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Manuscript Group 85
J. HORACE McFARLAND PAPERS
1859-1866, 1898-1951
20 cu. ft.


J. Horace McFarland (1859-1948) was born in McAlisterville, Juniata County, on September 29, 1859 but resided in Harrisburg for most of his life. During the opening decades of the Twentieth Century he emerged as an articulate advocate of the "City Beautiful" movement that resulted in such progressive improvements as paved streets in Harrisburg, the City Island water filtration plant, Riverfront Park, Wildwood Lake and associated flood control projects. A noted early conservationist, McFarland also campaigned vigorously for the preservation of Niagara Falls, the development of national parks, roadside beautification and against the blight of billboards. Together with Mira Lloyd Dock, McFarland was a seminal figure in the growth the national "City Beautiful" movement. As a founder of the American Civic Association, he took the "Harrisburg Plan" on the road to cities all across the United States.

McFarland fought for the establishment of the National Park Service and promoted city planning and zoning to prevent urban sprawl. McFarland, owner of the Mount Pleasant Printing Company in Harrisburg, was also recognized for his work as a printer, as well as a master gardener whose books and photographs on roses, trees and other subjects were famous across the United States. A founder and president of the American Rose Society, he also served as the editor of the "Beautiful America" department of the Ladies Home Journal and as chairman of the State Art Commission for many years. His home and garden in the Bellevue Park section of Harrisburg was an internationally famous testing ground for hundreds of new plant species.

McFarland became a central figure in the fight led by John Muir and the Sierra Club to prevent San Francisco from damming the water at Hetch Hetchy Valley in the Yosemite National Park for the city’s use. But in December of 1913, after five years of hearings and debates, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill giving San Francisco access to the Hetch Hetchy Valley. McFarland, though exhausted by the failed campaign, rallied quickly and with typical tenacity worked to turn defeat into a new opportunity. Within a few days, he wrote a personal letter to President Wilson in which he paved the way for getting the president’s support for the development of a national parks system. He knew that yesterdays’ opponent could be tomorrow’s ally. Congressman John Raker of California, who championed the Hetch Hetchy bill, became a sponsor of the bill proposing the creation of the National Park Service; and Franklin K. Lane, who was city attorney for San Francisco during the Hetch Hetchy conflict, became McFarland’s ally when the National Park Service was first proposed. (By 1913 Lane had become Secretary of the Interior.)

America’s forty-one national parks and monuments were managed by various authorities—including the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the Army. McFarland was among the first of those to suggest placing the parks and monuments under one unified bureau within the Department of the Interior in order to improve overall management and policy-making. In 1910, he began rallying support both within the government and from the public for this unification, gaining the favor of Secretary of the Interior Richard A. Ballinger. McFarland drafted the first version of a bill and then suggested calling in the nationally known landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., for further drafts. Six years and three secretaries of the interior later the National Park Service was established in 1916. McFarland served on the Department of the Interior’s Educational Advisory Board for the parks and also as a member of the National Park Trust Fund until his death in 1948. For related materials see the J. Horace McFarland Company Records (Manuscript Group 453).


Private Papers, 1859-1866, 1898-1948

American Civic Association, 1901-1950 American Civic Association and National Conference on City Planning, 1920-1946 American Planning and Civic Association, 1920-1951

PA State Archives Hours, Directions, & Fees Research Topics Finding Aids for Collections Land Records