By: Sean Guay

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – Located at 4th & Chestnut Streets at the entrance to the Mulberry Street bridge, and extending to 5th & Market Streets, the historic Harrisburg Transportation Center is a hub for Amtrak train service, and interstate bus routes near the Pennsylvania Capitol Complex in downtown Harrisburg. More than 1.5 million people each year pass through the Harrisburg Transportation Center using Amtrak trains and Greyhound buses. The train station was originally built in 1887 by the Pennsylvania Railroad. It is now operated by the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority.

Improvements planned for the Harrisburg Transportation Center include renovations to the observation room, existing slate roof, and new energy efficient mechanical systems. The renovation project is expected to be completed February 2024, including interior and exterior renovations to the existing historical facility, roof replacements, masonry restoration, and tenant improvements.

Tenant improvements include architectural and structural restoration, as well as mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades. The roofing work will consist of the removal and replacement of various roofing systems and appurtenances. Masonry work consists of interior and exterior cleaning, repair and restoration work.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey announced that the station would receive $634,525 for a new heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) system. Much of the existing system, including the cooling tower, pumps and chiller system, were installed over two decades ago and need to be replaced, as reported by theBurg in April.

According to Executive Director Bryan Davis, HRA reached out to Casey’s office about the need to replace the HVAC system. Congress then appropriated funds for the project through its most recent federal budget, enacted in March.

“This was urgent because of what we saw during the [COVID-19] pandemic,” Casey said. “Air quality can help prevent the spread of the virus. Even absent that though, it’s critical we make these investments as part of a larger set of investments to improve the basic infrastructure of this historic building.”

Amtrak owns the 135-year-old station, but the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority has operated it under a master lease since 1983. The current station is the third railroad station at that site, and was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1887. The station was significantly rebuilt with its distinctive barn roof in 1905 following a serious fire in 1904. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, and is also designated as a National Historic Landmark. The first railroad station was built in 1837. A second building at the same location was completed 20 years later in 1857.

Famously, President Abraham Lincoln visited the second Harrisburg train station in 1861, on his way from Springfield, Illinois, to his inauguration in Washington D.C. It was on his way to address the Pennsylvania legislature in Harrisburg that Lincoln was allegedly informed of a plot to assassinate him when he changed trains in Baltimore, as described here.

Lincoln went ahead with his speech in Harrisburg (saying “It shall be my endeavor to preserve the peace of this country so far as it can possibly be done, consistently with the maintenance of the institutions of the country…”), but then he secretly took another train directly from Harrisburg to Washington, bypassing Baltimore. His flight embarrassed him, and he said: “What would the nation think of its President stealing into its capital like a thief in the night?”

His next visit came on his funeral train back to Springfield. In April 1865 his body lay in state under the Pennsylvania capitol rotunda. A local diarist, Charles Rawn, noted:

The body of President Lincoln arrived here under Heavy escort at 8 P.M. to remain until tomorrow and to be seen at the State Capitol. Wife and Daughter have gone out but I am entirely too unwell [unreadable]—raining at this noting at 8 ¼ to 8 ½ P.M. extremely hard. Cannon are Firing and bells are tolling – solemn, solemn, scene!! But God makes and directs and this solemn death is a part of his mysterious ways past our finding out.

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