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AFS Review: News

AFS Selects Harrisburg as 2021 Annual Meeting Destination

Wednesday, May 16, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lorraine Cashman

The AFS staff has successfully completed negotiations with the Hilton Harrisburg in downtown Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to serve as our annual meeting site October 13-17, 2021. Harrisburg offers everything we look for in a meeting site, with particular strength in essential criteria: an affordable venue in an interesting and accessible area, home to a strong and enthusiastic local committee.

This is the first AFS meeting in Harrisburg and the first in Pennsylvania since 1996. Our contract with the Hilton offers a conference rate of $169/night ($149 for students), and includes UniteHere’s recommended protective language concerning labor disputes. The hotel was built with union labor.

Meeting in Harrisburg not only provides us with an accessible and flourishing city to visit and a wide range of potential community allies to meet, it gives us the opportunity to advocate for a strong folklore program through the visibility and leverage that our collective presence offers. (Staff are still exploring options for future meeting locations following a suggestion from AFS members to travel to hurricane-damaged regions and areas where our presence can strengthen folklore programs and local communities.)  

We thank AFS members from the area for the invitation to explore the possibility, and for their ongoing assistance in making the meeting a reality. We are confident that this energetic group will bring us a thoughtful program.    

About Harrisburg

Harrisburg, the state capital of Pennsylvania, is a metropolitan area of 1.25 million people that sits along the scenic Susquehanna River. The linking of environmental conservation and urban life in the metropolis was a centerpiece of the City Beautiful movement in the early twentieth century, and continues to be evident in many environmental groups and projects in the area, including the Appalachian Trail.  

Harrisburg and the surrounding Central Pennsylvania area have played a major role in the history of American folklore and folklife studies. Pennsylvania State Librarian William Egle in Harrisburg was a founding member of the American Folklore Society. The first state folklorist in the nation was appointed in 1948 in Harrisburg with offices two blocks from the meeting site. The first academic department of folklore in the country was established at Franklin and Marshall College the previous year. It featured the first public outreach center for folklore and sponsored a festival that grew to be America’s largest regional folk festival—the Kutztown Folk Festival. It also was host in 1967 to the first conference on material culture within folklore and folklife studies. The first folklorist and folk medical archives in a university teaching hospital was housed at Penn State-Hershey Medical Center. Today, academic and public outreach programming continues at the Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg, which features certificate and doctoral programs and the Pennsylvania Center for Folklore, the Susquehanna Folk Music Society, and a folk and traditional arts program as part of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

Other sites of folkloristic and historical interest for attendees are in York, Gettysburg, Lancaster, Ephrata, and Carlisle, all within an hour or less drive of the hotel. We should also give a shout out to the “Folklore Coffee & Company” in Elizabethtown, a favorite music and dining haunt of folklorists in the region. The AFS meeting organizers tell us, however, that they plan plenty of special events and sessions to keep attendees busy within the robust meeting facility.

Central Pennsylvania is at a crossroads of urban and agrarian life. With its national role in steel production, lumbering, coal mining, and railroading, the region held historic importance as one of the most industrialized in the Northeast, and as such attracted waves of diverse immigrant and migrant groups in addition to fostering a strong labor movement. This heritage is especially evident in South Harrisburg and Steelton that are home to many ethnic and religious associations, particularly from southeast Europe. The region also drew global attention because of the rise of a planned chocolate factory-town, Hershey, which included in addition to Pennsylvania German dairy farm landscapes a famous amusement park, museum of chocolate,  and folk festivals of its own. Bocce courts and Italian foodways in the town reflect the large numbers of workers from Italy Milton Hershey brought to work in the factory. The influence is also apparent in the beautifully landscaped “Italian Lake” inspired by Harrisburg hosteler Patricio Russ, originally Rossi (1852-1925).

Within sight of Hershey and Steelton’s smokestacks is one of the most celebrated agricultural areas in the world of the “Pennsylvania Dutch Country” with many communities of Amish and other “plain” religious groups who have attracted folkloristic as well as touristic interest. The “Dutch,” as they call themselves, more formally known as “Pennsylvania Germans,” speak a Plattdeutsch dialect that attendees can still hear at the Broad Street Market in Harrisburg where many Amish farm families bring their produce, home canned goods, and traditional foods for sale. The market and the surrounding arts corridor represent the multicultural diversity of the city that has in the 21st century witnessed a dramatic rise in communities of Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Bosnian, Polish, French, Turkish, Arabic, Russian, Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, and Farsi speakers, to name a few.

The city has been named in the top 25 places to live in the United States by U.S. News and World Report and Forbes Magazine, top 25 of the “Best Green Places” by Country Home Magazine, and of pragmatic interest to our attendees one of the “Top Ten Most Affordable U.S. Meeting Locations” by GetThere Magazine.

Harrisburg continues to be a transportation crossroads; it is easy to get to, with major interstate highways, a nearby international airport, and Amtrak train station and bus station only two blocks from the hotel. It's also easy to get around: many points of interest are within walking distance, local buses are accessible in Market Square next to the hotel, or you can take advantage of Harrisburg Bike Share, Uber, Lyft or taxis.

The meeting hotel is situated one block from the scenic river (a riverboat called “Pride of the Susquehanna” docked in “Harbortown” on the island offers rides on the river); the riverfront is walkable, with Riverfront Park (featuring the “sunken garden” and historic memorials) and the sports and recreation venue of City Island restricted to pedestrians. The homes of American Civic Association founders J. Horace McFarland and environmental activist Mira Lloyd Dock still stand by the river, along with that of conservationist and Pennsylvania Folklore Society founder Henry W. Shoemaker. 

The conference venue is also two blocks from the Capitol building (featuring tiles produced by folklorist-industrialist Henry Mercer), and a vibrant “restaurant row.” The hotel is attached to the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts (containing a science museum, theaters, and galleries) and Strawberry Square (shopping) which includes a food court and grocery store for the convenience of attendees.

Further out, one can find several microbreweries, wineries, and on the site of the Mount Hope Estate and Winery the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire (with the theme “Where Legends are Made”) which is running when the AFS meets. You can also head up Cameron Street for the River City Blues Club and Dart Room with live music and that’s right, a room devoted for dart playing (there is also a venue for ax throwing in town, but that’s a story that would take too long to explain here). Back downtown, folklorists can enjoy several notable heritage and arts institutions:

  • State Museum of Pennsylvania. The official museum of the state, it includes exhibitions for history, culture, and industries of the state.
  • Susquehanna Art Museum. A bank-turned-art museum that features original exhibitions, mostly of modern art. It has featured quilt exhibitions in the past.
  • Simon Cameron House and Historical Society of Dauphin County. Simon Cameron was a United States Senator and President Lincoln’s Secretary of War. The English-styled home was constructed in 1766 and features Victorian-era interiors. It also contains exhibits of Dauphin County history and culture.
  • Broad Street Market. Established in 1860, the enclosed market is the oldest continuously operated market house in the United States. It is open Thursday through Saturday and is the go-to place for Harrisburgers to get a variety of foods from the cuisines of India, Greece, Africa, Vietnam, Korea, Mexico, Jamaica, Italy, and Poland that they can take out or enjoy at tables in one of two market sheds. Local African-American and Latino vendors prominently offer an assortment of foods and crafts. One can taste in addition a variety of Amish and Pennsylvania German fare, including famous “whoopie pies,” chicken corn soup, and “chow chow.” The market is closed in the evening, but visitors can go across the street when it gets dark to the Millworks, which is popular for its farm to table restaurant and art studios in a reclaimed historic mill.
  • Midtown Scholar. Consistently ranked as one of the nation’s best and largest independent book stores, it also hosts folk music concerts and book talks. Located across the street from the Broad Street Market, the Midtown Scholar has a café and a wide assortment of books, including many folklore and regional culture titles.
  • Stallions Entertainment Complex. Across the street from the State Museum, the 4-level complex features a dance club and stage for stand-up comedy and concerts. It is known for its drag shows and LGBTQ events in addition to Latin nights.
  • HMAC. Standing for the Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center, HMAC features concerts, comedy shows, and a restaurant. A centerpiece of the arts corridor on Third Street a few blocks from the hotel, HMAC complements other musical and theatrical venues downtown, including Gamut Theater (featuring stage renditions of fairy tales), Open Stage of Harrisburg, Theatre Harrisburg, and Midtown (Arthouse) Cinema. 

Within the city limits and accessible by local buses or taxis are:

  • National Civil War Museum. Located in Reservoir Park on the site of a Union army encampment, the museum gives special attention to “common soldiers, men and women on the home front, and the experiences of African Americans.”
  • Fort Hunter Mansion and Park. Overlooking the Susquehanna River, the open-air museum site dating to settlement in 1725 includes a Pennsylvania German bank barn, Victorian estate house, tavern, and farm outbuildings. It also includes interpretation of the Native American presence along the river. 
  • Pennsylvania National Fire Museum. Located in a Victorian-era firehouse, it has exhibits and artifacts of firefighting history and culture.
  • Pennsylvania Farm Show. “The Farm Show,” as locals call it, refers to the huge annual agricultural exposition held in January (the largest in the country under one roof); the rest of the year, the exposition halls and arena feature trade shows, concerts, and events, and there will likely be a horse show at the time of the AFS meeting.


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