Although the original Borough of Harrisburg and its oldest neighborhoods comprise the area now occupied by the Central Business District, the city's oldest structure is ironically located at its eastern end amidst 20th Century development. This location, however, is understood when realizing that the house, built in 1740, was the home of Parson John Elder, early Presbyterian minister of the nearby Paxton Presbyterian Church in Paxtang. Considered the oldest Presbyterian Church building in continuous use in Pennsylvania and the second oldest in the United States, the original stone structure was also erected in 1740. The Scotch-Irish settlers who inhabited the area before the Borough of Harrisburg was founded in 1791 organized the church in 1733. Both Elder's house and Paxton Church were built on ground sloping to the south toward Spring Creek to what at one time was known as the Paxtang Valley. It was up the Spring Creek lowlands that early pioneers ventured from Harris Ferry to found additional settlements. In 1738, John Elder became pastor and served in this position for fifty years until his death in 1792. Elder is remembered for his active stance in helping to defend the frontier surrounding present-day Harrisburg from Indian attacks provoked by the French who had settled farther to the west as part of the conflict of the French and Indian War. He also served as a Colonel in the American Revolution. Not only is John Elder buried in the Paxton Church graveyard, but also are John Harris, Jr., the founder of Harrisburg, and William Maclay, first U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania and surveyor who laid out the Borough of Harrisburg in 1785. Although altered over time, Elder family heirs have incredibly, owned the Elder House over the centuries to this day.
Circa 1900 view of original barn (demolished) and house at right when a farm looking northward.
1960 view of Elder House showing expanded front porch and third floor dormer addition.