Harrisburg library’s new welcome center to honor forgotten Civil War journalist

February 25, 2022

A local hero of the Civil War and civil rights activist will be honored as part of the $3.5 million renovation and expansion project underway at the McCormick Riverfront Library and Haldeman Haly House.

The Dauphin County Library System announced that the T. Morris Chester Welcome Center will house materials collected as part of the “Gathering at the Crossroads” monument in Harrisburg’s Capitol Park that tell the stories of 100 Black men and women who made a difference in the midstate. The center will feature displays highlighting the lives of Chester and other Black leaders.

A lawyer, abolitionist, educator and journalist, Chester helped recruit Black soldiers to the Union army and served as a war correspondent for the Philadelphia Press. He was one of the first Black men to receive the rank of captain in Pennsylvania, was the first Black American to become an English barrister, and held major posts in Louisiana from 1873-83. A historical marker in front of the Whitaker Center honors his legacy.

“Our primary mission is to promote understanding, education, and awareness,’’ said Karen Cullings, the Dauphin County Library System’s executive director, in a press release. “Dauphin County is fortunate to have such a rich heritage, and we are honored to preserve the stories of all the brave men and women who made the freedoms we enjoy possible.’’

The Welcome Center will serve as the hub of the library, providing public gathering spaces in addition to housing resources on Chester. It will be sponsored by PA Media Group, publisher of PennLive and The Patriot-News.

“We were impressed by the project’s emphasis on improving literacy, providing job training and addressing many other social needs in our area,” said Cate Barron, PAMG president. “We also welcomed a special opportunity to help spotlight Chester and his work as an early advocate for social justice and journalist who broke barriers. Everyone should know his name and remarkable legacy.”

The library system purchased the Haldeman Haly House in 2019 and began its expansion plans in 2021. Recently, construction crews broke through the walls between the two adjoining buildings.

When completed, the McCormick Riverfront Library expansion and Haldeman Haly House renovation will include a family area incorporating science, technology, reading, engineering, arts and math in a space of more than 3,400 square feet. There will also be 950 square feet of public meeting space and added public computer resources.

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