In the early years of the 20th century Philadelphia artist Edwin Austin Abbey created the monumental murals that decorate the vast rotunda of the State Capital building in Harrisburg. They illustrate Pennsylvania's top three 19th/20th century industries: oil, coal and steel. Although agriculture was always important, these three industries were the engine that was propelling the United States into world power status and Harrisburg was a major player. In 21st century Pennsylvania, and Harrisburg, the engine is fueled by tourism, specialized manufacturing and still, agriculture.
Traveling on the Pennsylvania Turnpike one drives through lush farmlands of Dutch country and usually skirts the city of Harrisburg. After all, most people know the city as part of the modern "rust belt." The great steel mills are gone and suburban flight halved the city's population by the end of the 20th century. Yet it would be a mistake to ignore Harrisburg. Sure there are neighborhoods of deteriorating housing, but there are even more areas that never declined, others that are on the rise and dozens of well maintained parks. And it's a new generation of young professionals that have reversed the population decline, want an urban experience and are revitalizing Harrisburg.
It's easy to explain away revitalization of a state capital by simply assuming it's all money from the political machine. But Harrisburg is still one of the major railroad transportation hubs of the Northeast connecting to the west and the south. Old steel mill buildings and warehouses have been repurposed for new specialized industries and institutes of higher education. Spend some time in Harrisburg and sense the energy of the present.
(Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the Hershey/Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau)