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Market Square Presbyterian Church

New School Presbyterian

Presently Market Square Presbyterian Church

The Market Square Presbyterian Church built its first worship center at S. Second and Cherry Streets in 1809, although the congregation had its roots in Harrisburg dating to 1794. Fire destroyed that building, and the current edifice was erected in 1859. The church is designed in the Romanesque and Gothic style and was one of the most prominent features of the city’s skyline during the 19th Century.

The Home for the Friendless was first organized in the lecture room of the church on November 21, 1866.  Mrs. Eleanor R. Crain Rutherford and Mrs. Susanna Mowry Fleming were elected as representatives of the church to serve on the Board of Managers for the establishment of the Home for the Friendless.

Market Square Presbyterian Church

History of Dauphin and Lebanon Counties, c. 1883, William Henry Egle

Further Historical Retrospection

Market Square Presbyterian Church, first known as the English Presbyterian Congregation of Harrisburg, was formed in 1794.  It would remain the only Presbyterian church in the city of Harrisburg until 1860.  During that 66-year period the current structure was preceded by two others, constructed respectively in 1808 and 1842 on S. Second Street. Early members of Market Square came from Paxton Presbyterian Church. Over time at least five other Presbyterian churches developed from Market Square’s members. Notable of these are Pine Street at N. Third and Pine Streets and Capital Presbyterian on Cumberland Street on Allision Hill.  Both were created in 1858, the former because of theological differences between Old School (Pine Street) and New School (Market Square) Presbyterians.  Capital Presbyterian was formed by several African American members who wanted to start their own church which still exists today.

Philadelphia architect Joseph Hoxie, noted for designing churches, designed the present Market Square Church in the Romanesque Revival style with exterior red brick and brownstone trim. It is topped with a dramatic Gothic Revival-styled steeple rising to 193 feet, a prominent feature of the City’s skyline as depicted in 19th Century prints and photographs. The sanctuary interior, majestic through its simplicity, remains all-white. Four Corinthian columns support arches over the pulpit area, a feature that distinguished the façade of the 1842 church. Ten stained glass windows, five each on the north and south sides, provide the sanctuary with contrasting color. One was produced by Tiffany. In 1882, the church’s size doubled.

With notable acoustics, Market Square has long been known for its sacred music. Its first organ dates to 1872. Installed in 2021, the organ today serves as a dynamic centerpiece for worship and is among the finest of several downtown churches. The sanctuary was the original home of the renowned Market Square Concerts series, and it continues to host a number of those concerts annually. More recently Market Square Presbyterian has initiated “Arts on the Square,” a concert and fine arts series with programs throughout the year. In 1887, the Board of Deacons was organized to serve the needs of the poor and sick both within the congregation and in the wider community. This kind of outreach became a central focus for the church. The congregation established Harrisburg’s first Sunday school – for Bible studies but also for reading, writing and arithmetic. America’s burgeoning immigrant population – Greeks, Bulgarians, and Chinese among them – was welcomed. Italians attended afternoon Sunday school and a service was spoken in Italian.  Later, Korean immigrants and others from southeast Asia were welcomed, and Korean members of the congregation hold services in their own language to this day.

Still meeting immigrant needs and housed within the church, Market Square was instrumental in establishing what is now called the International Service Center. Nationally recognized, its independent leadership and staff locate housing and find employment for immigrants in southcentral Pennsylvania. They also assist with English as a second language program and provide counseling. In recent years the Market Square family has affirmed its active support for the LGBTQ community and has supported Harrisburg’s homeless population along with other area churches.

Banner photo courtesy Jeb Stuart.