History Repeats Itself
Exploring the Shipoke Renaissance
Photography by Haley Harned
The dates on the calendar have change, but human needs, wants, and aspirations have remained steadfast, including the desire for a home.
Although communities have emerged around the midstate, not all homeowners want newer residences. Some, like Hal and Felicity Fox, crave the beauty, charm, and elegance of yesteryear. They want mature landscaping and are willing to accept time-worn flaws in exchange for the unparalleled.
The Foxes’ penchant for uniqueness led them many years ago to a tiny neighborhood in Harrisburg’s southern borders known as Shipoke. Today, they live in this warm, welcoming community in one of the few remaining Victorian residences to avoid major updates despite floods, time and changing owners.
A World Apart
As the oldest gathering place of families in the city, Shipoke’s past has included some notable popularity low points, many owing from its annoying tendency to flood. However, it has emerged victorious and once again draws people who like being “close to it all” without an ounce of urban ambiance.
Located along the riverfront, Shipoke’s a picturesque playground where time seems to have stopped in the Victorian era. Rows of townhomes, including the Foxes’ at 627 South Front Street, greet the Susquehanna and its seasonal changes. The hands of time somehow tick a little slower in Shipoke, focusing residents’ attentions on building relationships and enjoying life, not whisking from one chore to the next.
The Foxes have happily lived in Shipoke since the early 1980s. For them, the river view, walkability, and community spirit were must-haves. The couple had the opportunity to move into South Front Street in 1992, and they jumped at the chance. The moment they laid eyes on the residence, they were overwhelmed by the original craftsmanship evident in all nooks and crannies.
From the ornate medallion on the living room ceiling that once served as a background for gas light fixtures, to the stained and etched glasswork in the doorway, the house had undergone very few renovations. Doors featuring transom windows loomed large in each room, letting in light and breezes while creating defined spaces. The two fireplaces spoke of a time when heating happened not with a flick of a furnace switch, but through tending dry logs during chilly Pennsylvania evenings.
Truly, the house had been preserved and was ready to share its past. The Foxes couldn’t resist becoming its next caretakers.
Maintaining a Veritable Historic Landmark
For Hal and Felicity, the selling points of the house lay deep in its bones, not its competitive price. They appreciated the sturdy fir floorboards creased with the footsteps of long-gone residents and visitors. They loved that the 10-foot ceilings recalled a time when grandiosity was in vogue. They especially liked the modest backyard garden that echoed the sweetness of the past and begged for someone to appreciate its enormous holly tree.
Rather than update this piece of history, Hal and Felicity indulged it through simple restorations becoming of its heritage. After investigating correct types and colors, Hal ordered Victorian-style shutters for the home’s three-story exterior. Though decorative in nature, they represent the style and color of the period when the house was built by the Kraber Brothers, superintendents at the then-thriving Phoenix Steel Mill. His choice of paint for the interior spaces? Muted yet whimsical hues evoking the playfulness of the latter 19th century.
Decorations for the six-bedroom row house were to become plentiful, from antique toys to natural plants, in keeping with the era’s desire for excessive, yet perfectly situated, trappings. As Felicity explains with a laugh, the home seemed enormous when they first moved in, making them wonder if they could even fill it. They needn’t have worried; trinkets and treasures seemed to find their way home. To be sure, the only major nods to modernity are contemporary appliances and central air conditioning, the latter of which was installed by the former owner.
What the Foxes have created is a portal into a lifestyle with people not unlike us, but living far differently. Though the couple remains “house proud” of their Shipoke residence, they are contemplating a move to a smaller place in the same community. Their hope? The next generation of South Front Street inhabitants will exhibit the same level of commitment to honoring the building’s uniqueness for future Shipokers to enjoy.