"The Acropolis of Harrisburg" is a way in which to describe this Greek Revival, temple-like edifice that rests on a mound of retaining walls jutting from Allison Hill. Although these walls are relatively recent, built when the structure was converted to the home of Harrisburg's YWCA in 1998, the building has always been a curiosity in architectural style and unusual bluff-edge setting. Its original portion was built by John H. Brant )1810-1882), who came to Harrisburg around 1830. Brant operated a successful wholesale business here welling large quantities of coal, iron, nails and oil to the Pennsylvania Canal and the Pennsylvania Railroad. He was also appointed Postmaster of Harrisburg by U.S. President Pierce in 1853 and, in 1856, erected Brant's City Hall on Market Street for use as a hotel, restaurant, and meeting hall. About the same time, he set about erecting his house on the bluff, which took about ten years to build and during which Brant served in the Civil War on the Union side, attaining the rank of colonel. Due to the length of time that the house was under construction, it acquired the nickname of "Brant"s Folly", as many thought it would never be finished. Brant sold the property in 1871, only several years after it was completed, to the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg which, after naming the property Sylvan Heights, used it for a variety of religious purposes. In 1901, the diocese established an orphanage there and expanded the building, added a gabled roof to enhance its Greek temple-like appearance, and extended its columned portico. The orphanage continued operation until the 1970's after which the building was vacated. The City acquired the site and helped with the Harrisburg YWCA's subsequent restoration of the property, renamed the John Crain Kunkel Center, including the construction of a new residential wing. Always progressive in the embrace of social advances, the Harrisburg YWCA at Sylvan Heights continues to effectively serve the needs of women and children.
1890's view of mansion prior to expansion for orphanage.
1881 aerial lithograph showing mansion property at center.