This view of Tanners Alley was taken from near its intersection with Walnut Street in the early 1900s. Two women, at right, appear to be shopping at a grocery.
Photos: Historical Society of Dauphin County
Measuring just over 500 feet in length, Tanners Alley was a small side street, which ran between Walnut Street and South Street in Harrisburg's Old Eighth Ward. Tanners Alley was most likely the first street established within the ward, having residents living on it as early as the 1810s.
Residents of Tanners Alley, also referred to as "Tanners Lane" and "Tanners Avenue," were some of the poorest in Harrisburg. This street was home to many unskilled and service workers, such as day laborers, domestics, porters, and waiters. Although the alley did house many tradesmen throughout its history, highly-skilled professionals were rarely found there.
Tanners was one of the most ethnically-diverse streets found in the Eighth Ward. After the major waves of European immigration began in the mid-1800s, Tanners became home to a succession of new Americans. Although these immigrants lived on Tanners during their poorest years, they moved from the street, and often times, out of the Eighth Ward altogether as their success allowed. This cannot be said of the Tanners' African-American population. Having been established as an enclave for African-Americans early on, Tanners Alley's never lost its African-American majority. Because of this, the Wesley Union African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church made its home on the corner of Tanners and South beginning in the late 1830s. The alley played a key role in Harrisburg's Underground Railroad history and was a hotbed of abolitionist sentiment.
Tanners Alley Residents by Decade