Harrisburg's prominent role in the advance of the Union cause leading to the Civil War was particularly evident by its sympathy in harboring former slaves who had escaped servitude from the South. As early as 1836, the Harrisburg Anti-Slavery Society was founded. So influential was the group that it brought noted reformers William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglas to hold a rally at the Dauphin County Courthouse in 1847. During this period, Harrisburg became a key station in the "Underground Railroad" which stretched from Maryland northward to Canada. While many secretly opened their doors to provide haven to escapees who under federal law could be reclaimed by their "owners," sections of the old Eighth Ward neighborhood, which once stood behind the Capitol Building, and homes on Tanners Avenue in particular, became later known as a nucleus of this activity. Located at the corner of Tanners Avenue and South Street, near the present southern entrance to the South Office building stood the church of Harrisburg's oldest African American congregation, the Wesley Union A.M.E. Zion Church. Founded in 1829 from an earlier organization dating to 1817, the congregation first met in a log building at S. Third and Mulberry Streets. Its presence at Tanners Avenue and South Street was first established in 1838 when a one-story brick building was constructed. This was replaced by a larger building in 1862 that was remodeled in 1886. The final church at this location was built in 1894, although demolished in 1915 for the expansion of Capitol Park. After two additional moves, Wesley Church survives today at Fifth and Camp Streets in Uptown Harrisburg and continues its tradition of community outreach and service.
Tanners Avenue looking north from Walnut Street circa 1912.
Tanners Avenue looking south toward Walnut Street circa 1912 with Wesley Union A.M.E. Zion Church at left.