I arrived in Harrisburg after midnight, in the pitch black, sapped from a 15-hour drive. I was cranky and hungry, chafing under the stress of a six-hour delay thanks to a flat tire in a rest area in Ohio, and the only thing I wanted to do was collapse into a bed and forget the day ever happened.
It was well past check-in time at The Manor on Front, but the staff had made sure I had the proper key code to enter the building, my room key in a neatly labeled envelope, and instructions for breakfast. I trundled up to my room on the second floor, grumbling quietly, and threw my bags down with uncharacteristic disregard for them and crawled into bed.
The following morning, I woke up refreshed and opened the drapes to a delightfully surprising scene. What was ebon black the night before was now a view of the Susquehanna River and fall foliage right outside my window. Albeit a cloudy, slightly drizzly day, things were already looking better. And they just kept improving with the more time I spent at this outstanding bed and breakfast.
The Manor on Front comprises two neighboring buildings, both originally constructed as single-family homes. My room, the Grant Suite, with its comfortable queen-size bed, pleasant views, and aromatic toiletries, was in the former Georgian-style Mary Sachs Residence. Built in 1926, this lovely limestone home directly across the street from the river became the home of Sachs, owner of a highly successful women’s fashion department store with locations in Harrisburg, Reading, and Lancaster, when she moved here in 1935. During her residency, the philanthropist Sachs invited many guests to stay here, including Eleanor Roosevelt.
The second building, the grander Tudor Revival–style Hull Mansion, built in 1928 with a ledgestone façade, slate roof, and bright-red front door, originally served as the home of an attorney and his wife. After a couple of resales, it was used by Children’s Services as a safe space for troubled parents to spend time with their children.
Eventually, both buildings were purchased by one person, who launched an idiotic plan in 2005 to raze these beloved gems and replace them with luxury condominiums that were out of touch with the characteristics of the neighborhood. A coalition of neighbors organized to fight against her, and the City Council blocked the demolition. Eventually, after about a dozen years of abandonment, during which nature and neglect took over (ivy had wheedled its way inside, plaster was crumbling, mold was proliferating) and during which the owner found herself in quite a bit of debt, she declared bankruptcy and sold both buildings in 2014 to a couple who spent $1.4 million to meticulously restore them. Now under new owners since last spring, The Manor on Front is thriving.
Today, the Mary Sachs Residence building houses six suites. On the ground floor, there’s a cozy common area and a larger, well-lit sunroom with comfortable seating and a fireplace. Right outside my room was a massive, relaxing living room with a fireplace and a great white leather sofa and ottoman where I would indulge in late-afternoon naps as well as a kitchen and a dining room.
After exploring my short-term home, I headed outside, past the carriage house and through the parking area, to the Hull Mansion building. There, I found five additional guest suites, plus a library and a living room. The restored oak staircase leads up to a landing with a little sitting area and beautiful leaded glass. There are also a couple of rooms for breakfast. Large and small tables with assigned seating for your selected breakfast time encourage socializing with your fellow travelers, and you may very well make the acquaintances of, for instance, a retired Canadian couple driving down to Florida for the winter and a competitive season of pickleball, an environmental historian teaching at a college in the Northeast, and an Indian IT specialist from Chicago. Mini cinnamon rolls and banana nut muffins accompany your morning meal, which you get to select the night before. You may enjoy orange juice, sausage, coffee, and French toast with sourdough bread, cream cheese, and blueberry topping one morning, a spinach omelet with roasted potatoes, toast, and tea the next.
The Manor on Front is a solid two miles from downtown Harrisburg. After I had spent most of the day there, including a visit to the one of the most beautiful state capitols in the United States, I chose to walk back, seduced by the scenic Capital Area Greenbelt, with its canopy of trees in autumnal splendor and little pocket gardens and memorials, that runs between the Susquehanna River on one side and the gorgeous homes and mansions on Front Street on the other. It’s an utterly delightful stretch, perfect for walking, jogging, biking, and dog-walking, and just when you’re about to run out of steam, the appearance of The Manor on Front will restore your energy with the promise of a memorable stay.
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