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Haldeman Haly House windows can be restored, says preservation “house doctor”

Friday December 11th, 2020

Chances are, Sara Haldeman Haly gazed out the windows of her home, enjoying the view of the Market Street Bridge spanning the Susquehanna River.

Those windows will soon have new faces peering out. A window restoration expert recently conducting a “house call” gave the circa-1812 windows a clean bill of health, declaring that they are “very restorable.”

That is the hope of The Library, which plans to restore the Haldeman Haly House and connect it to the downtown Harrisburg McCormick Riverfront Library next door. The new space would allow expanded children’s programming, accommodate staff, and offer community events.

The visit of John Lindtner, of Chester County-based Building Preservation Services, was sponsored by Historic Harrisburg Association, through a gift from the Auchincloss Family Foundation.

John Lindtner
John Lindtner

The offer to buy the historic Haldeman Haly House, which The Library acquired in August 2019, presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, “like manna from heaven,” said Executive Director Karen Cullings. It solved a space problem at the landlocked McCormick Riverfront Library while also marrying two buildings with a shared history.

When Sara Haldeman Haly donated $60,000 in 1896 to build a modern library, her bequest included the adjoining land where her mother kept a renowned garden. The iconic greystone McCormick Riverfront Library stands on that spot.

The Library plans to preserve both buildings “and integrate them seamlessly through the back without doing any damage to what is beautiful about both buildings because they’re both gorgeous buildings,” said Cullings. “In the process, we’ll create a much more welcoming Library.”

Cullings, Lindtner
Karen Cullings and John Lindtner

The Library’s $3.5 million “Your Place to Belong” capital campaign is underway to restore the Haldeman Haly House and reconfigure McCormick Riverfront Library. The transformation will create:

  • Dedicated children’s area, where kids and families can explore STREAM – Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, and Math.
  • Flexible community meeting and event space in the beautiful Haldeman Haly House.
  • Improved ADA access.
  • Expanded adult areas, for study, computer use, and reading in accommodating, socially distant fashion.
  • Upgraded furnishings that will be easier to sanitize.
  • Courtyard for outdoor events.

Dedicated areas will enable The Library to continue building a connected and inclusive community. With more room, The Library will work with community partners to link people with social services, promote workforce development, champion adult and child literacy, and ensure The Library is a cornerstone of exchanging ideas and exploring issues for generations to come.

From the Haldeman Haly House’s front- and north-facing windows, staff and guests will have views of the river, FNB Field on City Island, the Market Street Bridge (not Sara’s but the replacement built in 1928), and even a peek of the Capitol dome.

The Haldeman Haly House – once home to a 19th century governor and the designer of the first Pennsylvania State Capitol – has been called one of Harrisburg’s most historic buildings by architectural historian Ken Frew.

Like the Art Association of Harrisburg’s nearby gallery, the Haldeman Haly House is now a Governor’s Row site in institutional hands.

“It’s a landmark property under the custodianship of a board of trustees that cares about it, that has a relationship with the community,” said Historic Harrisburg Association Executive Director David Morrison.

HHA taped Lindtner’s visit for a series of “This Old House”-style videos. The educational effort aligns with Lindtner’s past visits for HHA programs on restoring windows and a return visit is planned for spring 2021.

“Historic Harrisburg commends the Dauphin County Library System for its leadership in demonstrating that the unique architectural elements of a historically significant building can be preserved for future generations to enjoy,” said Morrison.

Cullings, Lindtner, Morrison
David Morrison, Karen Cullings and John Lindtner

One windowsill has water damage, but otherwise, the windows have nothing wrong except “a lot of paint from close to 200 years,” pronounced Lindtner.

Restoration makes economic sense because the windows of historic homes, made from durable centuries-old timber, are less susceptible to decay and insect damage than new replacement windows. Made from younger, less resilient tree-farm lumber, replacement windows typically last about 30 years.

“They say, in my world, that the greenest window is the window that’s already built,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to fill up the landfill with these windows.”

Installing weatherstripping and quality storm windows will promote energy efficiency, he added. Customized storm windows can fit the elegant arched windows facing Front Street.

“To maintain that arch, that’s one of the most esthetically, visually pleasing parts of these windows,” he said.

The Library is committed to preserving as much of the Haldeman Haly House’s historic character as possible, said Cullings.

“This mansion’s windows have witnessed centuries of Harrisburg history and provide priceless views,” she said. “As we welcome the community back into this historic space, we hope these windows will continue to provide delight and illumination.”


Christina Lauver

Marketing & Public Relations Manager


The above piece represents the views of the author and is meant to inspire dialogue and increase understanding and a sense of community. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of The Library. Members are welcome to comment below or contact us privately by using our online contact form >