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History of the Broad Street Market | The Broad Street Market | Harrisburg, PA

History of the Broad Street Market

The Broad Street Market was founded in 1860, and still thrives today as a culturally rich place to experience the broad diversity of fresh food, people, and city life.

During the Civil War, farmers at the Broad Street Market helped feed the 300,000 Union soldiers who mustered at nearby Camp Curtin.

Serving as the long-time anchor of retail activity in the Midtown business corridor along Third Street and only three blocks north of the Capitol Complex, the Broad Street Market fills three city blocks between Third and Sixth streets. The older "Stone Market" house was completed in 1863. The "Brick Market" house was built between 1874 and 1878. For many years, a "Wood Market" of farm construction extended between these two remaining buildings.

Six markets once graced Harrisburg, the others being Market Square; the Hill Farmers Market, later known as Kline Village; the Kelker Street Market and two on Chestnut Street. The sole remaining market, Broad Street was built and operated as a private business. Its final private owner, the Harrisburg Market House Corporation, sold the complex in 1975 to the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority. In 1979 it was transferred to the City, which established the Broad Street Market Authority as operating entity.

At its peak in the 1920s, the Broad Street Market had over 725 vendors, many of whom leased outdoor space and waited years for an indoor stall to become available. John N. Kinnard, the Market Master of that era, noted that one small farmer might sell just a few dozen eggs while another "sold more than $2,000 worth of live turkeys in one day."

The Broad Street Market back then was known as the "Dutch Fair" because of the predominance of Amish and Mennonite vendors. Nevertheless, Kinnard claimed it also could have been called the "Congress of Nations" in view of the ethnic diversity, which then included "Germans, Austrians, Italians, Russian Jews, Hungarians and full-blood native-born Americans."

The Market was and remains today as a community gathering place.

At its centennial in 1960, the Market housed 300 vendors, although a variety of trends had begun to diminish its prominence. Sometime earlier, the Wood Market was demolished, and outdoor vending was banned by city ordinance. This misguided "improvement" effort coincided with the Market's steady loss of business as competition from supermarkets and suburban retail centers increased.

Today's restored Market courtyard has been designed to facilitate outdoor vending. Its new granite paving shows the location of walls, stairs and other architectural features of the long-gone wood structure.

Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and owned by the City of Harrisburg since 1979, the Market was until 1996 operated by the Broad Street Market Authority, a city-appointed agency. In 1996, the City of Harrisburg completed a $2.5 million award-winning restoration of the Market complex, which was designed to reposition it as a successful and growth-oriented retail enterprise. In 1999, the City completed an additional $380,000 improvement to the stone market house.

Responding to recommendations by nationally renowned market consultant David K. O'Neil, the City took steps to place the operation under local community management. The result was the creation of the new Broad Street Market Corporation, a community managed enterprise founded and owned by Historic Harrisburg Association.

Since 1997, this corporation has been dedicated to a business plan that has enhanced the diversity of products, increased the variety of small businesses, and supported growth of vendors who continue to stand at the market.

The corporation's board of directors and market manager are dedicated to preserving the character of this market and its role as a gathering place for the community. The Broad Street Market continues its legacy as a focal point of retail and community life.