The Salem United Church of Christ has been serving the Harrisburg community since 1822 and its congregation has been present there since the town was formed in the 1780s. It was originally known as the German Reformed Church and has survived for almost 200 years at its present location as Pennsylvania’s capital grew up around it. It served as a temporary hospital after the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863 and rose from the ashes caused by an arsonist’s flame in 1890. It was added to the National Regsiter of Historic Places in 1975. Through its charitable works it assists those in need and is still a gathering place every Sunday, open to all.
of the Salem United Church of Christ can be traced back to the very foundation
of Harrisburg. The town’s namesake, John
Harris Jr., when he and the other founders laid out plans for what came to be
known as Harrisburg in 1785, set aside land specifically for religious purposes. Two years later, in 1787, the German Reformed
congregation built their house of worship on that land at the corner of 3rd
and Cherry Streets, a two-story log structure which was the first religious building
built in the town. The church was shared
with the local Evangelical Lutheran congregation until they built their own home,
the original Zion Lutheran Church, along South Broad Street in 1814.
In 1818 the
German Reformed Church became the German Reformed Salem Church of Harrisburg
and began thinking about building a larger, more modern home for their growing congregation. To that end, they attained the services of
architects Samuel Pool and Henry Wilson to design a new church across the
street from the old and construction began in 1821. The two architects designed a Classical,
two-story church constructed of brick with a traditional central nave which was
dedicated on June 21, 1822.
the church unique, however, is the 110-foot square bell tower capped with a
domed cupola that rises from its Chestnut Street façade. Pool and Wilson then flanked that central
tower with two smaller ones at each corner, topped with stepped gables. Along the front façade and sides of the two
towers are twelve-over-twelve windows while tall, arched stained glass windows
run down the church’s nave. The original
interior was an ornate affair with Corinthian columnns on either side of the
main alter which included an elaborate frieze just above it. However, the interior has been remodeled
several times since the original was installed and little now remains.
In 1862, a large,
two-story Sunday school annex was added to the rear of the church. Later, in
1876, the ornate interior was remodeled in a more austere and simple manner and
the main entrance along Chestnut Street was removed and new entrances were
placed in each of the corner towers. The
church was severely damaged by fire in 1890 and extensive repairs were required
to be made to the church’s roof and interior.
Italianate roofs were added to the double towers after the fire as well.
Today, the church aids the local community in ways other than providing spiritual
guidance. It operates a clothing center,
contributes to the Ecumenical Food Pantry and offers Wellspring pastoral
counseling. Tours of the church are
available by appointment only.