Erie County, Pennsylvania

History of Erie County, Pennsylvania 1884

by Samuel P. Bates, 

Submitted by Gaylene Kerr Banister


 

Historical

Well authenticated records fully establish the fact that an Indian tribe or nation known as the "Eriez," dwelt upon the southern shore of Lake Erie ere the coming of the white race to this portion of the continent, and that this tribe was exterminated or driven farther toward the southwest by the terrible Iroquois more than 200 years ago. When the French took possession of this region of country, it was a favorite hunting ground of the victorious Iroquois, commonly known as the Six Nations, with the Senecas nominally occupying the territory now embraced in Northwestern Pennsylvania. The vicinity of Erie seems to have been a favored locality, perhaps, for the reason that the beautiful bay of Presque Isle provided a safe retreat for their frail canoes from the lake storms.

The French early built up a large trade with the Indians, and in 1753 Sieur Marin, commander of the French expedition of that year, erected a fort or block-house at Presque Isle, thus taking possession of the site whereon the beautiful city of Erie now stands. A road was constructed from Presque Isle to Fort Le Boeuf, on French creek, and all was completed early in August, 1753. On the east bank of Mill Creek, a little back from the lake, a French village sprung up, which at one time numbered 100 families, besides numerous Indians, with a Catholic priest, a schoolmaster, grist mills and other concomitants of civilization. They cleared land and cultivated corn fields in the vicinity of the fort, but it is believed that the village was abandoned after an experiment of four or five years' trial, as it was not in existence in 1757-58. A garrison of French soldiers occupied the fort, which stood on a bluff immediately west of the mouth of Mill Creek near the shore of the bay.

The long and bitter struggle between the French and English for possession of the country west of the Alleghanies, eventually ended in favor of the latter, and though peace was not declared until 1763, the French abandoned Presque Isle three years prior to that event, and Maj. Rogers, in behalf of the English, came on and occupied the fort at this point in 1760. It was the last post west of Niagara given up by the French, and was always considered by both nations an important point in their chain of defenses, as well as an invaluable supply depot.

Pontiac's conspiracy flamed out in 1763, bringing destruction and death upon nearly all the Western forts. Presque Isle was attacked on the 22d of June, and after an obstinate resistance was surrendered to the savages. Many conflicting accounts have been published of this event, but as the principal facts connected therewith are given in Chapter VI of the general history of Erie County, we refer the reader to that chapter for further information on the subject.

In 1764, Gen. Bradstreet, in command of 3,000 British solders, stopped at Presque Isle on his way to the relief of Detroit, and upon his return occupied the fort at this point. On the 12th of August, 1764, he made a treaty with the Shawnee and Delaware tribes of Ohio, which, however, was of short duration. For the succeeding twenty years, little appears to have transpired at Presque Isle worthy of mention, and the old fort seems to have been abandoned during this period.

Though the war between England and the Colonies ended in the recognized independence of the latter by the treaty of 1783, and though the English Government then gave up all claim to the Western region, they still kept a garrison at Presque Isle in violation of said treaty. In fact, it was not till 1795 that the American occupation of this territory actually took place. With the dawning of peace the American Government came into recognized though nominal ownership of the whole Western interior, and by treaties executed with the Six Nations in 1784 and 1789, those tribes signed away their title to this portion of the State. Some dissatisfaction with the treaties, however, existed among the Indians, and in 1791 the Government paid to the Seneca tribe a certain sum of money, in consideration of which they agreed to waive forever all claims to the lands in question. In 1792, the State acquired the "Triangle" by a purchase from the United States Government, and the same year the General Assembly of Pennsylvania passed an act to stimulate the settlement of the lands around Presque Isle; but the Indians, encouraged by the English, would not consent to the scheme, or allow a garrison to be stationed at the fort. The savages, abetted by their white allies, began to make hostile raids upon the scattered settlements, and in May, 1795, attacked four men who were coming from Fort LeBoeuf to Presque Isle, near where the railroad bridge crosses State street in Erie. Ralph Rutledge was killed and scalped, while his son was shot and scalped, but survived until he was taken to LeBoeuf. The father's body was buried on the west side of State street, close to where he fell, and his son was interred at the fort previously mentioned. Wayne's victory at the battle of "Fallen Timbers," on the Maumee River, in 1794, crushed the spirit of the Indian tribes, and the treaty of Greenville, consummated August 3, 1795, with the Western Indians, and the treaty with the Six Nations the following November, ended all hostile demonstrations in this locality.

On the 8th of April, 1793, an act was passed by the General Assembly and approved by Gov. Mifflin to lay out a town at Presque Isle. The act provided for the survey of 1,600 acres of land into town lots of not more than one-third of an acre each, and 3,400 acres adjoining in outlots of not less than five acres nor more than ten acres each. The Governor was authorized to reserve within or without said plat for the use of the United States so much land as he thought necessary for forts, magazines, arsenals and dock yards. It was also provided that the first two hundred persons who should settle in said town before January 1, 1794, would be entitled to one town lot. They had, however, in compliance with said act, to erect a house sixteen feet square, containing one stone or brick chimney, and reside in the town three years ere becoming actual owners. Provision was also made for the sale of 200 lots exclusive of those granted, the purchaser to erect a similar residence, and reside in the town the same length of time as the previous two hundred settlers. In February, 1794, an act was passed which provided for a detachment of soldiers to protect the settlement at Presque Isle; but through the treachery of the English, who themselves coveted this post, the Indians, as already mentioned, were stirred up into opposing the settlement and garrisoning of Presque Isle by the Americans. For prudential reasons, which are fully explained in the general history of the county, operations were for the time suspended, and the subsequent victory of Wayne inspired such a wholesome terror among the Indians that it hastened the treaties of 1795, through which all opposition to the settlement of Presque Isle was swept away, and the title of Pennsylvania unreservedly acknowledged.

In the meantime, the General Assembly passed an act, April 18, 1795, somewhat differing from that of 1793, and repealing the latter. The Governor was authorized to appoint two Commissioners, who were instructed to survey 1,600 acres of land for town lots, and 3,400 acres adjoining thereto for outlots, "at or near Presque Isle, on Lake Erie; and the said lands so surveyed shall respectively be laid out into town lots and outlots, in such manner and with such streets not more than 100, nor less than 60 feet wide, and such lanes, alleys and reservations for public uses as the said Commissioners shall direct, but no town lots shall contain more than one-third of an acre, no outlot more than five acres; and the town hereby directed to be laid out shall be called 'Erie,' and all the streets, lanes and alleys thereof, and of the adjoining outlots, shall be and forever remain common highways."

The Commissioners were authorized to sell one-third of said town lots and outlots to the highest bidders, the purchasers to erect on each town lot, within two years from the date of purchase, a house sixteen feet square, containing one stone or brick chimney. Half of the purchase money of each lot had to be paid within three months from the date of sale, and the balance within one year, together with lawful interest. The sale was not to be valid, and no patent was issued until such time as these terms were complied with in every respect.

Reservations were made of sixty acres on the south bank of the harbor and near the entrance thereof, thirty acres on the peninsula at or near the entrance to the harbor, and one other lot of 100 acres on the peninsula for the use of the United States in erecting forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, etc. It was further provided, "That if the mill seats on the creek running near the ruins of the old French fort should fall within the cessions hereby made to the United States, the same shall nevertheless be and hereby are reserved for the use of this State, with the right of erecting mills thereon, but no buildings (mills excepted), shall be erected within 600 yards of the center of any fort which may be erected by the United States on either of the lots ceded to them as aforesaid." Pennsylvania did not, however, cede to the General Government "the jurisdiction or right of soil in and to the said three last mentioned lots, but only the occupancy and use thereof for the purposes aforesaid."

By an act passed February 19, 1800, that portion of the act of 1795 which made it obligatory for purchasers of lots to erect houses thereon ere becoming bona fide owners, was repealed; and lots previously forfeited on account of non-compliance in full with said law were allowed to be pre-empted by their former purchasers at the original price, provided application was made within twelve months from the passing of this act. The leniency here adopted was continued by subsequent enactments, thus making it easy for the first settlers of Erie to become owners of real estate.

The first permanent American settlement effected on the site of Erie occurred in the spring of 1795, when Thomas Rees, who had been appointed Deputy Surveyor of this land district on the 16th of May, 1792, pitched his tent near the mouth of Mill Creek, and began his labors in this field. The previous year he had done some surveying in this portion of the State, but on account of Indian threats, the undertaking was very hazardous, and the work was abandoned until 1795. Mr. Rees was a native of Northumberland County, Penn., and was the agent of the Population Land Company, all its first sales being made by him at his tent upon the bank of Presque Isle Bay, the first real estate office opened at Erie. While living in Erie, the Duke de Chartres, who subsequently became Louis Phillippe, King of France, made him a brief visit, accepting the rude but generous hospitality of Mr. Rees, with befitting dignity. On the 31st of March, 1796, he was appointed by Gov. Mifflin, Justice of the Peace for the district consisting of "the township of Mead, in the county of Allegheny," which then embraced all of the territory now composing Crawford and Erie Counties. He was thus the first Justice of Erie County, his term of office being "so long as he shall live and behave himself well." In the fall of 1795, his wife joined him in his Western home. In 1796, he was succeeded by Judah Colt as agent of the Population Land Company, and became State Commissioner for the sale of lots, which position he held until 1806. Mr. Rees had obtained a large quantity of land in Harbor Creek Township, and thither he removed in 1802. He divided his land into farms, since known as "Rees' Reserve," and here he died in May, 1848, having survived his wife some years.

In the spring of 1795, a detachment of Wayne's army under the command of Capt. Russell Bissell, landed an Presque Isle, and began the erection of two block-houses on the high point east of Mill Creek, where the Wayne Block House Monument now stands. The work was completed during 1795-96, and here December 15, of the latter year, Gen. Wayne closed his earthly career, one of the most brilliant in the annals of American history.

Gens. William Irvine and Andrew Ellicott, the State Commissioners appointed to lay out the town of Erie, arrived in June, 1795, accompanied by a corps of surveyors, and escorted by a company of State troops, commanded by Capt. John Grubb. This latter gentleman located permanently in Erie, and though subsequently settling on a farm, may be called the second settler of the town. Capt. Grubb and wife were noted as being the tallest couple in Erie County. He spent the balance of his life in the county, dying in June, 1845, was one of the pioneer Justices, and an Associate Judge of Erie County for many years.

Erie was laid out in three sections, each about one mile square, and extending from the bay south to Twelfth street. First section ran from Parade to Chestnut; second section from Chestnut to Cranberry; and third section from Cranberry to West street. The outlots extended south to Twenty-sixth street, east to East avenue, west to the western boundary of the almshouse farm, and north to the bay of Presque Isle, thus embracing the whole face of the harbor from its entrance to within a short distance of "The Head," which was the intention of the commissioners when laying out the town. An old map made by Col. Thomas Forster from the original surveys, presented by him to George A Eliot, of Erie, and now in possession of his son, John Eliot, shows the original town as here described. The streets were laid off twenty rods apart, with State street running north and south as the center of first section, the streets west of State, and parallel with it, being named after trees, and those east of it after nationalities, excepting Parade, which was so called on account of starting from the old French fort or parade-grounds. Parade street was almost identical with the old French road to Fort Le Boeuf, and for years was the only road leading into the town, except the lake road from the east side of the county. The streets running parallel with the bay were numbered from one to twelve, though First street was called Front, and has since been known by that title, At the center of each section, a plot of land was reserved for public use, and in first section was utilized for the court house, market house, etc., throughout the earlier years of the county's history, and up until the erection of the present county building.

Soon after the surveyors began their labors at Erie, another arrival is chronicled, doubtless the most important during the pioneer history of the town. On the last day of June or 1st of July, 1795, Col. Seth Reed, with his wife Hannah, and sons Manning and Charles J., dropped anchor in the harbor and landed on the peninsula, thinking it more secure from Indian attack than the main land. The family had come from Buffalo, in a sail boat owned and operated by James Talmadge. The Colonel built a rude one-story log cabin, covered with bark, near the mouth of Mill Creek, and concluding that the settlement needed a public house, put up a sign as the "Presque Isle Hotel." This was the first house erected in Erie, and though insignificant in appearance, was provided "with plenty of good refreshments for all itinerants that chose to call." Mrs. Hannah Reed was the first white woman to locate at Erie, and as such her name deserves perpetuation as the pioneer of her sex in this county. In September, 1795, Col. Reed's sons, Rufus S. and George W., came to Erie, and with the Mrs. Thomas Rees and Mrs. J. Fairbanks. The following year the Colonel erected a large two-story log house on the southwest corner of Second and Parade streets, which he placed in charge of his son Rufus S., who kept a tavern and store in it until 1799, when it was burned down. The next year, Rufus S. Reed rebuilt it, and for many years afterward carried on business at that place. Col. Seth Reed removed to a farm on Walnut Creek, where he died Marcy 19, 1797, his widow surviving him until December 8, 1821. A lengthy sketch of the Reed family, from the pen of another historian will be found elsewhere in this work.

The only settlers of 1795, besides those already mentioned, were James Baird and family. Doubtless, many persons came and went, but careful investigation has failed to find the names of any others who located here permanently during that year.

On returning to the East, after the completion of their work as Commissioners, Irvine and Ellicott were appointed State agents, in conjunction with George Wilson, for the sale of the lots in the towns they had laid out. The following is a copy of their advertisement of the sales, printed in 1796:

Agreeably to instructions from His Excellency, Thomas Mifflin, Governor of this Commonwealth, we shall offer for sale the following town and outlots of Erie, Waterford, Franklin and Warren, at the time and places hereafter specified, viz.: The sale of that portion of town and outlots of the several towns to be disposed of in the city of Philadelphia will commence on Monday, the 25th day of July next. That portion of the town and outlots of the several towns to be disposed of at Carlisle will commence at that borough on Wednesday, the 3rd of August next; and the sale of that portion of the town and outlots of the said towns to be disposed of at Pittsburgh will commence at that borough on Monday, the 15th day of August next.

William Irvine,
Andrew Ellicott,
George Wilson,
Agents.

The following statement of prices paid by the Harrisburg & Presque Isle Land Company at the public sale of lots in the town of Erie, held at Carlisle on the 3d and 4th of August, 1796, will be of interest in this connection:

INLOTS
No. 1359, corner Seventh and German  
$7
No. 1403, Seventh, near State  
18
No. 1996, Sixth, between German and Parade  
8
No. 2809, corner Fourth and Liberty  
40
No. 2810, corner Third and Liberty  
41
No. 2838, Third, near mouth of Cascade  
21
No. 3277, Second, corner Parade on road to Fort  
260
No. 3292, corner Second and German  
260
No. 3420, corner Liberty on Lake  
106
Five-Acre Outlots
No. 277  
$38
No. 278  
33
No. 283  
49
No. 378  
56
No. 418  
45
No. 519  
50
No. 523  
57
No. 565  
69

Lots No. 2045, 2046, 2047 and 2048, included in the block bounded by State, Peach, North Park Row and Fifth streets, were purchased at Carlisle in 1796, by Thomas Huling, Thomas Forster and Alexander Berryhill, bringing respectively $152, $21, $70 and $112. Lot No. 2050, northwest corner of Sixth and Peach, now occupied by the residence of Mrs. Charles M. Reed, was bought at Philadelphia, in 1796, by Alexander Addison for $34. Lots No. 2041, 2042, 2043 and 2044, where the Reed and Ellsworth houses now stand, were purchased September 1, 1801, by Thomas Forster and David McNair, for $54, $30, $10 and $21, respectively, Mr. McNair buying the two center lots and Mr. Forster the corner ones. Lot No. 2049, the site of the First Presbyterian Church, was bought by Thomas Hamilton August 3, 1801, for $30.

Lots No. 1937, 1938, 1939 and 1940, lying between State, Peach and Seventh street and South Park Row, now occupied by the Dime Savings Bank, Park Presbyterian Church, etc., were purchased by Joseph Kratz, January 23, 1806, for $110; and on the same date he bought Lots 3326 and 3327, corner of Fourth and State streets, for $88. Lots No. 1401 and 1402, west side of State street, between Seventh and Eighth, were purchased, the first one by Samuel Smith, March 23, 1802, for $30, and the other by Thomas Hughes, April 1, 1801, for $30. Lots No. 1399 and 1400, east side of State, between Seventh and Eighth streets were purchased, the first mentioned by William G. Signor, May 13, 1801, for $30, and the latter one by Abraham Smith, March 23, 1802, at the same price. Lots No. 1287 and 1288, west side of State between Eighth and Ninth streets, were purchased respectively by John Hay, for $54, and John Vincent, for $31, June 11, 1804. Lots No. 1289 and 1290, east side of State street between Eighth and Ninth, were purchased by Andrew Willock, May 25, 1801, for $30 each. Lots No. 727 and 728, east side of State street, between Ninth and Tenth, were purchased, the former by Samuel McKelvey, June 12, 1804, for $20, and the latter by John Lewis, March 30, 1805, at the same figure. Lots No. 729 and 730, west side of State street, between Ninth and Tenth, were bought respectively by Joseph F. McCreary and Basil Hoskinson, the first June 15, 1804, for $20, and the latter June 12, 1804, for the same price. Lots No. 735 and 736, on Peach street, between Ninth and Tenth, the site of the Erie Academy, were purchased August 15, 1805, by Samuel McKelvey for $20 each. Lot No. 1280, northwest corner of Peach and Ninth streets, the site of the Downing Block, was bought by John Leninger, July 23, 1804, for $30. Lot No. 1936, northwest corner of Peach and Seventh streets, the site of the Wetmore House, was purchased by Abraham Smith, March 23, 1802, for $25.

There is doubtless a greater difference between the prices paid for outlots when originally purchased and the value of the same ground to-day than there is between the inlots. For instance Outlot No. 375, located between Peach and Sassafras and Fourteenth and Fifteenth streets, and now the site of the Union Depot, was bought by David McNair, March 1, 1801, for $20. Mr. McNair also purchased on the same date, Outlot 376, bounded by Peach, Sassafras, Fifteenth and Sixteenth streets at the same price; also Outlot 407, comprising the large block lying between Twelfth and Fourteenth and State and Peach streets for $25. On the 23d of November, 1805, William Wallace purchased Outlot No. 466 for $25, which also extends from Twelfth to Fourteenth, and from State to French streets. Joseph Kratz, purchased Outlot No. 540, which lies in the eastern part of Erie, between Ninth and Tenth streets, January 23, 1806, for $20.

There were 169 inlots and 33 outlots in Erie disposed of at Philadelphia, Carlisle and Pittsburgh in 1796, from which was realized in principal and interest $4,165.20. The prices for the inlots and outlots which are here given, may be taken as a fair estimate of those paid at the first sales as well as throughout the earlier years of the town's existence. For the benefit of our readers, we will here state that a complete transcript of these original sales, from which we obtained our information is in the possession of J. W. Wetmore, of Erie, the same book containing the date of first sale, name of purchaser and price paid for every inlot in the first section of Erie, from 1 to 3381, and every outlot from 1 to 604; also a similar record of the first sales made in the second section of the town.

The settlement and building up of Erie was now but matter of time, and in 1796 we Capt. Daniel Dobbins casting his fortunes with the little hamlet, followed in 1798 by William Wallace, and in 1799, by Jonas Duncan and John Teel. Jonas Duncan was among the very first carpenters and joiners who came to Erie; he arrived in 1799, and brought his apprentice, John Teel, with him, who proved a fixture, and for over half a century, the leading carpenter and joiner of the place; he died a few years since, respected and esteemed. From that year until 1815 the following are believed to have become residents of the place: Col. Thomas Forster, John Gillespie, Thomas Hughes, Thomas Wilson, Robert Irwin, John Gray, Richard Clemment, Judah Colt, Capt. John Richards, John Wilson, John Cummins, Mary O'Neill, Robert Knox, Stephen Wolverton, Giles Sanford, William Lattimore, W. W. Reed, John Dickson, Capt. William Lee, David Cook, P. S. V. Hamot, Gen. John Kelso, Barnabes McCue, Thomas Wilkins, George Gossett, Basil Hoskinson, George Landon, Holmes Reed, Hugh Cunningham, William Lamberton, Archibald McSparren, James Duncan, George Leninger, Willard Cotton, Thomas Laird, Joseph Kratz, Mrs. Silverthorn, Robert L. Curtis, Marmaduke Curtis, John Lewis, George Schantz, Samuel Hays, Robert Hays, John McDonald, James Sydnor, Robert Brotherton, Jonathan Stratton, James Wilson, George Moore, Thomas Large, Robert Brown, Collender Irvine, Robert Large, Jonathan Baird, Isaac Austin, B. Rice, Amos Fisk, Peter Grawotz, George Buchler, Thomas Stewart, John E. Lapsley, John Hay, Rufus Clough, David McNair, Ezekiel Dunning, John Woodside, John Miller, James McConkey, William Bell, John C. Wallace, Thomas H. Sill, Jacob Spong and Rev. Robert Reid. Doubtless, there may have been a few others who came during that period, but whose names are "lost mid the rubbish of forgotten things." Many of those pioneers had families, and the children are often better remembered than the parents, whose energies were spent in building up homes for those who came after them. While some of those mentioned became prominent in the affairs of the county or State, and are duly recognized throughout this history for the work which they accomplished, little is known of others, only that they here settled, lived and died, leaving no record of their often adventurous lives.

Some of their names we find connected with the early lake navigation, building boats through which to carry on a commercial business with the older settlements. In 1799, Capt. William Lee and Rufus S. Reed, built a boat called the "Good Intent" at the mouth of Mill Creek; and in 1800 Eliphalet Beebe built the "Harlequin." In 1805, the schooner "Mary" was constructed at Erie, and owned by Thomas Wilson, while many other boats purchased from time to time by citizens of Erie, prominent among whom were Rufus S. Reed and Capt. Daniel Dobbins, added much to the commercial prosperity of the town.

By the act of March 12, 1800, which erected several counties out of territory previously embraced in Allegheny, Erie was designated as the seat of justice for Erie County. For three years the county was attached to Crawford, but on the 2d of April, 1803, a separate and distinct organization was effected. The court met at the hotel of George Buehler, which stood on the corner of French and Third streets, subsequently known as the "McConkey House," and the headquarters of Commodore Perry, while building his fleet in 1813.

The war of 1812 is treated of in a previous chapter, and a detailed account is given of Erie's connection with that eventful period; yet we think it appropriate to here mention the fact that the gunboats Porcupine, Tigress and Scorpion, were built at the mouth of Lee's Run, afterward the site of the "Navy Yard," and subsequently occupied by the canal bed; while the Lawrence, Niagara and Ariel were constructed at the mouth of the Big Cascade, the present site of the Erie & Pittsburgh Railroad docks. Perry's victory brought a feeling of safety to Erie, that it had not known since the beginning of the struggle against tyranny, and his victorious return to the town was hailed with the wildest enthusiasm. All classes vied with each other in paying the youthful hero due honor, and the streets of the little borough resounded with the boom of cannon and the glad shouts of rejoicing. In fact, throughout this period, Erie was a kind of military camp, but with the close of the war the life of the town again settled down to peaceful avocations.

Scraps of History
A custom prevailed in Erie prior to 1810, which required every man to spend each Saturday afternoon in grubbing out stumps from the streets. There was also an ordinance in operation until June, 1846, requiring every man who got on a spree to dig three stumps from the highway, as a penalty for each similar offense against the morals of the town. We are not aware how far intemperance was checked through this ordinance, but may safely conclude, that though, doubtless, having a salutary effect upon those addicted to the vice, men's appetites then as now cannot be eradicated by force or stringent laws.

In 1813, there was a fine drive on the sand beach of the bay, from State street to the mouth of Big Cascade. This drive had been used for several years, and was a favorite one among those who were so fortunate as to possess a saddle horse or turnout.

In 1812, the hotels were one on the corner of Third and French, kept by Thomas Rees, Jr.; one on the corner of Fifth and French, by James Duncan, known as the Globe Hotel, which he was still running in 1826; the old stone on the corner of State and South Park Row, by Robert Brown, who erected it in 1811, opened it as the American House in the fall of 1812 and kept it till 1829, being succeeded by Joseph Y. Moorehead who carried on the tavern for several years. Thomas Laird had a hotel in 1812, on the corner of Eighth and State; and soon after the war closed John Dickson built a tavern on the corner of Second and French, known as the Steamboat House, which he carried on for many years, as in June, 1825, Lafayette was here entertained at a grand banquet given in honor of his visit. The old hotel erected by George Buehler on the corner of French and Third was used by Commodore Perry as headquarters during his stay at Erie. It was at that time occupied, and long afterward carried on by Thomas Rees, Jr.

An old landmark that will be well remembered by the older inhabitants of Erie, was the "Bell House," erected in the fall of 1805, on the corner of Sixth and French streets. The guilder was John Teel, and the owner William Bell, who occupied it as a store and residence in the spring of 1806. In the winter of 1812-13, it was opened as a hotel, but in a short time Fox and Bailey bought out the stock of Mr. Bell's store, who died in December, 1813, and occupied the whole building till 1819, when they returned to the East. It was then opened as a hotel by William Hughes, an Irishman of fine education, who, having been an actor in his youth, organized a dramatic company among the young men of the borough, and gave exhibitions in a building that stood on French, between Third and Fourth streets. John W. Bell succeeded Hughes in the hotel, and a Mr. Jennings organized the first dancing class of the village in this building. It was used successively by George Selden, Thomas G. Colt & Co., John C. Beebe and S. Smyth as a business place; but in 1871 it was torn down to make room for the Becker Block.

The South Erie Hotel was built by Nathan McCammons, on the corner of Peach and Twenty-sixth streets, in the winter of 1817-18. It was purchased by Capt. John Justice in April, 1821, and in 1824 passed into the hands of James Parks, and was subsequently kept by George Kelly, Abraham Shank, M. B. Mills, James Gray, John Willey, George Tabor and others. During the speculation of 1837, this property sold for $17,500. There were also hotels kept at various times on Federal Hill by George Moore, Thomas Laird, Ira Glazier, George Kelly, Thomas Childs, N. M. Manly, Simeon Dunn and others.

Another early tavern was Ryan's located at the elbow of the Buffalo road, near John Staltzman's, and afterward kept by a Mr. Taggart. It was a great stopping place, and will, doubtless, be vividly remembered by many of our readers.

Two hotels of a later day than some of those mentioned were the Farmers Hotel, built by James Duncan on the corner of Fifth and French in 1820, which is yet (1883) standing, and the Park House, erected by John Morris, for a residence in 1829, on the corner of Peach and South Park Row.

The court house, Mr. Hughes' house on Seventh street, and Mr. Hamot's on German, north of Second street, ere the only brick buildings in Erie in 1820; while Giles Sanford & Co., P. S. V. Hamot, C. & S. Brown, Wright & Kellogg and George Selden were the only merchants.

The total borough tax in 1820, as shown by the duplicate of that year, was $175.20. Rufus S. Reed stood highest in valuation of real estate, viz., $6,798, followed by the heirs of John Kelso with $3,740; P. S. V. Hamot, $3,120; Judah Colt, $2,940; John W. Bell, $2,052; Giles Sanford, $2,012; Thomas Laird, $1,579; Samuel Hays, $1,552; Benjamin Wallace, $1,461; heirs of William Wallace, $985; Thomas H. Sill, $730. The corner where the Dime savings Bank stands, with the buildings then occupying it, was valued at $1,600; the four lots occupied by the Reed and Ellsworth Hotels at $656; the Teel House, with two lots, corner of Peach and Ninth streets, at $290; house and two lots corner of Seventh and Sassafras, at $49; Farmers' Hotel, $587; lot corner French and Second, $850; Capt. Dobbins' house and lot, $575; two lots of George A. Eliot, corner of Peach and Sixth, $300; the lot on which Caster's and Murphy's stores stand, $150; house and two lots on the northeast corner of State and Tenth, $164; sixteen lots, corner of Twelfth and Parade, on the west side of the latter street, $64; thirty-two lots north of these, $172; the lots on which Rosenzweig's block, Rindernecht's and others stand, were purchased by John Warren in 1824 for $300. Tax was then collected by the High Constable, but the reader can readily discover from the amount of borough tax collected in 1820 that his duties were not very arduous.

On the 23d of March, 1823, the court house, with all its contents, was destroyed by fire. It stood in the West Park, a little north of the soldier's monument, and was built in 1808. A new court house was erected on the same site and finished in the spring of 1825. The bell that hung in the cupola of this latter building originally belonged to the British ship Detroit, captured by Commodore Perry in the battle of Lake Erie. It was transferred to the United State brig Niagara, where it did service until 1823, when it was placed in the navy yard at the mouth of Lee's Run, in Erie. In 1825, the navy yard was abandoned and the material sold at auction. Rufus S. Reed purchased this bell, and again sold it to the county. It did good service until the purchase of the bell for the present court house in 1854, when it was stolen, but recovered in a few months, and subsequently bought by the city authorities. The present fine building on Sixth street, west of Peach, was completed and occupied in May, 1855.

Rufus S. Reed built the Mansion House in 1826. It was long the leading hotel of Erie, but on the 22d of February, 1839, the town was visited by the most destructive fire that had yet occurred, and the Mansion House, together with all the outbuildings, containing stage coaches, horses, etc., also several frame houses and stores, were consumed. It was all the property of Mr. Reed, excepting the stages, stock, etc., which was principally owned by the Messrs. Hart and Bird. With his usual energy and public spirit, Mr. Reed covered the burnt district with a new hotel, known as the Reed House, which was burned in March, 1864, rebuilt, and again destroyed by fire in September, 1872, the present elegant structure succeeding the last fire.

Another event of 1826 was the organization of "The Active Fire Company of Erie," on the 22d of February, Washington's birthday. It was the pioneer fire company of Erie, and included in its roll of membership nearly all the male residents of the borough who were old enough to be of any assistance.

The first steamboat built at Erie, the "William Penn," was launched at the Cascade May 18, 1826, and commenced its regular lake business in August of that year, John F. Wright, master.

The revenue cutter, Benjamin Rush, was built at Erie, about 1825, by Capt. John Richards, and intended for service on the upper lakes. In March, 1833, the cutter Erie was launched at Reed's dock, and placed in charge of Capt. Daniel Dobbins, who also was the second commander of the Benjamin Rush.

Gen. C. M. Reed built the steamboat Pennsylvania at the foot of Sassafras street, and launched her in July, 1833. He also constructed the Thomas Jefferson in 1834, and the James Madison, in 1837, at the same yard; and in 1840, he built the Missouri.

The ill-fated steamer Erie was built by the Erie Steamboat Company, at the foot of French street in 1837, and in 1841 burned on Lake Erie with terrible loss of life.

The United States gunboat Michigan was brought to Erie, in sections, from Pittsburgh, put together and launched on the 9th of November, 1843. It was accepted and commissioned by the Government August 15, 1844, and is the only vessel of war on the chain of lakes.

In the fall of 1828, Joshua Beers opened a store in the brick block previously erected by him on the northeast corner of State street and North Park Row, then a deep ravine and quagmire. The same year, Dr. C. F. Perkins put in a stock of drugs in one of the rooms of the Beers Block. It was a business much needed in Erie at that time, and the Doctor's enterprise was thoroughly appreciated by the people among whom he spent the balance of his days.

The Erie Bank, the first banking institution opened in the town, began business in January, 1829. It was organized principally through the influence of Rufus S. Reed, who was its President, with P. S. V. Hamot as Cashier.

In 1835, Hiram L. Brown purchased of Joshua Beers the brick block erected in 1827-28, and in the spring of 1836 opened the Eagle Hotel. He carried on the hotel business in that building until its destruction by fire April 1, 1851. Mr. Brown immediately erected a five-story structure on the site of the old building. This house was kept by Mr. Brown until his death in March, 1853. It was long called Brown's Hotel, but since coming into the possession of Col. Ellsworth has been known as the Ellsworth House. The colonel sold the property early in the summer of 1883, since which time it has not been in operation as a hotel.

In 1832, the third section of Erie, both in and outlots, was donated by the commonwealth to the borough, divided into fifty acre lots and sold to the highest bidder, excepting 100 acres located in the southwest corner of said section, which was reserved for an almshouse farm. The money obtained form this sale had to be used in building piers and wharves, and constructing a canal basin in the bay of Presque Isle.

The borough was authorized, in 1835, to borrow $50,000 for the purpose of furnishing a water supply for the town, but the project was never carried out. In 1841, water was brought from a spring a mile or two distant, through wooden pipes, each consumer to pay $1 rate for his supply. These were the first water works that Erie possessed, and, doubtless, were of much service in furnishing the borough with good water.

In 1834, the borough limits were extended into the bay 1,300 feet, and four years afterward the sale of one row of water lots in the second section was authorized, to pay the expense of grading and improving the streets in said section.

The year 1836 is especially noted on account of the reckless speculation that prevailed throughout the country. Erie was no exception to the rule, and its sales of real estate during the month of February, 1836, exceeded $1,000,000, Eastern capitalists and speculators being the principal purchasers. The leading cause of this speculating mania at Erie, and the sudden rise in the prices of real estate, was the passage of the Canal and United States Bank bills. Values at once leaped upward, and in one week of March, 1836, the sales of Erie lots amounted to over $1,500,000. A piece of ground, which sold in February for $10,000, was repurchased the following March, by a company at Buffalo, for $50,000. These enormous prices could not last long, and upon the failure of the United State Bank, in 1840, they rapidly declined until the depression in real estate was so great that it could scarcely be disposed of at any price, and was actually "a drug on the market." The local newspapers earnestly encouraged the speculation in every way, and a species of reckless extravagance seized upon all classes, only to be dispelled when the victims awoke from their dream to find, in many cases, instead of riches, that the earnings of years had been swept away.

In 1837, Lieut. T. S. Brown, of the United States Engineers, made a resurvey of the first section, by authority of the borough, and established the corner of the street crossings. The map of Erie, prepared at the time by A. G. Steers, from Lieut. Brown's surveys, may be found in the City Engineer's office. It shows the passage which then existed through the west end of the peninsula, and connecting Lake Erie with the Bay of Presque Isle, also many other points of interest relating to the plat of the town at that date.

The large building on State street, known as the Custom House, was erected, in 1837, by the United States Bank, for a branch of that institution, as also the residence adjoining, for a cashier's home. The parent bank failed in 1840, and the Erie branch went down with it. The bank building was purchased by the Government, for a custom house, in 1849, for the sum of $29,000. It is a fine brick structure, faced with marble, containing marble steps and columns, its architecture being of the Grecian temple order.

At a meeting held early in 1846, it was resolved to plant the public square with trees. B. B. Vincent, Elisha Babbit, W. C. Lester and C. McSparren, were appointed a committee to co-operate with the town authorities. The project was carried out, and, June 2, 1846, a meeting of congratulation was held in front of the Reed House, because the square had been adorned and beautified by the planting of shade trees, which to-day are one of the principal ornaments of Erie. The square had been previously known as the "Diamond," but at this meeting it was resolved to call it "Perry Square" in honor of the victor of Lake Erie. It was also resolved at this meeting to erect a monument to Commodore Perry, but this and all other efforts in that direction came to naught, and even the parks do not bear his name, so soon are the dead forgotten.

The Erie Extension Canal was finished to the bay in the fall of 1844, and December 5, the R. S. Reed, loaded with coal, and the passenger packet, Queen of the West, arrived, amid general rejoicing, on a through trip from the Ohio River. The canal ceased operations in 1872, and has since been abandoned.

The Erie & Northeast Railroad was the pioneer road built to Erie, its first train arriving January 10, 1852. It subsequently became a part of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern, one of the great trunk lines of the United States.

By the act of March 10, 1848, the borough limits were extended so as to embrace the territory bounded on the east by Ash, south by Eighteenth, and west by Liberty streets, the northern boundary being the north shore of the peninsula, "the jurisdiction of the corporate authorities being extended to the island of Presque Isle." Erie was divided into the East and West Wards in 1840, State street being the dividing line. On the 14th of April, 1851, a city charter was granted, and a city government took the place of the old order of things. In 1858, the city was divided into four wards, and so remained for twelve years. Under the act of February 25, 1870, another extension of the city limits occurred, running south to the southern line of the reserve tracts, which are about 1,900 feet south of Twenty-sixth street; east, 1,770 feet east of East avenue; and west to Cranberry street. Two more wards were erected at that time, and, since then, no change has taken place in the corporate limits of the city.

The official census of 1820, the first one taken separate from the township of Mill Creek, gave Erie 635 inhabitants. Since that time its growth has been as follows: 1830: 1,329; 1840, 3,412; 1850, 5,858; 1860, 9,419; 1870, 19,516; 1880, 27,757; and at the present it contains an estimated population of 35,000.

The following items may be of interest as matters of history, showing price of wood, stone and brick at certain dates: On the 24th of September, 1835, the County Commissioners contracted for one hundred cords of "good, dry, hard wood," at $1.12 1/2 per cord. Subsequent contracts were made as follows: $1.50 per cord in 1837; $1.45 in 1841; $1.25 in the fall of 1841; $1.06 1/2 in the fall of 1842.

A contract was made by the County commissioners on the 27th of October, 1829, for twenty to eighty cords of stone at $5 per cord.

David Kennedy, on the date last mentioned, offered to furnish one hundred thousand brick for the proposed new jail at $3.25 per thousand. This offer was thought to be too high and was not accepted. The brick for the court house was furnished, in 1852, by Daniel Youngs, at $3.87 1/2 per thousand.



Bibliography: Samuel P. Bates, History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, (Warner, Beers & Co.: Chicago, 1884), Part III, Chapter I, pp. 503-519.

 


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