Harrisburg's distinction of having one of the most beautiful inland waterfronts in America is attributed to the growth and conservation of Riverfront Park. Through the foresight of John Harris, Jr., the founder of Harrisburg, 6.2 linear acres along the Susquehanna River were set aside for boat landing purposes at the time the original borough was laid out in 1785. Four parks were created from this land during the 19th Century; Harris Park between Paxton and Mulberry Streets, Lincoln Park from Mulberry to Market Streets, Promenade Park from Market Street to beyond the original borough line at South Street to State Street, and D.W. Gross Park from the Old Waterworks through the annexed borough of 1838 to Herr Street. Above Herr Street, houses existed on the west side of Front Street, known as Hardscrabble, until the 1920's when they were removed for the Park's northward improvements in keeping with the city's growth. It was the civic practice during this period for Front Street landowners, who owned to the riverbank, to donate their river frontages to the City for the assemblage of the Park. Further improvements in the early 20th Century involved both beauty and utility. Under the direction of nationally-known public works consultant James Fuertes, who set forth a master public works plan as part of the City Beautiful Movement, the famous river steps were erected beginning in 1913 and ultimately would stretch as far north as Maclay Street and south to Shipoke. Under these steps was concealed the main city's sewage interceptor which discharges to this day waste to the city's sewerage treatment plant, a system far ahead of its time. It is the combination of these steps that define the river's edge, the high riverbank and the tree-lined park itself, graced by memorials, gardens and sculpture, that make Harrisburg's river presence so unique.
Circa 1908 postcard view of river activities at the Walnut Street Bridge prior to construction of concrete steps.
River steps under construction in 1913 at Harris Park.
Hardscrabble at N. Front and Verbeke Streets prior to demolition for Sunken Gardens and Park extension.