tv Harris- Cameron Mansion CSPAN January 22, 2017 7:46pm-8:01pm EST
the celebration of this important moment. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] you are watching american history tv, all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. like us on facebook at c-span history. >> c-span is visiting harrisburg, pennsylvania. right now, we are on the pedestrian bridge that connects midtown to city island. up next, we will visit with john harris to learn about pennsylvania's two politicians from two different centuries. >> standing in the john harris
-simon cameron mansion here in harrisburg. this is the oldest house in what was the original harrisburg. it was built in 1776, and we are celebrating our 250th anniversary of the mansion this year. john harris sr., we usually call him the first. we call him the fur trader. he came here from yorkshire county, england, in the 1690's. he came through an introduction to william penn's secretary. looking for someone to go into the interior of the colony and secure the fur trading rights. that's how harris got here, approximately 1719. he built a crude log cabin. there was a replica made of what we believe the capital looked like during the bicentennial in 1985. it's over on city island. there was available fur trade in this area and it was supposed to go to england. but there were some intruders of french and dutch origin that
were trading with the indians, and i think that's one of the reasons why they sent someone like harris to this area. basically, he built the storehouse to store the pelts and furs you would get from the indians. by pack horse, he would take them back to philadelphia to exchange them for supplies. this was a gradual thing. but he didn't have many other people to trade with, white settlers. but there was a small contingent of scots-irish. so as they had demands, he would bring more and more things out from philadelphia. this area has long been a river crossing by the indians. they had used it to cross the river to war on neighboring tribes. there was a natural rock shelf that ran out across the river, approximately where the dam was later built in 1916, that made it possible to walk across the river in times of low water in the summertime. harris got the idea of having a ferry service in 1733 and built
a flat boat. by means of a rope to guide it out across what was turkey island, he was able to take eventually conestoga wagons across the river. what made him wealthy were these grants, land grants he got from shipman. it was altogether on what became harrisburg, 800 acres. he was land rich. john harris was very intimate with him. in fact, he went on to marry shippen's niece. who was, by coincidence, also from yorkshire county, england, so you would think they had lot to talk about. eventually, he brought esther here to this mudhole, as it was. they later expanded the trading post and built a log house. they had about six children between them, including john ,arris ii or john harris jr,
the first white person born west of the conestoga valley. there's really no other person we know of to dispute it. he was born approximately 1727. john harris sr. died in 1748. interestingly enough, his marriage had split up. esther had left him several times, and at one point he ran advertisements in the "philadelphia gazette," which was the only newspaper, that he would not be responsible for debts incurred by my wife. there was some tension there. he's buried across the street. i should tell you, he was very attached to a mulberry tree across the street. the story exists in legend only. he was working along the river bank one day. and a band of rather inebriated indians came up or down the river and thought that he had rum in the trading post, storehouse, which he probably did.
he did not care to sell it to them. the story goes that they tied him to a large mulberry tree and were going to burn him alive. and his faithful african-american servant, hercules, ran for help and brought back some friendly indians from across the river , who saved his master. the only thing we have that possibly documents that as being truthful is the fact that harris in his will actually mentions hercules, and he freed him. harris the first died when his son had just turned 21, so he was of age that he could take over what had become a plantation and the ferry service. this house, we believe, was started in 1766, and probably first occupied a couple years later. we think john junior saw a flood in his youth, and this
site had not flooded. it still has never flooded. so this not only overlooked his father's grave, and it was high ground. that is why we think he chose that spot. this is what is known as georgian style architecture, the first trial of the colonies. georgian style architecture was rooted in english classicism. the fact it has so many windows would have said a lot, because the more windows, the more wealthy you were. think of the logistics of getting window glass through a remote place like this in one piece. by virtue of it being stone, it was a mansion. this area was not populated at all, other than harris himself and be small contingent of scots-irish out of the paxton church. however, the building of the house and what grew to become a plantation, he needed workers.
he needed everything from stable hands to people to work on the house, to people to work in the fields. the house was surrounded by orchards. he had wheat fields along the river, fields as far as 13th and paxton. so he had a lot of acreage. both he and his father both reserved part of their farm, what they call the high hill farm, which is now capitol hill. they thought that would be great to give that to the commonwealth, and entice them to make this the capital. they always wanted to move the capital more into the interior. it started in philadelphia, when they wanted to go west. county wasuphin formed from part of lancaster county, and they decided to make this the county seat. they named the new county after the dauphin of france. we were beholden to the french for helping us in the revolutionary war. so they named the new county
dauphin, and much to harris' s displeasure, the county commissioners decide to rename what had been colloquially known as harris's ferry lewisburg after king louis xvi. harris was not happy about this at all and refuse to write a deed to any of the properties he sold. and i checked. we cannot find any. he decided to sell the area between the house -- mulberry street, as far north as south street, which is where his son-in-law, william clay, lived. clay married harris' oldest daughter, and was by profession a civil engineer. he and harris got together here in the house and laid out the lots in the new town of harrisburg. from the time he first started to sell lots in 1785, which
coincided with the founding of dauphin county, he basically only had another six years to live. and he died in 1791, and coinciding with his death, the county commissioners finally acquiesced and said, we are officially naming the town harrisburg. following john harris's death in 1791, the house stayed in the harris family for many years. later it became part of the -- the elder family owned it, and by the 1850's it had become the pennsylvania female college, started by a licensed methodist episcopal minister, but who chose to teach at the baltimore female academy. the legislature of pennsylvania chartered a similar school for pennsylvania, and he founded the school here in the 1850's. he had some 50 young women living here. on the board of trustees of that
school was a man named simon cameron, who would play the next major role in the mansion. simon cameron was the most important political figure in central pennsylvania. he was born a poor boy in may town, pennsylvania, near lancaster. he came to harrisburg as a newspaperman and got into politics. he became a four-time senator from pennsylvania. when abraham lincoln was inaugurated as president, lincoln installed him as war secretary. lincoln and he sort of butting heads, to put it mildly. cameron was a little involved in draft beyond his own railroad. he basically was moving troops by his own railroads and lincoln was taking heat from it. so he dismissed him as war secretary and made him minister to russia -- in the middle of the winter. at the same time, a little earlier than that, the reverend had died at the eve of the civil
war, a month before for sumter was fired on. and this is while he was putting up the house for sale. the president has said simon cameron, his wife, and daughter over to russia. he decided to send back to one of his cohorts to buy this house. he and his wife arrived in russia by way of france and basically did a shopping trip for this new house. they wanted a victorian house because they had seen all of this in europe. it was what was called the victorian age. raising the ceilings on everything, and he thought, what i want for that house. the original layout was four rooms up, four rooms down. john harris had five children by his first wife and 10 by his second. he had 15 children running around here. the yard would have been full of livestock. it was a mix of plantation as well as wilderness. this house had been a simple georgian style house when it was built. the various owners that came
after harris, they did various remodeling to it, put the wide veranda on the front, the window dormers. basically when cameron came here, the house was -- had to o low a ceiling to accommodate two mirrors he bought in france. somehow he got them across the atlantic in what would have been sailing ships, in one piece. absolute pristine condition today. to my mind, those mirrors changed the whole complexion of the house. because he wanted to victorianize it. boughtother things -- glass windows, chandeliers, mantles. the two front bedrooms upstairs are likely aware of both the harris family and the cameron family, they made those their master bedrooms. the south rim of their -- south was furnished with
furnishings that would have been common in the harris area and furnishings that would have been more common when cameron and his family lived here. the house was basically two pieces. the back stone portion probably dates to harris' original construction or shortly thereafter. in between it, there possibly was a summer kitchen made of wood frame. he had that demolished and he had a stone dining room that connected the two ends of the houses, where we are standing right now. this was to be a formal dining room. if you came to harrisburg, you just had to go visit mr. cameron. he had both connections with harrisburg and washington. after the civil war, general grant and sherman were here, all sorts of famous persons would come to visit. if you came to harrisburg, you just had to go visit mr. cameron. cameron's wife died in 1874. and so he was a widower for the
last few years of his life. he died in 1889, but he was a much sought after bachelor because he was so wealthy. the historical society of dauphin county was founded in 1869. fortunately, the cameron heirs gave the historical society this house in 1941, and it has been in our care ever since. i think what people will take away from here is a story of survival of a house, but also of the man who really decided that this should be the capital of the state of pennsylvania, before anybody else did. and i think that's really amazing. he had some real foresight. >> this weekend, we are featuring the history of harrisburg, pennsylvania together with our comcast cae