Harrisburg (WHTM) — It may be referred to as a residence, but a lot of people think of it as the “Governor’s Mansion.” Until 1858, Pennsylvania did not have an official Governor’s home. A Governor would either rent or buy a house and use it during his time in office.
That changed in 1858 when for the first time the state purchased a house for the Governor’s use, at the corner of South Second and Chestnut Streets in Harrisburg. It was called the Executive House. The multi-story office building now on the site was named after it. The home was first used by Governor William Fisher Packer, then Governor Andrew Curtin.
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The only picture we’ve been able to find of it is a photo in the archive of the Historical Society of Dauphin County. Taken in the late 1950s or early 1960s, it shows the building in its last years, as the Gable’s Hardware store. The building was torn down soon after.
Andrew Curtin served during the Civil War, and soon found the Executive House too small for his many duties as a war governor. So in 1864, he moved operations to a larger building, at 313 North Front Street. It became known as Keystone Hall, and served as the Governor’s residence well into the 20th Century. Pictures from the State Archives show it was a rather elegant building, both inside and out. But once again, the Governor’s duties outgrew the space available, and the costs of maintaining the ornate building kept growing. Legislation was passed in 1941 to construct a new Governor’s residence, but because of World War II construction was put on hold-until 1966.
By then Keystone Hall was getting so dilapidated a temporary Governor’s residence was needed until the new place could be built. A fieldstone house at Fort Indiantown Gap, which had been built for the adjutant general of the Pennsylvania National Guard, became the unofficial Governor’s residence (The State House) from 1941 to 1967.
The new Governor’s Residence opened in 1968, its first occupant being Governor Raymond Shafer. It actually has two historical markers, one on Second Street, and another on Front Street. From Front Street it’s kind of hard to see the mansion for the trees, but you can get a pretty good look at it from the Second Street Side.
In 1972 the building had to be closed for two years, after Hurricane Agnes flooded it with five feet of water. Today the building is open for tours and holds a number of community events, and in 2018 the current Pennsylvania Governor’s Residence celebrated its 50th Anniversary.