time, he donated four acres of land to the Commonwealth, a portion of which is now Capitol Park, to induce the future location of the state seat of government there. The Legislature's decision of moving the Capital, temporarily located at Lancaster was the result of sharp discourse over whether Pennsylvania's seat of government should be returned to its original location of Philadelphia, or moved to one of a number of locations farther inland. Harrisburg was finally selected, it was argued, because of the town's "very pleasant and handsome" setting and the industrious spirit shown in having grown quickly since its founding only 25 years earlier. With no funds allocated to build a Capitol, the Legislature first met in the Dauphin County Courthouse on Market Street. In 1816, the Commonwealth provided for the erection of a permanent State Capitol on a hill to be purchased from the heirs of the late U.S. Senator, William Maclay, just north of John Harris' four-acre reserve. English-born architect and contractor Stephen Hills won a competition to design and construct the building which was completed and occupied in 1822. The Old Capitol served the Commonwealth well. U.S. Presidents Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, Lincoln, Grant and Hayes as well as the Prince of Wales, Daniel Webster and the Marquis de Lafayette had all been within its walls. On February 2, 1897, it was totally destroyed by fire.
Old Capitol Building looking east on State Street from N. Second Street in 1875.
Close-up view of the Old Capitol Building from N. Third and State Streets.
Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol Building in 1891.