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5 Facts About Pennsylvania's Capital: How Well Do You Know Harrisburg?

Image: 5 Facts About Pennsylvania's Capital: How Well Do You Know Harrisburg?
The Pennsylvania State Capitol Building as seen from State Street in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, October 12, 2011. (Daniel Shanken/Reuters/Landov)  

By    |   Friday, 10 Apr 2015 03:21 PM

In case you ever go to Harrisburg, you'll be ahead of the game by knowing some facts about Pennsylvania's capital city and its history.

Here are five facts about Pennsylvania's capital:

1. In a controversial move, Harrisburg filed for bankruptcy in 2011, citing more than $400 million in debt. Much of the blame was placed on the failure of a waste-to-energy incinerator that was supposed to earn $1 billion. Instead of going into bankruptcy, a judged ordered the city to be placed in receivership from which it emerged in 2014. It marked the successful end of what was called the Harrisburg Strong Plan, which involved the sale of the incinerator and the lease for 40 years of its parking facilities, according to PennLive.

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2. Harrisburg figured in the first domestic uprising against the new federal government created by the new U.S. Constitution. To pay off the debt still remaining from the War of Independence, the new central government decided it had to levy a domestic tax. It took the form of a federal "excise" tax on the distillation of liquor.

The independent and smaller distillers in western Pennsylvania thought the tax was unfair and punitive, prompting attacks on tax collectors and some riots. President George Washington finally said "enough," and in 1794, for the first time in the county's history, a sitting president personally led military troops against its own citizens, in what became known as the Whiskey Rebellion.

Harrisburg's role in the uprising is somewhat unclear. According to some accounts, Washington and his thousands of troops were met in Harrisburg by mob hysteria and anger, requiring the president to suppress what was becoming a dangerous situation. By other accounts, he was welcomed. Continuing the march west, Washington encountered little or no opposition, as if the rebels had evaporated.

This was the first critical test of the Constitution's central government and the use of the Militia Law of 1792 empowering the militia to “execute the laws of the union and suppress insurrection." And Harrisburg was near the middle of it.

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3. Harrisburg was the target of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's campaign into the North. It would have been quite a victory, Harrisburg's Camp Curtin being a vital training center for Union troops. It also was critical railroad hub, carrying troops, arms and supplies between the Atlantic coast and the Midwest.

Lee's first attempt was stymied at the Battle of Antietam (called the Battle of Sharpsburg in the South). With total causalities from the battle exceeding 23,000, it was America's bloodiest single day in combat. Lee's second attempt was blocked at the decisive Battle of Gettysburg. A skirmish between Union and Confederate forces two miles west of Harrisburg may have been the war's northern-most battle.

4. The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg claims to be the nation's largest Civil War museum that lacks bias about either the Union or Confederate causes. The museum says it portrays the war "as a time line, from the issues straining the nation through the war's conclusion at Appomattox Court House. Nowhere can you find a better understanding of the Civil War, its effect on the nation, or on the people."

5. The Rockville Bridge in Harrisburg was the longest stone arch bridge in the world when it was built in 1902 by the old Pennsylvania Railroad, and remains so today. Considered to be an icon of railroad engineering, the four-track, 3,820-foot-long bridge is composed of 220,000 tons of stone and took 800 workers two years to build.

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In case you ever go to Harrisburg, you'll be ahead of the game by knowing some facts about Pennsylvania's capital city and its history.
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2015-21-10
Friday, 10 Apr 2015 03:21 PM
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