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Harrisburg History in Old Photos & Film

Harrisburg Pennsylvania local history in old photos

Harrisburg is the state capital of Pennsylvania, but is a small city with about 50,000 residents. It’s also home to three popular museums, and charts its history back to 1787. We obviously can’t show you films from all the way back then, but enjoy this trip down memory lane through the past century.

Old Photos 1900-1919

Posted to YouTube by PennLive.com

The Historical Society of Dauphin County, W.J. Harder Collection, and PA State Archives provided these old images, taken during the era of the City Beautiful movement.

The Market Street subway construction was underway, and there was a great ceremony as the cornerstone for the new Capitol was laid in 1904. President Teddy Roosevelt appeared for the Capitol dedication in 1906 – as did a crowd of thousands.

Harrisburg in the 1920s

Posted to YouTube by PennLive.com

A trolley rumbles over the otherwise deserted State Street Bridge, a huge crowd turns out to watch firefighters tackle a major blaze, and there’s plenty of parking spaces on the streets.

The Historical Society of Dauphin County, T.B. Keene, and J. Horace McFarland provided these old images, taken when the city’s population stood at 87,000 people.

The 1930s in Harrisburg

Posted to YouTube by PennLive.com

Pennsylvania was not immune to the Great Depression of the 1930s, and indeed lost 270,000 manufacturing jobs as industrial production fell by 50 percent. But the majority of these old photos of Harrisburg shows people smartly going about their lives.

Includes old images of the 1936 flood of North Second Street, and the last trolley.

Old photos from the 1940s

Posted to YouTube by PennLive.com

See the crowds gathered for the farm show, an event outside the Penn Harris Hotel, and people gathering at Hoover’s Furniture Store in the 1940s.

Harrisburg in the 1950s

Posted to YouTube by PennLive.com

Location titles accompany these old 1950s photos, when the city hit an all-time high population of 89,554 people.

Includes people ready to welcome Nixon, the opening of the Harvey Taylor Bridge, and construction at the Patriot-News site in Market Street. Hundreds of people and businesses appear in these images.

Around the State Capitol in the 1950s

Posted to YouTube by Gamma Ray Digital

This is a silent home movie from the 1950s.

Vintage photos of Harrisburg in the 1960s

Posted to YouTube by PennLive.com

A nice collection of 1960s old photos of Harrisburg, accompanied by clear location titles.

Thanksgiving Day Parade 1969

Posted to YouTube by 19king14 Film2Video Memories & Services

This 8mm home movie of the Thanksgiving Day Parade 1969 was made at 240 North 3rd Street. It may be a silent and grainy piece of vintage film, but many of the children and teenagers captured in the footage will be approaching retirement and may enjoy this glimpse of themselves all those decades ago.

As some of the giant inflatables go by, you see the front of the Mary Sachs Department Store. Mary Sachs opened her “ladies shop” in downtown Harrisburg on September 6th, 1918, as World War I was nearing its end and the Spanish flu pandemic raged across the globe. The Patriot-News describes Mary Sachs as “the woman who brought Fifth Avenue to Harrisburg”.

Vintage photos of Harrisburg taken in the 1970s

Posted to YouTube by PennLive.com

Taken by the Patriot-News photographers, these old photos of events in the city in the 1970s have location and/or year titles. Includes the flooded Governor’s Mansion and several locations under development.

Harrisburg Bicentennial Parade 1976

Posted to YouTube by 19king14 Film2Video Memories & Services

Rare colour home movie with sound. If you knew someone who was in this parade, make sure you share this video!

The images aren’t crisp and the camera wobbles a bit….but it’s good enough to recognise individuals if you knew them back then. 

Literally hundreds of people appear on screen, many in costumes. The New Cumberland Civic Club ran one of the floats, and women balanced carefully on a car sponsored by the Korean Association of Penn (U?). 

Harrisburg in the 1980s

Posted to YouTube by PennLive.com

There’s an interesting mix of 1980s photos showing both ordinary people and businesses as well as big fires and major development sites. Quite a few people appear too, including some children who will now be well into middle age!

Old photos from the 1990s

Posted to YouTube by PennLive.com

Lots of people and places photographed in the 1990s for news stories in The Patriot-News.

Harrisburg’s lost movie theaters 

Posted to YouTube by PennLive.com

Colonial, Loew’s, Bijou, Capitol, Grand, National, Rialto, Roxy and Star were just some of the dozen or more movie theatres once found in the city. Revisit them with these black and white old photos, reminding us of a time when admission cost as little as 10c.

Each of the old images has been identified with the movie theatre’s name and address. Some of them show people outside, while others glimpse into a world where cars were outnumbered by bicycles and trolleys.

Local History Groups on Facebook

Facebook groups are a brilliant place to find old photos, videos and stories of the olden days shared by people who remember them well.

Harrisburg, PA History Fans

Historical Society of Dauphin County

Remember When IN HARRISBURG, PA, USA

Honorable mention to the PennLive.com facebook page too. Lots of local newspapers provide nostalgic content for readers to enjoy. But this team also built up an impressive YouTube channel to display a huge range of fascinating images of Harrisburg’s past. 

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