This Article was submitted by the Paxtang Historical Society with some of the material presented here from the booklet “50th Anniversary of the Incorporation of Paxtang Borough 1914 – 1964”. The historical society can be contacted at http://www.paxtanghistoricalsociety.com
|Paxtang is one of Central Pennsylvania’s best-kept secrets. The Borough is nestled just east of the capital city of Harrisburg, and it is in close proximity to the famous Hershey attractions. It has a small-town feel with suburban amenities and offers a network of support and sense of community for both its residents and local businesses. Paxtang has a charming historic background and an active historical society. Established in 2002, the society is dedicated to preserving, sharing, and providing education about the history of their beloved borough.
The origin of “Paxtang” dates back to the 17th century Susquehannock Indian village of “Peshtank”, which means “still waters”. During this era, several important trails and routes crisscrossed the area. When William Penn claimed his famous “woods”, an area known as Paxtang, sometimes referred to as Paxton, was an area of rolling hills, meadows, and forests encompassing approximately half of present day Dauphin County. At the time the territory was sparsely-settled and stretched roughly from the lazy banks of the Swatara Creek northward to the beautiful Blue Mountain, and beyond.
From 1729 to 1785, the area was part of the gigantic county of Lancaster. The land which is now Paxtang Borough was once part of John Forster’s patent, dating back to the 1740s. In 1746, part of that land was set aside for the historic Paxton Presbyterian Church, founded 14 years earlier. Historical records show another portion of land went to John Forster’s kinsman, Joseph Kelso. In 1754, a major portion of the land was deeded to Thomas Rutherford. He and his descendants occupied the land until a subdivision was carved out by the Harrisburg realty company, F.H. Rohrer and Son. By 1785, the present County of Dauphin was founded and the land was divided into many townships, including current day Swatara Township. Present day Paxtang, in turn, would later be carved from a portion of the new Swatara Township.
In 1893, the Harrisburg Electric Railways Company established an amusement park on nearby land leased from the Rutherford estate. At that time, many trolley companies ran amusement parks as a destination that would encourage ridership. Paxtang Park was a celebrated example of these parks and featured a zoo, lake, picnic grove, vaudeville theatre, and of course, amusement rides.
|Also during the 1890’s, home construction started in the Rohrer’s subdivision where there were plenty of open spaces, farmlands, orchards and woodlots. Just in time for fireworks, on July 3rd, 1914, Paxtang Borough was founded. Once the Borough was incorporated, building construction escalated and has led to one of the many appealing features today: it’s sampling of American domestic architecture from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even today, there are well-kept examples of the popular house styles of that time. As one strolls through Paxtang’s tree-lined streets you can see examples of stately Queen Anne Victorians to Prairie-influenced American Four-Squares and Craftsman-style bungalows. Even the Borough Hall’s façade is an excellent example of the Art-Deco style. The main thoroughfare, Paxtang Avenue, is a showcase of high-style homes, including a stately, stone Georgian home built by the then famous Rutherford family.
The allure of the Paxtang Park eventually came to a close after the 1929 season, but the original trolley entrance to the park remains and is now a major thoroughfare connecting Derry Street to Paxton Street. The old Rutherford Estate spring house still stands near that road, along with the old Rutherford House. Close by, there are the remnants of the stone walls that once lined the lazy banks of Spring Creek as it meandered through Paxtang Park.
The Old Paxton Presbyterian Church also stands and is a remarkable reminder of the rich history of the area. Even today, it is home to an active religious community. Just outside is the historic cemetery where one can find headstones with the prominent names from the area: Harris, Rutherford, Elder, Kelso, Maclay, Brisban, Forster, and others. In the nearby Paxtang Cemetery, similar monuments and historical records of the past can be found and are preserved in memory of those who founded and help to make Paxtang the beloved community it is today.
Paxtang continues to evolve and change with the times, but it holds on to its small-town feel, where there is a true sense of community. Its residents feel free to stroll down the sidewalks, visit local pizza shops, swing by the diners, or stop by the local bakery for a special treat. There are fundraisers at the local fire hall, hometown parades, and social events to encourage residents to become more involved. The residents of Paxtang are truly proud of their community, its historic background and its future as a great place to raise their families.