On the Road…to Harrisburg/Hershey!

Chances are if you live in Northeast PA you’ve made the roughly 120 mile drive south on Interstate 81 to visit Hershey. Granted, most people trek to Dauphin County in the south central portion of the Keystone State for the entertainment and thrills offered at Hershey Park, but while you’re there take time to look around and you’ll find an area rich in culture, history, community and natural beauty.

A Capitol Experience Harrisburg’s skyline is dominated by the Pennsylvania Capitol. Philadelphia architect Joseph Huston envisioned the building as a, “Palace of Art.” The grand five-story exterior is faced with Vermont granite and the distinct roof is composed of green glazed terra cotta tile. Built at a cost of $13 million, the building has a palatial feel with soaring arches, paintings, stained glass and furnishings by some of the most renowned artisans of the day. President Theodore Roosevelt attended the building’s dedication in 1906 and declared it, “The handsomest building I ever saw.” The crowning glory of the capitol is its 272-foot, 52-million pound dome inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. For nearly 80 years after its completion, the building was the tallest structure between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Since the building belongs to the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the public is invited inside. Self-guided tours are available throughout the week, but a 30-minute guided tour is also an option. Capitol Tour Guides point out areas of architectural and artistic significance. Guided tours are offered every half-hour Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tours are offered every two hours on weekends. Begin any tour at the Welcome Center located in the East Wing. Interactive exhibits and educational displays explain how laws are made and features fun facts on Pennsylvania.

A Nation Divided
Harrisburg is home to one of the largest museums in the United States dedicated to the American Civil War. The National Civil War Museum opened in 2001 to serve as a national center to inspire lifelong learning of the American Civil War through the preservation and balanced presentation of the peoples’ struggle for survival and healing. Housed within its collection are 25,000 historical items, including the rarest of all– Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Bible, which he carried from 1847 until the end of the Civil War. CEO Wayne E Motts considers all of the original objects in the museum’s collection to be among the most powerful, noting it’s the letters, personal objects and photographs that bring the Civil War to life.
An exhibit entitled, We the People, is a favorite among the 42,000 annual visitors to the museum. It introduces 10 characters that represent average people that lived during the Civil War. Their dialog, depicted on three monitors, is based on letters, diaries and documents in the museum’s collection. As visitors move though the exhibit galleries, they can follow the story of these 10 characters and witness the outcome of their experiences during the war. Motts says Meet Mr. Lincoln is another interactive exhibit not-to-be-missed. Using touch-screen technology, visitors can choose from eight categories on President Lincoln’s life from which to ask questions. There are over 225 pre-programmed questions, some of which offer unexpected insight into the 16th President of the United States. A minimum of two hours is recommended to tour the 65,000 square foot museum. Situated at the highest point in Harrisburg, the stunning view of the city and surrounding countryside is an added bonus.

A Time-Honored Tradition
Baseball at City Island dates back to 1907. The scenic 62-acre waterfront park located in the middle of the Susquehanna River is the site of FNB Field. It’s home turf of the Harrisburg Senators, the AA Minor League team for the Washington Nationals. Constructed in 1987, the stadium underwent a $45 million renovation in 2008 that created a boardwalk surrounding the outfield and a Midway with activities designed especially for children and families. Attendance averages 4,500 per game and General Manager Randy Whitaker says, “It’s the best value in Central PA for affordable fun for the whole family.” Visitors can relax and enjoy the view while taking in the action on the baseball diamond. Whitaker describes a Senators game experience as a, “Circus-like atmosphere with things that appeal to every age group.” His personal favorite is the “Roar Like an Animal” kids’ game played between innings. Following every Friday night game, fans can enjoy a fireworks display. For the July 4th game, the Senators will welcome country music’s Lee Greenwood who will perform his iconic song, “God Bless the USA” before the fireworks show. Visitors can catch a Senators game through the end of August.

A Century-Old Celebration
Life and culture in Harrisburg has centered around the Susquehanna River ever since its settlement in 1719. Nowhere is that more evident than at the annual Kipona Festival. The celebration began in 1916 to mark the completion of the city’s Dock Street Dam and River Steps. The improvements raised the river to a more recreational level. A citywide competition christened the event, “Kipona” a Native American word meaning “on sparkling water.” The festival has grown in size and scope ever since, becoming Harrisburg’s premier river event.

For three days (September 2-4), City Island and Riverfront Park are filled with food, live music, activities and cultural performances. Megan Roby, marketing and events manager for the City of Harrisburg, says the festival provides a taste of the Harrisburg area– from breweries, food trucks, artists and musicians to products, organizations and businesses– all in one convenient location. According to Roby, the event takes more than nine months to plan and involves many city departments. The massive production draws over 50,000 residents and tourists annually to downtown Harrisburg.

The festival is chock-full of activities and entertainment, but Roby advises visitors not to miss the Native American Pow Wow, fireworks, movie screening tent, canoe races, beer garden and Festival of India. Another highlight includes Wirewalkers over the Susquehanna River. Visitors can watch as trained wirewalkers attempt a daring feat across the water. Roby’s counts the Artist Village as her favorite part of the festival. The area features over 30 artists offering handcrafted goods such as pottery, jewelry, soap, ceramics, photography and home décor. New to Kipona in 2017 is the Rubber Duck Race, a zip line and doggie rest stop– an area just for pets and their people with water stations, adoption information, animal behavior training, vaccine and microchip low-cost clinics, product vendors and homemade treats and accessories. Roby says the diverse food offerings are also a major draw for festival-goers. “Our unique food trucks offer a taste of many different ethnic cuisines including Greek, Thai, Costa Rican and Mexican along with traditional festival favorites such as funnel cake, fried Oreos and kettle corn,” explains Roby.

A Stately Stay
The Academy Manor District of Harrisburg is known for its collection of 20th century mansions that overlook the Susquehanna River. Visitors to the area can now feel like a tycoon with a stay at The Manor on Front Bed and Breakfast. The property consists of two riverfront mansions– The Ledgestone and The Mary Sachs. The Hull family built Ledgestone, a revival Tudor mansion, in 1925 at a cost of $43,000. The Mary Sachs was also built in the late 1920s and is named for its second owner. Owners Mike and Sally Wilson purchased the properties and turned them into a bed and breakfast, “to allow all who need accommodations to be able to enjoy the grandeur of yesteryear,” explains Sally. “Once you walk into Ledgestone, you feel as if you walked into ‘Downton Abbey.’”

Most of the five suites offer spectacular river views. Guests can also relax in any of the common areas such as the library, living room, parlor and courtyard. An elegant sit-down breakfast is served in the dining room. The River Room may be reserved for meetings, family reunions, weddings or rehearsal dinners. Riverfront Park is adjacent to the properties and offers 10-miles of recreational trails.

A Ride Through Time
“Everyone has a car story,” says Nancy Gates, director of marketing and communications, explaining the appeal of The AACA Museum in Hershey. “Cars are part of the fabric of our lives and our exhibit and experiences bring back fond memories and create new ones for those who visit.” With 70,000 square feet and displays on three floors, each visitor will find something to which they relate.

Gates describes The AACA Museum as a world-class automotive experience with cars, buses, motorcycles, trucks and model trains. The museum takes visitors on a cross-country journey from the early 1900s through the 1980s through innovative and interactive exhibits. The newest addition to the museum allows guests to explore the invention of the assembly line process by building their own Model T. The museum is home to the world’s largest collection of Tucker automobiles and artifacts along with a display of full-sized vintage buses.

Summer visitors to The AACA Museum can enjoy three featured exhibits. Garage Finds: Unrestored Treasures that Survived Time boasts more than 60 original vehicles including cars, trucks and motorcycles. A Camaro and Firebird 50th Anniversary exhibit pays tribute to the iconic American pony car. Detroit Underdogs is a collaboration with Hemmings Classic Car Magazine that shines a light on cars that are under-appreciated and a great entry into the automobile collector hobby. The museum welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year. According to Gates, some of the most popular spots are the photo stop car and the Hershey’s Kissmobile Cruiser. She advises allowing one to two hours to see all the museum has to offer, but cautions that automotive enthusiasts may just get linger longer.
–Barbara Toolan