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Artistic Treasure: PA State Capitol Complex

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  • December 3, 2018
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Rotunda Exterior Image PA State Capitol Complex
The Pennsylvania State Capitol Building complex, Harrisburg, PA Photo courtesy of Visit Hershey-Harrisburg

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building

An Architectural Masterpiece

Plan a visit to Harrisburg and add this National Historic Landmark to your itinerary.

Imagine you’re standing in front of the Pennsylvania State Capitol building around the time of its dedication on Oct. 4, 1906. Close your eyes and envision you’re looking skyward at what was considered to be the tallest structure between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The capitol building held that record for 80 years. That must have been quite a sight to behold.

As a life-long Pennsylvania resident, I’m sorry to note I had only seen my state’s capitol building from a distance until earlier this year on a sunny late September day. As the traffic whizzed by me, I took a moment to admire the dome from the sidewalk in front of the complex. I realized I had no idea what entrance to use. As I walked up and down two flights of exterior steps twice, I checked my watch and realized I was five minutes late for my scheduled tour. I stopped briefly to ask a bystander to point to the main entrance that would lead me to the main lobby and the man directed me to two sets of double doors. A security guard mapped out my trek to the lobby where I found the information desk surrounded by several large groups of visitors who were ready to embark on their tours. There, I met my tour guide.

Visit Hershey-Harrisburg arranged my tour as part of a three-day media trip to Hershey and Harrisburg. I left Central Pennsylvania with a significantly greater understanding of why Harrisburg has remained Pennsylvania’s capital since October 1812 thanks to my tour guide, Jill Fetter. She’s the Capitol Visitor Services director and The Pennsylvania Capitol Shop manager in the Main Rotunda and an expert in both the building’s history and design.

The 272-foot, 52 million-pound capitol dome glistens with Vermont granite and is topped with a green-glazed terra cotta tile roof and inspired by Michelangelo’s design for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Photo Courtesy of UncoveringPA.com

Philadelphia architect Joseph Huston (1866-1940), designed the massive capital structure based on his vision of a “Palace of Art” and that’s exactly what you’ll find. The building and furnishings cost $13 billion.

Aside from its obvious grandeur and size, the exterior of the building is a gateway to the splendor you’ll find inside – classic American Renaissance style architecture that’s combined with artistic details that are unspeakably magnificent and illuminated by approximately 4,000 lights and 48 portholes in the dome.

Suffice to say, the building lives up to its reputation as the most beautiful capitol building in our nation. In fact, history has it that President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the capital as “the handsomest building” he ever saw when he attended the dedication of the building.

PA State Capitol Building Architecture Art
A visitor stops for a moment to gaze at the statues and ornamentation as he descended the grand staircase in the main building. Photo by Joan Mead-Matsui

The interior focal point is the grand staircase – an ideal vantage point for visitors to view eight large murals by Philadelphia artists, Edwin Austin Abbey, and the famous Barnard  Statues by George Grey Barnard, and 17-foot bronze doors that each weighs a ton. Keeping your eyes fixed on one element at a time might be difficult for even the most disciplined spectator as your tour guide describes each of the massive installations of stained glass, murals, and paintings crafted by the most talented artisans of that era.

Pennsylvania historical exhibits
Love art? The capitol building is as much a series of exhibits as it is a hub for lawmakers and lobbyists. Photo by Joan Mead-Matsui

Some of the largest rooms feature a European influence with distinctive Renaissance elements – Italian in the House Chamber, French in the Senate Chamber, and English in the Governor’s Reception Room. Add to that mix Greek, Roman and Victorian installations of exquisite art and ornamentation displayed throughout the building.

PA Senate and House Chambers Tours
When the legislature is not in session, you’ll have a chance to gaze at the murals, gold embellishments, custom-crafted lighting fixtures, and exquisite woodwork in the chambers. Photo by Joan Mead-Matsui
Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex Tours
What will you learn during a tour of the PA State Capitol Complex? This massive structure is an ideal opportunity for students of all ages to learn local, state, and national histories, law and politics, and art and architecture. Photo by Joan Mead-Matsui

Historians, politicians, teachers, students, architects, travelers, and anyone with an appreciation for history and art and a fascination with politics and lawmaking, should visit the Pennsylvania State Capitol complex. Architectural students will want to study how Huston, the architect-of-record, incorporated motifs that embody Pennsylvania’s achievements in history, animals, industries, occupations, and modes of transportation into his design. Whether your glance is towards the dome, straight ahead, or under your feet, you’ll find examples of Huston’s affinity for art. One example is the Moravian tiles you’ll see intermingled on the lobby floor. They were designed and manufactured by Henry Chapman Mercer of Doylestown, PA as a way to illustrate and incorporate the talents and wares of local craftsman.

Henry Chapman Mercer Moravian Tiles
As many as 400 tile mosaics by Henry Chapman Mercer, a Doylestown, PA craftsman, are interspersed throughout the first floor of the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building Rotunda and nearby corridors. Photo by Joan Mead-Matsui
William B. Van Ingen 24 Stained Glass windows
The “Militia” is one of 24 stained glass windows in the Senate and House Chambers crafted by Philadelphia native William B. Van Ingen. Photo by Joan Mead-Matsui

There’s so much to see and take in at the State Capitol Building.  Take the time to download the PA Capitol Self-Guided Tour Mobile app to learn about the self-guided tour stops, how a bill becomes law in PA, and research additional information in five languages: English, Spanish, French, Italian, and German.

Tours are free and offered every half hour Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. or on weekends and most holidays at 9 and 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. You won’t be able to tour the capitol building on New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving and Christmas day but you’ll have plenty of other options before or after those holidays. I encourage you to register for a tour so won’t miss a detail along the way. A Capitol Tour Guide will fill your head with architectural, artistic, and political highlights that will make this building’s incomparable beauty come alive for you. If you decide to wait to schedule your tour until you arrive in Harrisburg, be sure to check the schedule before arriving at the capitol complex.

PA State Capitol Complex Tour Guides
Allow Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex tour guides, Jill Fetter and her staff, to show you around one of Pennsylvania’s most extraordinary buildings.

For help planning your trip to Pennsylvania, visit www.VisitHersheyHarrisburg.org.

My trip was hosted and comped by Visit Hershey & Harrisburg but my opinions are my own and are based on my personal experiences. 

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You’ll Dream of Chocolate

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  • November 12, 2018
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Chocolate Hershey Bar

HERSHEY, PENNSYLVANIA

Melding Chocolate Culture with History

 

Milton S. Hershey School
The Milton Hershey School, a private, cost-free residential school was founded by Milton Hershey and his wife, Catherine, for children from lower-income families. The lobby mural brings to life the iconic entrepreneur and philanthropist, Milton S. Hershey.  Photo by Joan Mead-Matsui

Most of us love a story with a happy ending.

We’ve all heard of extraordinarily successful entrepreneurs and we can’t help but wonder how they rose above the day-to-day challenges associated with running a business. Milton S. Hershey is an individual we can admire for his dream and vision but he wasn’t an instant success.

Where can you learn more about Milton S. Hershey and his legacy?

At the Hershey Story Museum, The Hershey Company’s most recent building endeavor.

The Hershey Story Museum
Learn how Milton S. Hershey rose from rags to riches. Plan a visit to the Hershey Story Museum. Photo by Joan Mead-Matsui

The Hershey museum opened in January 2009 in the heart of downtown Hershey, a magical town where the streetlights are modeled after Hershey Kisses and the aroma within each building is a reminder of why chocolate is a good as gold. More than 160,000 people visit the museum every year.

The story goes that around the turn of the century, chocolate was a booming business and Milton Hershey was so inspired, he sold his caramel business and broke ground for a new chocolate factory in nearby Derry Township, his hometown. For as long as I can remember, the Hershey bar has been a symbol of chocolatey sweetness and the iconic chocolate-colored wrapper that has evolved over the years is also a reminder of days gone by. But it’s more than the chocolate that’s represented in the museum. It’s Milton Hershey’s rag to riches’ story. Walk into a grocery store or anywhere that food is sold and you’ll likely find a product manufactured by the Hershey Company. More than a century after Hershey built his factory, Hershey products are manufactured and savored around the world.

Milton S. Hershey legacy
Buttons. dials and story-board exhibits teach children about Milton S. Hershey and his legacy. Photo by Joan Mead-Matsui

My recent media trip to Hershey was a fascinating mix of chocolate culture. The Hershey Story Museum, 63 West Chocolate Ave., Hershey, Pennsylvania, helps to tie together the entire Hershey experience with a mix of exhibits and archives that will ignite your curiosity about the art of chocolate making and demystify the man who started the company from scratch. Where are the ingredients sourced? Where does Hershey find such large quantities of cocoa beans to mass produce chocolate? Where do the sugar and dairy that are key ingredients in many of products originate? The exhibits answer those questions through visuals and hands-on experimentation that every child and adult should experience at least once.

The Hershey Museum Cuba Exhibit
What was Milton Hershey’s relationship with Cuba? Find out at the exhibit happening at The Hershey Story Museum, Hershey, PA. Photo by Joan Mead-Matsui
Milton S. Hershey Cuba Award
Discover why Milton S. Hershey’s was awarded
the “Grand Cross of the National Order of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes” by Cuba’s president in 1933. Image courtesy of The Hershey Story Museum.

The “Failures to Fortunes” exhibit is one that particularly illustrates how determination can result in ultimate success. Milton S. Hershey found success while at the Lancaster Caramel Company and grew his company from there into a booming chocolate business. Each piece in the exhibits is presented so they appeal to adults and children. 

Don’t leave the museum without stopping at The Pantry Cafe for coffee, sweets and confections, a smoothie, breakfast and lunch sandwiches and salads and other treats to round out your museum experience.

Come to the museum as a family or plan a school field or scout trip to the museum. Winter can be long and boring. Check out the calendar of events here and beat the January and February blues at The Hershey Story Museum.

Chocolate World
What do you love most about chocolate? The taste, smooth texture, or the creaminess that melts in your mouth, or all of the above? I’d love to know your answer. Please leave a comment on the form below and share your thoughts on Instagram at #ChocolateWorld.

Hershey Chocolate World

The Hershey Story Museum is only a few Hershey Kiss miles away (nine minutes) from Hershey’s Chocolate World, another extraordinarily popular attraction. This one is free. You can board the chocolate making tour and find and smell the outrageous chocolate aroma throughout your tour.  Hershey’s famous characters tell the story of chocolate making that begins with cocoa beans and ends with the wrapping process.

Chocolate Hershey Bar
The M.S. Hershey timeline helps keep the evolution of Milton Hershey’s cherished business in perspective. Photo by Joan Mead-Matsui
chocolate tours
Hershey’s famous characters greet you around each bend and help describe the chocolate-making process. Photo by Joan Mead-Matsui

Find your seat on the indoor tour tram. Tours run continuously throughout the day every 30 minutes (during business hours) and it’s WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE. After you’ve learned everything you should know about chocolate making, head to the 3D Chocolate Mystery Show and by that time, oh, you’ll be ready to create your own candy bar. The fun continues with the Hershey Trolley Tour, a seasonal way to view the incredible array of attractions Hershey offers its visitors. Book your tickets in advance online for the Holly Jolly Trolley that’ll delight your children. Or stop at the Central Ticketing office to purchase tickets. Caroling, stories, and a visit from a special guest will keep you entertained and set you in a holiday mode.

I visited Hershey in late summer and early fall and arrived to find flowers in bloom and meticulously manicured grounds and a flurry of activity.  Each season brings something new in this old-fashioned town. Put down your electronic devices so you can appreciate the farmlands and rolling hills that lead to Hershey. Play a game about what you see, or count the number of cows along the way to prepare your family for the attractions that will greet them at Hershey.

For more information about Hershey and Harrisburg attractions, visit www.VisitHersheyHarrisburg.org.

My trip was hosted and comped by Visit Hershey & Harrisburg but my opinions are my own and are based on my personal experiences. 

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