Carlisle, PA 2021 Finalist

Welcome to Carlisle Borough, Committed to Excellence in Community Service

We are thrilled to be named a finalist for the 2021 All-America City Award! Thank you to Dickinson College for partnering with us to complete our application.

Founded in 1751, Carlisle Borough is one of Pennsylvania’s most treasured historic communities. Located in picturesque south central Pennsylvania, Carlisle’s history is rich, ideals are plentiful, and diversity abundant.

Residents and visitors can walk the same paths as those walked by the Commander of the Continental Army and President of the United States, George Washington; Declaration of Independence signer, James Wilson; Olympic medalist Jim Thorpe; Battle of Monmouth heroine Molly Pitcher; and many other historical figures.

Wayside markers throughout downtown and the surrounding areas tell the story of Carlisle’s people, places, and events.

The Borough is home to a large historic district listed in the National Register of Historic Places. When strolling through our Historic District, don’t forget to look up from time to time! Put your eye towards the sky and catch a glimpse of the classical architectural details on the buildings. You’ll spy cupolas, lunettes, gables, and bay windows.

The Borough’s Historical Architectural Review Board (HARB) ensures this architectural heritage is maintained. HARB reviews all applications filed with the building inspector for sign or building permits for work to be done in the district. HARB also provides suggestions and advice to property owners on proper methods of historic preservation.

Patron of the Arts

Art of all forms finds a home in Carlisle. The prestigious Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet is based in Carlisle. CPYB is a celebrated leader in the world of dance education. Students from around the country and around the world attend CPYB’s five-week summer program.

In 2019, the Carlisle Theatre Regional Performing Arts Center celebrated its 80th anniversary. Often referred to as the crown jewel of downtown, the theatre is dedicated to bringing films, live theater, and concerts to Carlisle.

Organizations such as the Carlisle Arts Learning Center make sure art is accessible to all ages and backgrounds. The non-profit encourages creativity and self-esteem through exploration and appreciation of the visual arts. CALC offers scholarship programs, as well as a free Summer Art Camp at Hope Station.

Small Town Charm, Big City Amenities

Carlisle’s downtown is vibrant and diverse. Craft beer, vintage clothing, new and used books, retro candy, and Bhutanese cuisine are just a sampling of what you can find in downtown Carlisle!

Despite COVID-19 and its economic impact, downtown Carlisle is still growing! Several new businesses plan to open up shop in the coming months. Envy Market will offer women’s clothing and home décor. Dough & Arrows brings their edible cookie dough and Penn State ice cream to North Hanover Street, while two new eateries, Playa Bowls and Sage Café, will welcome hungry diners in the coming weeks.

Engaging and Communicating With the Community

Rather than hamper citizen engagement, the challenges of 2020 only strengthened our active and engaged citizenry.

In 2020, public meetings transferred to Zoom to allow for proper social distancing. This allowed us to live stream and record these public meetings, something that was not possible with prior in-person meetings. This made Borough Council meetings much more accessible to our community. More enhancements were made to Borough Hall in early 2021 to ensure we can continue to provide access to public meetings once they return to in-person.

Carlisle residents have plenty of opportunities to be directly involved with their local government through our various boards and commissions. All the meetings of the Boards and Commissions are open to the public and volunteer openings are shared on the Borough’s website and social media and with community stakeholders and neighborhood groups.

In 2020, the Carlisle Borough Police Department began utilizing bike patrols to improve community engagement. Not only could officers more closely monitor downtown activities, it allowed them to cultivate and enhance relationships with Borough residents and businesses.

Carlisle Borough provides regular communication to its residents through a variety of means. Facebook, Twitter, Nextdoor, and LinkedIn are regularly used to communicate pertinent information to residents, as well as to share stories and highlight the work of the Borough.

We have recently launched a new citizen engagement platform designed to provide authentic, two-way communication between residents and Borough government. On Engage Carlisle, residents can share and discuss ideas and vote, prioritize, and fund potential projects and programs.

Carlisle’s Past, Present, and Future

In order to address this year’s theme of Building Equitable and Resilient Communities, we must look at Carlisle’s past, present, and future.

Addressing Our Past

Lincoln Cemetery

The burial ground that became the Lincoln Cemetery was deeded to the Black people of Carlisle by the Penn family when the town was laid out. It was originally to be the same size as the Old Graveyard on the other side of town, where white people were buried at the time. Lincoln Cemetery only ended up measuring 100 by 300 feet. Until recently, it was assumed only 150 people were buried at the cemetery, but research from the Cumberland County Historical Society shows it is the final resting place for at least 650 Back Carlislians from 1804-1905. Those buried there included physicians, educators, and more than 50 United States Colored Troop members and Civil War Veterans.

In 1972, after years of neglect, neighborhood residents signed a petition to convert the cemetery into a passive recreation area. As part of the conversion, all but one of the grave markers were removed and placed into storage, only to disappear. While the Borough acknowledged the pain this decision caused, the community believed it was not enough and more needed to be done.

Work to rededicate the Lincoln Cemetery began in 2019 when the graduating class of the United States Army War College heard the story of the cemetery and offered a gift to commemorate the space. This created the Lincoln Cemetery Committee, which consists of descendants of those buried, Borough officials, and representatives from the War College, Carlisle Hope Station, and the Historical Society. On Memorial Day, the class gift of an archway was installed and dedicated in the entryway to the cemetery. The archway guides visitors into the cemetery and helps them understand they are entering sacred ground.

In 2020, work began on a public art project to memorialize those interred in Lincoln Cemetery. The first project allowed community members to write the names of individuals buried onto pieces of ribbon that were then placed around the cemetery’s fence. Next, local artists painted a mural along the flagpole that includes the surnames of those buried in the cemetery.

In December of 2020, the Borough officially apologized for the removal of the headstones by passing a resolution that acknowledged its role in the sanctioning of segregation and systemic racism. The resolution pledged to work towards a more equitable future.

Moving towards Equity

That resolution came after a summer where the entire country dealt with issues of police brutality and racial unrest. During that time, the borough began to plan a town hall on the subject of racial equity here in Carlisle. Along with the Carlisle Martin Luther King Commemoration Committee, the Borough hosted a town hall meeting to kick off a series of deep dives into the racial history, current conditions, and hope for the future. 150 people attended this meeting, held on the Saturday before Martin Luther King Jr Day in 2021. During the 2 and a half hour session facilitated by Brandon Flood, secretary of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, residents discussed racial inequalities in education, crime, and housing.

During the meeting, it was decided that in order to address these long-standing issues and the scars that they left, the community needs to hear the stories and understand that there are people hurting due to racial prejudices and biases. Shortly after the meeting, a resolution creating a Truth & Reconciliation Commission was passed. This commission will research and inform the Borough on actions that should be taken to acknowledge, address, and heal the historical wounds of racism in our community. 

Working together, Carlisle CAN

Carlisle’s strength as a community became evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. In February 2020, as it became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic would affect the Carlisle community, a small group of community leaders recognized that a cross-sector, collaborative response would be required. A group of thirty community leaders, led by Dickinson College President Margee Ensign and had been occasionally meeting in-person since 2017, expanded their membership and began meeting weekly via Zoom. With these meetings, the group identified emergency and ongoing community needs, shared resources, eliminated barriers to coordinated action, and remained up to date on the community’s collective health.

The Carlisle Community Action Network (Carlisle CAN) quickly grew to over 100 community members. The group’s composition, which is always evolving, includes individuals from local businesses, faith communities, law enforcement, first responders, local and state government, human services, health care, the military, and education. These meetings served to connect community members during a time when formal and informal gatherings are restricted due to health and safety concerns.

Here are just a few of the initiatives that Carlisle CAN undertook during the pandemic.

Public Health Initiatives: The “Carlisle CAN Shop Safely, Learn Safely” campaign encouraged visitors, business owners, patrons, and students to wear masks while in public spaces. CAN members distributed over 4,000 masks and posters to 120 businesses that pledged to encourage mask-wearing by staff and customers.

Currently, CAN is providing outreach materials about the COVID-19 vaccine, paying particular attention to addressing underrepresented communities and encouraging them to get the vaccine. The group also helped the Cumberland County Emergency Services Department recruit volunteers and fins a space to distribute vaccines to residents.



Civic Action Internship Program: While CAN had plenty of willing and able community members ready to assist, sometimes the demand for services outmatched the supply. Dickinson College’s Center for Civic Learning and Action responded by creating an internship program to assist. The Civic Action Internship Program contributed to these programs and provided experiential learning opportunities for students, many who had their original internships canceled due to the pandemic.

Setting Goals for Our Future

Rather than waiting for federal or state action, Carlisle Borough has undertaken its own efforts to address the ever-increasing effects of climate change. By taking a proactive stance, the Borough is poised to be a leader in the emerging Green Economy.

Climate change has long been an issue of great importance to our community. The area is home to a plethora of local environmental civic groups who have spent years educating the local community on the environmental costs of air, water, and land/soil pollution.

The first step for the Borough in addressing climate change was defining the problem. In September of 2019, we entered the Pennsylvania DEP’s local Climate Action Program. Through this program, we partnered with students and faculty at Dickinson to establish a Greenhouse Gas inventory to serve as a baseline for reduction targets.

Once that inventory was completed, Borough Council unanimously approved a Climate Action Resolution that committed the Borough of Carlisle to meeting or exceeding any state, federal, and international Greenhouse Gas reduction commitment. The resolution also called for the creation of a Climate Action Commission tasked with recommending a Climate Action Plan.

Community engagement is a key element to the commission and plan. Within two months of creations, over 40 residents became involved in the commission. The commission is also working to ensure that the future plan accurately reflects the values of the Carlisle community.

Vision Statements

The CAC understands that communities relate better to vision statements that to GHG reduction targets. The Commission’s Community Engagement Team created the following vision statements on behalf of the community.

  1. Make Carlisle a leader in clean and local energy that comes from the sun, wind, or other innovative renewable technologies
  2. Transform our buildings into high-performing places to live, work, learn, and play.
  3. Ensure the benefits of climate action are equitably distributed and empower historically underserved populations to participate in the process of transitioning to a carbon-free community.
  4. Transform Carlisle into a community where people walk, bike, take mass transit, or carpool for most trips in a safe, accessible, and affordable transportation network.
  5. Aggressively transition toward a clean, carbon-free transportation system that improves health and livability for the Carlisle community.
  6. Become a leader in sustainable, smart transportation through innovative partnerships, programs, and technology.
  7. Understand potential climate-related risks and mitigate these risks while preparing our community for chronic and extreme weather events.

Communities of color and low-income populations have historically been underserved by programs and investments and underrepresented in decision-making. Climate change likely will amplify the impacts of these existing inequities. The CAC aims to include intentional policies and projects that simultaneously address the effects of and the systems that perpetuate both climate change and inequity. The Community Engagement Team is working directly with community faith leaders, racial justice leaders, and educators to share their experiences and challenges in order to inform the CAC’s social value priorities.

Collaborative Effort

As with our other projects, the Climate Action Commission is a collaborative endeavor between the Borough and dozens of organizations and hundreds of residents.  Some organizations involved include the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation, Carlisle Chamber of Commerce, PPL, UGI, Carlisle Area School District, Dickinson College, Cumberland County, and Widener University Commonwealth Law School.

Our collaborative efforts even reach internationally! The Borough is working with our sister city the City of Carlisle (Cumbria, U.K.) to collaborate on our respective climate action plans. Four subgroups have been formed to focus on economic growth, community engagement, transportation, and energy.

While the commission is only six months old, it reflects years of community engagement between civic groups and locally elected officials. When complete, the Climate Action Plan will place the Borough in a much more favorable position to be competitive for state and federal governmental grants as well as attracting businesses with pro-environmental priorities and values.

Return to the Civic Action Fair. 

One Thought on Carlisle, PA
    Jacquie Hultquist
    7 Jun 2021

    So proud to live in such a diverse town!

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