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Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex

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  • December 3, 2018
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Preserving Artistic and Historical Treasures

Rotunda Exterior Image PA State Capitol Complex
At the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building complex, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the 272-foot, 52 million-pound capitol dome glistens with Vermont granite. It’s 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 Visit Hershey-Harrisburg
What makes the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building an architectural masterpiece?
You need to schedule a tour of Harrisburg and while you’re in town, 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.

Until my recent Harrisburg travel assignment, I only recall seeing this stately icon from a distance. That’s nothing to brag about considering I’m a life-long Pennsylvania resident. The day I visited couldn’t have been more beautiful as the sunbeam illuminated the dome.

As the traffic whizzed by me on one of Harrisburg’s busiest streets, I took a moment to admire the dome from the sidewalk in front of the complex before I made the climb up the exterior stairs to the entrance. I also realized I had no idea what entrance to use.

While rushing up and down two flights of exterior steps not once but twice on my way to my private tour appointment, I checked my watch and realized I was five minutes late before I entered the building. Blame it on the sprawling complex and multiple sets of doors that confused me.

Fortunately, a bystander pointed me in the right direction in the vicinity of the main entrance and a security guard mapped out my trek to the information desk in the lobby. Minutes later I met my guide who was surrounded by several large groups of visitors who were ready to embark on their tours.

Travel assignments offer many perks and Rick Dunlap, of the Visit Hershey and Harrisburg office, Harrisburg’s official tourism board, 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 tours are so organized and effortless.

While Harrisburg has remained Pennsylvania’s capital since October 1812, my tour guide, Jill Fetter is a storyteller who in a comparatively short time, learned the full history and stories to keep you entertained throughout your tour. She knows the building inside and out. Jill is 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.

As we strolled through the first area, she began by pointing out many of the materials used throughout the complex. In case you didn’t know, 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. Before you go, download the PA Capitol Self-Guided Tour Mobile app to learn about the self-guided tour stops and how a bill becomes law in PA. You’ll find 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.

Fill your head with Pennsylvania history and 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. 

Looking for more Harrisburg articles, check out https://joanmatsuitravelwriter.com/wildwood-park-nature-abounds.

Planning content after a media trip can be daunting but you can simplify your life with the Content Creators Planner, a tool I use to organize my life.

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Saluting Carbondale’s History

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  • November 5, 2018
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Hotel Anthracite outdoor dining

Hotel Anthracite: Every Detail Tells a Story

Settlers Hospitality Group Hails Carbondale’s History 

Saluting Carbondale’s vast history is no easy task. This Pioneer City was founded on March 15, 1851, and is the fourth oldest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Settlers Hospitality Group chose to honor Carbondale’s coal-mining and railroading history when it refurbished the Hotel Anthracite.

Every piece of art that adorns the walls throughout the hotel tells a story. Consequently, you won’t find a stock photo in the lobby, restaurant, hallways, or guest rooms and each piece, whether it’s a framed photograph or another medium, is in some way related to the city’s rich anthracite and cultural history.

Hotel Anthracite - Kol Steakhouse
You won’t find stock photos on any of the walls at the Hotel Anthracite, Carbondale’s newest hotel. Photo by Joan Mead-Matsui

Unwavering Service

Settlers Hospitality Group is an award-winning hospitality company based in Hawley, PA, one of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s most endearing historic towns. The group owns and manages The Hotel Anthracite, along with the Settlers Inn, Ledges Hotel, Silver Birches Resort, and Sayre Mansion.

Settlers’ goal is to provide their guests with a one-of-a-kind tribute to the heritage that surrounds each of its properties. Equally as important to guests are the exceptional accommodations and cuisine and unwavering service.

“The key operating philosophy of the hotel arm of the Settlers Hospitality Group is to provide an independent and authentic lodging experience that is guest-focused, locally flavored, and pet-friendly,” Chris Simpler, Hotel Anthracite general manger, explained.

Simpler commented in detail about the hotel’s history during our lunch at KOL Steakhouse, the hotel’s signature restaurant. He delved into the features as I sampled the OUTSTANDING Baby Greens and Quinoa Salad, topped with grilled chicken and drizzled with a Champagne Blood Orange Vinaigrette. Suffice to say, the hotel has covered all the bases with style, creativity, and artistry.

Hotel Anthracite outdoor dining
Take your romantic dinner or gathering outdoors on the patio. Photo by Joan Mead-Matsui

Born and raised in the Hudson Valley, Simpler found himself back in Northeastern Pennsylvania to partner with Settler’s Hospitality. His wife Jenna (Simpler) runs the resort side of the Silver Birches Resort, a Settlers property that celebrates the history of the Lake Wallenpaupack region.

Indoor-Outdoor Connection

Jeanne Genzlinger, the matriarch of the Settlers Hospitality Group, served as the main designer. She selected a neutral color palette, which is an ideal backdrop for the history and outdoors’ themes. Jeff George, (artistic design), S. Robert Powell (Carbondale historian) and Juan H. Espino (artist: The Looking Glass Gallery) all played significant roles in the historical detailing within the walls of the Hotel Anthracite. Altogether, the decor is the best of all worlds. As you enter the Hotel Anthracite, you’ll find historical charm effortlessly blended with modern amenities guests expect.

Large chunks of official anthracite coal are displayed in the Hotel Anthracite lobby surrounded by photos of the Gravity Railroad and its first locomotive, “The Stourbridge Lion.” They’re your cue the decor is intended to educate, enlighten, and motivate you to discover more about Carbondale’s past.

“We have utilized that foundation to bring photography and recreated historical elements to Hotel Anthracite,” said Simpler.

Carbondale Anthracite Coal History
Towering Anthracite Coal immediately shines a light on Carbondale’s anthracite history. Photo courtesy of Hotel Anthracite.

Finishing Touches

Hotel Anthracite Carbondale
One of my favorite guest room features is the view overlooking one of Carbondale’s neighborhoods.

“The feeling we were going for was to bring the hotel back to emphasize what’s out the windows. The neutral palette is great to work with because you have a lot of flexibility. It’s a clean and modern look but it also fits well with the historical theme we have,” he said.

Hotel Anthracite Renovation
All rooms were recently redesigned to provide guests with all new furnishings and linens.
Hotel Anthracite business traveler
Business travelers can count on high-speed internet and an efficient work area.
Hotel Anthracite lodging
If the rest is at the top of your list after sightseeing and other outdoor activities, the beds are dressed in super-soft sheets and a down-alternative comforter.

Formerly known as the Carbondale Grand Hotel and operated as a Best Western until the Settler’s group purchased and renovated the building, the Hotel Anthracite averages 15,000 stays a year in their newly-appointed rooms. The management is in tune with their guests’ needs and expectations and delivers a high-quality package.

In the guest rooms, new beds are topped with standard and king-sized pillows. What’s more, towels, linens, curtains, and the sofas are also new.   Certified botanical organic bath products are provided in dispensers rather than single-use throw-away bottles to reflect Settlers Hospitality’s commitment to conservation.

YES to Pets

Pets and their families stay in comfort with the pet program in place. Yes, the hotel has pet-assigned rooms to protect guests with allergies. But Simpler said, “We always do something personal to welcome the dogs to our property.” Be sure to inquire about the pet policy when you reserve your room.

Simpler’s way of thinking about The Hotel Anthracite is, “Why not make it a great experience that people talk about.”

 

KoL Steakhouse Dining: A Natural, Easy Fit

Hotel Anthracite menu
Add a slice or two of protein to your Baby Greens and Quinoa salad and you’re good to go.

What thoughts does the name “Kōl” evoke? If your guess is a “play on words” reflecting Carbondale’s anthracite legacy, you’re correct, according to Simpler.

“It (the name) is a natural, easy fit,” he said. “It aligns with our history.”

Kōl Steakhouse is for diners who want a dining experience that’s different – fine dining in a casual steakhouse setting. Renowned Executive Chef Michael Bodner begins with locally sourced aged beef and then adds his own creative flair to the regional fare and daily specials.

My choice was the mouth-watering Chicken Milanese Anthracite, a moderately priced entree ($19) from the Chef’s Plates’ section of the menu. The savory breaded free bird farm chicken breast, seasoned with aromatic basil and arranged with tomatoes, harmonizes with the balsamic dressing, asparagus, and creamy risotto. I said “NO” to dessert because my palette was content. My meal was a perfect-sized portion and a combination of flavors.

The wine menu offers more than 100 different bottles of wine in a full range of styles and prices. A handful of local wines are available, thanks to the hotel’s sommelier who put the wine list together for all of the Settler’s Hospitality Group’s properties.  Looking for a fresh, local beer on tap or in the bottle? Come to Kōl Steakhouse and quench your thirst.  The bartender will accommodate your hankering with a variety of liquor and mixed drink concoctions.

“You need to deliver something more – a new experience,” is Simpler’s philosophy.

View sample menus here.

“What will you do in Carbondale?”

Hotel Anthracite Carbondale
Once the weather in Carbondale turns chilly, you’ll find lodging guests and diners relaxing near the fireplace in Hotel Anthracite’s lobby. Photo by Joan Mead-Matsui

Simpler noted, “In the months I’ve been here (as manager), I’ve come to know the untapped opportunity and potential here in Carbondale is huge. Settlers Hospitality management and staff have proven that folks will drive from hours away to dine at their hotels because the experience and food are so fantastic.”

Community Partnerships = Endless Opportunities

Once you’ve taken an architectural and historical tour of Carbondale, venture into local communities and set your sights on Northeastern Pennsylvania’s four seasons. The Settlers Hospitality Group partners with local businesses in each of their hotels’ locations so guests have access to a variety of activities that range from skiing, cycling, hiking, to world-class fishing that will get your heart pumping.

Travel Tip: Hotel Anthracite is a mere 25 minutes from historic sites in downtown Scranton and less than 35 minutes from Honesdale and Hawley. Allow at least a half-day to explore each town. 

The Lackawanna Heritage Trail, a popular multi-use trail system. exemplifies how a partnership is a win-win for all businesses and visitors. You’ll find the Carbondale Trailhead literally across the street and less than a half-block away from Hotel Anthracite. Simpler says guests can borrow a bike through the BikeShare program at the hotel and The Carbondale YMCA and ride to the New York border on a bicycle.  The trail opened less than a week before my visit and you’ll find the link to my companion story here.  Spend some time at the newly-built Riverfront Park along the Lackawanna River and stop in at The Chamber Gallery and view the latest exhibit.

Travel Tip: Buy your Pennsylvania fishing license and bring your fishing gear. The Lackawanna River awaits you with an assortment of cold-water and warm-water fish species. Depending on where you fish, the river is home to trout, bullhead, bass, perch, and bluegills. 

History buffs should plan a self-guided walking tour and take in the architecture. Carbondale’s array of historic buildings has helped put the city on the map. Don’t miss the historic Memorial Square, City Hall, and the Trinity Episcopal Church and its extraordinary tiffany-windows. Similarly, guests who love snow sports like skiing will have no problems finding the perfect ski conditions at Elk Mountain Ski Resort. Inquire at the hotel about individual and family ski and rental packages. If you’re like me, combining business and pleasure does involve some advanced planning but your trips can be exceptional and memorable.

Conclusion: Whatever your reason for traveling, Hotel Anthracite is a first-rate lodging choice. Experience a small-town treasure in Northeastern Pennsylvania and the ideal base camp to explore a revitalized region alive with history and culture.

My visit was comped but my opinions are my own and based on my personal experience.

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Training Travel

My Travel Ideas

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  • October 20, 2016

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