Frugal Entertainment and Travel
I was looking for attractions in the Harrisburg area for our upcoming trip when I stumbled upon the Fort Hunter Mansion and Park. I was immediately intrigued. A 100 (some sections are more than 200 years old) year old mansion that we could tour? That sounded like something right up my alley as I adore history! Even better, this mansion sits within a park that contains numerous historic buildings. Are you still not convinced? The property borders the Susquehanna River and also touches the remnants of the Pennsylvania Canal. This was going to be a grand place to visit, I could feel it in my bones!
Touring Fort Hunter Mansion
After parking, we made our way up the walkway. I could see a large house sitting before me, splendid with its impressive size. I stopped for a quick picture and then followed the signs to the gift shop. I had read online that tours begin at the top each hour throughout the day. As we were on a relaxing weekend get-a-way, I didn’t want to be tied down to a specific time for a tour, so I had not purchased tickets online, so I was on a mission to purchase tickets for the next tour! The gift shop is situated around the side of the house and I could just make out the beauty of gardens and outbuildings as I rang the bell to gain access to the gift shop. The shop is small, but had a nice selection of books and local trinkets. The cashier was friendly and we quickly had our tickets in hand. We had about 15 minutes before our tour started, so we decided to explore the gardens and grounds by the house. The gardens open up on the right side of the house, with flowers and some vegetables. An Ice house and a Small Dairy building sit amidst the garden confines. The left side of the house is all yard, with an amazing view from high up of the Susquehanna River
At the appropriate time for our tour, we headed to the front porch where we were welcomed into a small parlor. The tour guide welcomed us and invited us to watch a short 5-minute video history of the family and house. The video was informative and the tour guide even more so when he returned to the room. We were given the basic information about when the house was built (the first section in 1786) and more about the families that once resided in this house. The tour guide than said something that blew my mind, in a good way. 99% of the furnishings and artifacts in the house were actually in the house when it was last lived in. This is such a rare find! The family members that inherited the house, in the early to mid-1900’s had worked to preserve the house and its belongings. The attic was full of various artifacts that had been stored away in the attic during the houses occupancy and the museum had carefully catalogued them and worked to display the amazing collection.
The house was decorated exquisitely and had so many extra knickknacks and touches that it was easy to imagine that the owner had just stepped out for a moment. Each room was a plethora of artifacts and history that had my eyes roaming as I soaked in the information from the tour guide. All too soon, the tour was over. It was over so quickly, not because it was short but rather because I was enthralled the whole time. I am absolutely sure that if I went back and did the tour again, my eyes would feast on other items that I totally missed during this first tour.
Fort Hunter Park and Buildings
The grounds surrounding the Fort Hunter Mansion are split by a roadway and contain numerous buildings. As I mentioned above, the house and gardens contain a small dairy and Ice house, but there is so many more things to see. With a map of the park in hand, we headed out to explore. We headed along the Susquehanna River when we left the Mansion tour. A paved path meandered along the way, passing restrooms and an access to the Susquehanna River. We wanted to see it all, so we headed toward the Susquehanna river to check out the river bank before heading to the first building on our exploration.
The first building we decided to check out was the Heckton Church. This church was once a Methodist Church and sits at the end of the parking lot on the same side of the road as the mansion. The church is not in its original location. It was moved within the last 15 years to preserve it from the periodic flooding of the nearby river.
This was the only other building on this side of the road, so we carefully crossed the road and began to explore the other buildings within the park. There is a Large bank barn, a stone stable, a Tavern, smokehouse, and springhouse. We were in the height of summer when we visited so we were able to enjoy the vegetable garden that resided between the bank barn and the stone stable.
Beyond these buildings sits a covered bridge. This is the covered bridge that was built in 1881 to span the little Buffalo Creek. The covered bridge is not in its original location. The founder of this park and museum mansion bought the bridge to save it from its demise when the need for the covered bridge became obsolete. The bridge was dismantled and moved to this property, where it now sits over a small swampy area.
Beyond the covered bridge is the remnants of the Pennsylvania Canal. There are a number of signs to educate the visitor about the canal and the various means of transportation over the years.
We opted to drive to the last historical building within the confines of the park. That is the Fort Hunter Station built in 1929. . This was a gas station that was privately owned and operated as a gas station, restaurant, tourist cabins, miniature golf course and came complete with a beer garden. Everything a tired traveler would need. The building looks to be in the process of being remodeled inside, but the stone building is still standing well to the changes of time.
This park and mansion was a great place to spend a few hours. We were able to immerse ourselves in history that dated from the 1700’s to the 1900’s. It is truly a remarkable collection that should be visited by all. We can only thank Margaret Wister Meigs who was the family member that was instrumental in saving this amazing property and contents in the early 1900’s. Her foresight is a blessing to those of us that can visit in today’s day and age.
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