Harris Tower, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania


It was back in the day.  A train was arriving into the yard.  As it entered the yard, it began to separate.  A man in a tower would watch the train arrive a separate.  He would move switches to put the cars on the correct tracks to build trains going to other cities.  Day and night someone would have to move the switches to get the cars on the correct tracks and, at the same time, avoid collisions.  Through the years, technology allowed the switching to be done from a central location, and the towers were no longer used.  Many of them were demolished over time.


Welcome to Harris Tower in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a tower that was spared demolition and was made into a museum where visitors can see the life of a man in the tower.  You can see the old switch boards, the original interlocking machine, the original 113 levers used to switch the tracks, the old desk, a typewriter, and a great view of the trains passing by.  You can even watch the Amtrak trains pull into the nearby passenger station as you are at the end of the electrified section of the railroad.


The tower was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1930, and it had a whole lot of business while in operation as over one hundred trains passed by.  It later served the Penn Central Railroad and Amtrak until it was decommissioned in 1991.  It is now a museum owned by the Harrisburg Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Today, you can operate the same levers as were operated by those who worked in the tower, and you can watch your progress on the lighted switch board.  After being here for a short while, you may forget what year you are in.  It is also a great train watching spot that is air conditioned.  How many train watching spots have that claim?


The Harris Tower is one of the few preserved towers in the world, but it is also a tower that still has its original equipment in working condition.  Even though it is not connected to the current rails today, you can still get a feel of life in a railroad tower.


The Harris Tower is located at the intersection of 7th Street and Walnut Street in downtown Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  It is a short walk from the State Capitol.  It is open on Saturdays from late May through late October from 9:00am to 4:00pm.  There are a few parking spots at the tower.  Otherwise, there is street parking and a parking lot adjacent to the tower and is free on Saturdays.  Admission is free, but donations are gladly accepted to help with the museum operations and to help keep this great train watching spot air conditioned.  There are also private opening and showing for groups or individuals with a prior arrangement and a proper donation.  You can go to www.HarrisTower.org to get more information and to read more into the history of the tower.


So you never had a reason to visit Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Now you do.  Visit Harrisburg, and visit the Harris Tower.


3 thoughts on “Harris Tower, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

  1. John

    Thanks for the great exposure. Harrisburg also had yard towers for switching of freight cars, While HARRIS routed thru freight train on tracks 11 and 12 , (what NS runs on today)the other 10 tracks were strickly passenger trains. From 1938 till the late 1950s, three B-1 boxcab electric switchers were needed to handle the splitting and combining of Washington and New York,sections adding passenger cars , mail and express traffic. Also HARRIS has a telegraph display that we are proud of.

    John W.Smith Curator HARRISTower Railroad Museum
    President, Harrisburg Chapter NRHS

    Liked by 1 person

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