Sterling was formed in 1839 by the consolidation of two towns, Harrisburg and Chatham, founded here in 1836 and 1837 respectively; it was chartered as a city in 1857.
For several years prior to 1902 Harrisburg suffered much from impure water, a bad sewerage system, and poorly paved and dirty streets.
Harrisburg's charitable institutions include a city hospital, a home for the friendless, a children's industrial home, and a state lunatic hospital (1845).
Harrisburg was named in honour of John Harris, who, upon coming into this region to trade early in the 18th century, was attracted to the site as an easy place at which to ford the Susquehanna, and about 1726 settled here.
He was buried in what is now Harris Park, where he erected the first building, a small hut, within the present limits of Harrisburg.