in a black and white photo surrounded by a valentine border, a woman smiles at the camera against a stone wall backdropGina M. Douty is a historic preservation consultant and, for the last 12 years, owner of Gina M. Douty, Historic Preservation Consulting, LLC, located in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, about 10 miles from Harrisburg.

In 2023, she was honored at the 2023 Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Awards, presented by Preservation Pennsylvania, for her involvement with the rehabilitation of a defunct furniture factory into a new boutique hotel called the Bischoff Inn (Tamaqua, Schuylkill County).

A Special Place in My Heart: The PA State Museum & Archives Tower

Harrisburg, PA (Dauphin County)

As a historic preservationist I have many favorite places in Pennsylvania, but I think the one that stands out the most is the Pennsylvania State Museum & Archives Tower located in the City of Harrisburg. Nestled along the beautiful Susquehanna River and situated to the north of the Capitol Complex, the museum building was constructed in 1964 in the Mid-Century Modern style and designed by the well-known architecture firm of Lawrie & Green. While the stark, monolithic limestone drum shaped building with its tall windowless tower may be cool and uninviting to some, to me, this building has been a warm and welcoming place in my life for nearly 50 years.

A black and white drawing dating from 1964 of the PA State Museum and Archives Tower, showing a tall, windowless building to the left and on the right, a rounded, shorter building with windows on the first level only
Early rendering of the PA State Museum and Archives Tower, once known as the William Penn Memorial Museum and Archives Building. Circa 1964, Lawrie & Green. (Courtesy of the PA State Archives.)

My Introduction

I was first introduced to this place like most kids who grew up in the Harrisburg area – going on the obligatory elementary school museum field trips. I loved roaming around the circular spaces, seeing the recreated historic town square and the giant statue of William Penn, visiting the planetarium, and being a bit spooked by Mammal Hall that houses dioramas featuring native animals and birds found throughout the state. And there was always a final stop at the gift shop.

Two people in festive outfits stand in front of decorated evergreen trees and behind velvet ropes.
Circa, 1985. (Incredibly blurry and embarrassing… but you get the picture.)

In high school, the museum was a place for me to take part in other events the museum had to offer, such as decorating a tree to represent a foreign culture that shaped Pennsylvania. Shout out to my French club.

My New Career

By college and the beginning of my career in historic architecture and preservation (circa late 1980s), I was fully immersed in this building as a young intern with the PA Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC), which was headquartered in the museum building. I was able to take in the inner workings of the museum and meet the talented folks behind the scenes.

There, from my desk on the fifth floor of the museum, the full-length windows provided a spectacular view of the Susquehanna River to the west and the beautiful PA Capitol Building to the southeast. On my lunch breaks, I often ventured downstairs to tour the exhibits repeatedly, feeling more at home with every nook and cranny of the place. I began to study archival materials housed at the Archives Tower in my twenties, and that continues to be a mainstay for my diet as a historic preservationist today!

Gina Douty at her PHMC desk in 1993
Gina Douty at her PHMC desk in 1993

I even wrote a term paper for my architectural history class at Penn State that featured the State Museum Building complex. I love this place dearly, so I was tremendously excited when, shortly after college graduation in 1992, I was offered a full-time job with the PHMC, Bureau of Sites & Museums, Department of Architecture & Conservation. As a historic preservation specialist, then later an architectural designer, I had the privilege of being on several projects that included the renovations or repairs to the museum building. It remained my home for the next six years, and was one of the greatest buildings I have ever worked in.

A photo of the rounded PA State Museum with a sliver of the tall Archives tower visible at the right
PA State Museum and Archives Tower, circa 1989. (Author’s photo from college report.)

It’s Part of My Life

When I put my career on hold to raise a family, I often brought my daughter and nieces and nephews to the museum to introduce a new generation to my favorite spot. They enjoyed the Curiosity Corner on the first floor, liked the Dino Lab, big William Penn, and the mighty bison in the hall of mammals. I enjoyed chaperoning my daughter’s elementary class trip to the state museum, and later, accompanying her high school French exchange program’s students to the building. My daughter even enjoyed her senior prom at this place!

on the left, a play room with a giant yellow chick and two children on top of a small pink pig; on the right, two women pose for a prom photo taken at the State Museum
(Left) Early 2000s, Curiosity corner at the PA State Museum. (Right) Prom at PA State Museum building, 2016.

Fast forward to present day…this building continues to be a wonderful presence in my life. I have been to many historic preservation functions, Preservation Pennsylvania award ceremonies, receptions, and exhibit specials such as Art of the State, an annual event showcasing PA artists in every medium.

A group of women stand in front of a dark green statue of a man inside the state museum main hall showing their award; the other half shows a group of men and women standing outside the state museum
Attending the 2023 Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Awards held at the State Museum by the nonprofit Preservation Pennsylvania. (Left) Gina Douty on the right, in the museum’s main hall in front of the William Penn statue. (Right) Gina Douty on the right, as her party poses in front of the main entrance to the PA State Museum.

If I have not been there in a while, I find myself heading back, like visiting an old friend, to explore the enduring exhibits as well as catch any new items on display.

It’s Part of My Work

Over the last year, I have had the privilege of being the historic preservation consultant for an ongoing Department of General Services project addressing the plaza surrounding the State Museum and Archives tower. I am deeply humbled to have been asked to be a small part of this great undertaking with such a gifted team of individuals in the architecture and engineering fields. I even had the opportunity to get back to the archives for my research on this project before they relocated to their new home a few blocks north of the site. I was excited to study the rich history of the State Museum and its Archives Tower…. quite fitting.

If you ever find yourself in the City of Harrisburg, have never visited the museum, or if it has been a while since your last school field trip there, I encourage you to stop by. I know that I will continue to do so.

Always a patron,

Gina M. Douty