Fort Hunter Mansion and Park
Colonial settlement of the land on which the current, 40-acre Fort Hunter Mansion and Park now sits, dates back to 1725. The park is located just to the north of Harrisburg along the Susquehanna River and is home to numerous historic buildings, to include the Fort Hunter Mansion, which was once known as the Archibald McAllister House, a covered bridge, and tavern. The park is open on a daily basis and the mansion is open to the public for guided tours Tuesdays through Sundays. The Fort Hunter Mansion has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976 and is part of the larger Fort Hunter Historic District.
Backstory and Context
The land now occupied by the Fort Hunter Mansion and Park was first settled in 1725 by Benjamin Chambers, the founder of Chambersburg. Chambers built saw and grist mills on his land prior to passing it to his brother-in-law, Samuel Hunter, which is how it came to be known as Hunter’s Mill. During the French and Indian War (1754-1763) the British built a small fort at Hunter’s Mill that consisted of a block house and stockade fence which was manned by colonial volunteers.
After the war, Hunter’s Mill was largely abandoned and the mills and outpost fell into states of disrepair. Then, in 1787, it was purchased by Revolutionary War veteran, Archibald McAllister. McAllister gradually built a frontier settlement, complete with rebuilt mills, a country store, blacksmith shop, school, distillery, tavern and, unfortunately, slave labor. At least 22 slaves worked in the buildings of Fort Hunter and the surrounding fields. McAllister eventually sold off his slaves as he ran into financial difficulties and their fates are largely unknown, but many of their descendants are buried in the nearby African-American cemetery located just east of the fort.
The fort was then purchased, at auction, by Daniel Dick Boas in 1870 and he left it to his daughter, Helen, and son-in-law, John Reily. The Reilys ran a large dairy farm on the property. The couple had no children and left the land to nine nieces and nephews. One niece, Margaret Wister Meigs later purchased the other shares and created the Fort Hunter Museum, Fort Hunter Foundation and Friends of Fort Hunter in 1956 to raise funds to maintain and restore the buildings. The fort is now owned by Dauphin County and the Board of Trustees for Fort Hunter.
The park is now home to several restored buildings on the property, to include the Fort Hunter Mansion. The beginnings of this federal style home dates back to 1814 when the central section was built using locally quarried stone. McAllister built a 2.5 story, five bay house that featured a front portico with Tuscan order columnns. The Boas family then added the rear, wooden section sometime around 1870.
Also located at the park is the Centennial Barn which was built in 1876 for the Reily’s dairy farm. This Gothic revival structure is now used as a community center and for wedding receptions and other celebratory events. The tavern, known as the Practical Farmer, was built c. 1800 in order to sell the spirits distilled on the farm and to provide guest accommodations. It was later used to house the workers of Reilly’s dairy farm. The covered bridge located at the park was built c. 1881 and once spanned Little Buffalo Creek in Perry County. Margaret Meigs purchased the bridge to save it from destruction and had it moved to the park where it sat in the mansion’s front yard for forty years. It was dismantled and placed in storage in 1980 and rebuilt in 2006. The park also features an 1885 church and 1929 service station.
"Fort Hunter Mansion and Park: History." Fort Hunter Mansion and Park. Accessed October 25, 2017. https://forthunter.org/history/
Herbstritt, James; Kurt Carr & Janet Johnson. "Hand-on History: Digging Fort Hunter's History." Pennsylvania Heritage. Fall, 2011. Accessed October 25, 2017. http://www.phmc.state.pa.us/portal/communities/pa-heritage/digging-fort-hunter-history.html
Morelli, Donna. "Fort Hunter showcases centuries along the Susquehanna." Bay Journal. July 12, 2017. Accessed October 25, 2017. http://www.bayjournal.com/article/fort_hunter_showcases_centuries_along_the_susquehanna