A Message from the Executive Director
Noted landscape architect Mark Francis has observed that “Streets have a tremendous capacity to communicate a place’s history, culture, values, and assets. . . . It is up to communities to figure out what story they want their streets to tell . . . through building design, public art, landscaping, pavement materials and design, wayfinding or other signage, programming or special events, and showcasing local institutions, people and businesses. . . .”
Mechanicsburg’s streets tell the story of America’s westward expansion. On these streets, pioneers forged a path to the future in search of their American dream. Our streets tell the story of gritty and resilient laborers who built and repaired the Conestoga wagons. They also tell the story of a bustling town that experienced the beginning of the end of the Civil War when Confederate General Albert Jenkins’ cavalry captured and occupied Mechanicsburg just prior to engaging in the battle of Gettysburg.
Generations of Americans—each different in essential ways from those who made the journey before them—have fueled our development and given color to our heritage. Today, Mechanicsburg is a very different place from its humble beginnings in the later 1700s and early 1800s, but it is filled with reminders of the past—a past that we honor and wish to preserve as a legacy for the future.
The Downtown Mechanicsburg Partnership was born of the Borough’s Comprehensive Plan. This organization, founded by a cross section of area residents and professional, civic, and religious leaders, has been charged through the Comprehensive Plan to build a strong, inviting community for the Borough. Chief among our efforts is the revitalization and historic preservation of the downtown.
RENAISSANCE Mechanicsburg is the fulfillment of this vision. This is our mission. This is our goal. This is our FUTURE. We invite you to join us in preserving and showcasing the charm and of our historic Mechanicsburg while re-imagining its vitality and functionality. This is a pivotal time in our history as the community comes together for this singular purpose. Come along with us as we make this vision a reality.
President, Downtown Mechanicsburg Partnership
Executive Director, RENAISSANCE Mechanicsburg
The Three-Phase Plan for Revitalization and Preservation
The Partnership researched, listened to our stakeholders, and crafted a plan to improve the heart of the Borough. Conceptual designs centered on reshaping how civic spaces are currently used for community gatherings. The team also explored public-private partnerships, vehicular and pedestrian traffic, parking strategies, and unifying streetscape design elements. From this research, the Partnership defined three specific areas for improvement:
Phase 1—Center Square
In 1820, almost a decade before Mechanicsburg was chartered, land owner Henry Stouffer divided his farmland into building lots and designated space at what is now Main and Market Streets for a public square for use by the townspeople. Some 30 years later, that gift to the community became a Methodist Episcopal Church. And there it stood for a century before Hurricane Hazel ripped through Mechanicsburg in 1954 destroying the church’s steeple and severely damaging the walls. The church had to be torn down. In 1960, six years after the church was condemned, the Borough’s first comprehensive planning document recommended the space be returned to the citizens for use as the “civic soul” of the growing town. That was not to be.
Today, a squat one-story building sits on the south west corner of Main Street, underutilized and unattractive. This area certainly does not provide the civic soul of the community that Stouffer had envisioned.
Now, with the community standing with us in its solid endorsement, we intend to return that land to its original intended purpose and give Mechanicsburg gathering space for residents and visitors for their enjoyment, a space for outdoor events, a comfortable gathering area that will serve as rich reminders of our historical past.
Phase 2—Railroad Plaza
Thanks to the Cumberland Valley Railroad laying three sets of tracks through Mechanicsburg in the 1830s, the town quickly emerged from its place as a sleepy village to the second largest town in Cumberland County. As many as 24 trains a day stopped in Mechanicsburg bringing economic prosperity to the town for nearly 125 years.
Today, only one track remains. The Cumberland Valley Passenger Station, the Freight Station, and the Station Master’s house now stand as quiet reminders of a time in the 19th century when the railroad and the Borough thrived. These historic treasures easily go unnoticed, and much like Center Square, the spaces surrounding them are largely underutilized.
Streetscaping along Railroad Avenue between Main and Strawberry Alley, as well as the plaza area around the Mechanicsburg Railroad Station will create multi-purpose event spaces and a more welcoming environment to promote downtown as a place for community and commerce. The intention is to design flexible civic spaces for outdoor dining, farmers’ markets, arts and music festivals, food trucks, and museum events throughout the year.
Phase 3—Main Street
Until 1863, every evening Mechanicsburg descended into darkness until coal oil lights were installed to illuminate the streets. Citizens would have to wait until the early 20th century for the Borough to purchase one million bricks for the purpose of paving Main Street to cut down on the dust, grime, and mud that overwhelmed the streets and residents’ homes. Notice in this picture both the overhead light at Main and Market and the tracks that ran down the center of Main Street for horse-drawn trolleys.
Today, Main Street is a busy state throughway for commercial and commuter traffic. Our Downtown streets are not just for cars and trucks moving from one place to another. They are also places for vibrant commerce and community-based activity.
Imagine a revitalized downtown that includes pedestrian-level lighting, new trees, sidewalks, benches, bike racks, new flower baskets, and other enhancements that will make the town more beautiful, inviting, and welcoming for pedestrians. We look to create a place that is worth stopping by and spending time instead of rushing through.