When the French army
penetrated this section in 1753, they were accompanied by several Catholic
priests, who served in the double capacity of chaplains and missionaries.
They erected a small log chapel at Erie, on the right side of Mill Creek,
near its mouth, and another within the walls of Fort Le Boeuf, at
Waterford, in which the solemn rites of the mother church were regularly
administered until the departure of the invading forces in 1759. So far as
any record exists, these were the only religious services held within the
bounds of Erie County previous to the year 1797. It is not known whether
the chapels were torn down when the French left the country, were
destroyed by the Indians, or fell into decay, but no trace of either is
mentioned by the early American settlers.
The first Protestant exercises we have any account of took place at Colt's
Station, in Greenfield Township, where Judah Colt had established the most
important settlement then in the county, on Sunday, the 2d of July, 1797.
About thirty persons assembled in response to a general invitation. No
minister was located within the bounds of the county, and the services
were led by Mr. Colt, who read a sermon from Dr. Blair's collection.
Most of the colonists were Presbyterians from New England and the valley
of the Susquehanna, and it was no more than natural that that denomination
should have been the first to look after the spiritual welfare of the
promising settlement. In 1799, a tour that is somewhat celebrated in the
annals of the church was made through this section by Revs. McCurdy and
Stockton, two missionaries who were sent out by the Ohio and Redstone
Presbyteries. They visited Erie, Waterford and North East, and preached at
each place to the delight of the pious people of the community, many of
whom had not been afforded an opportunity to attend public worship for a
number of years. A period of two years ensued before the colonists were
favored with another ministerial visitation, when Mr. McCurdy was again
sent forth, assisted by Revs. Satterfield, Tate and Boyd, all of the
Presbyteries above named. The first two reached Middlebrook, in Venango
Township, in August, 1801, and preached with great acceptance in a
chopping that had been prepared for the purpose on the bank of French
Creek. They were accompanied by their wives, and traveled on horseback. No
roads had been opened in that part of the county and the party had to find
their way by marked trees and trails through the woods. The efforts of the
two ministers met with such marked favor that it was resolved upon the
spot that a meeting house should be put up within the ensuing week. On the
next Thursday, the population for miles around gathered at the site that
had been chosen, on a knoll near the first place of worship, but down the
forest trees, hewed them into shape, and at night had a rough log building
under roof, the first house for Protestant worship erected in Erie County.
This structure was succeeded by another and better one in 1802, known to
every old settler as the Middlebrook Church, which stood until decay
compelled it to be taken down some twenty years ago. From Middlebrook,
after organizing a congregation of eighteen members, Messrs. McCurdy and
Satterfield continued their journey to Colt's Station and North East,
where they were joined by Messrs. Tate and Boyd. At the latter place,
these four participated in the first sacrament of the Lord's Supper ever
administered in Erie County, according to Protestant forms. The scene of
this eventful ceremony was at the house of William Dundas, within the
present limits of North East Borough, and the date was the 27th of
September, 1801. An audience of about 300 had assembled, of whom some
forty sat down to the tables. A congregation with the title of "The
Churches of Upper and Lower Greenfield" was organized at the same
The Erie Presbytery
The whole of Western Pennsylvania this side of the Allegheny River was at
that time within the jurisdiction of the synod of Virginia. On the 2d of
October, 1801, in response to the petitions of those who foresaw the
coming importance of the field, that synod set off the territory between
the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers and Lake Erie, extending some distance also
west of the Ohio line, into a Presbytery, to which the name of Erie was
given. The new Presbytery met at Mt. Pleasant, Beaver County, on the 13th
of April, 1802, seven ministers only being in attendance. Supplications
were filed from Upper and Lower Greenfield, Middlebrook and Presque Isle.
Revs. McCurdy, Satterfield and McPherrin were chosen missionaries, and, it
is presumed, visited Erie County during the year, but no evidence of the
fact is to be found.
Rev. Robert Patterson, who had accepted a call from "The Churches of
Upper and Lower Greenfield," was received by the Presbytery on the
30th of September, 1802. He returned to North East, and entered upon his
pastoral work on the 31st of December, but was not ordained until
September 1, 1803. The congregation were still without a building, and the
ordination exercises were held in John McCord's bark house. Mr.
Patterson's contract was to preach two-thirds of his time for the
congregation, and the balance was spent by him in riding the county from
place to place, holding services in the woods, barns, sheds and private
houses. During these trips, he had numerous startling adventures, and
suffered many privations. An effort was made to have him devote one-third
of his time to Erie, but failed for want of an adequate subscription. A
log church was built at North East in 1804, on the knoll now occupied by
the cemetery of that borough. Mr. Patterson preached at Springfield during
that year, and organized a preaching point there. The first church in the
latter township was built in 1804 on the site of the cemetery at East
Springfield. Mr. Patterson was unable to stand the fatigues of frontier
duty, and in April, 1807, applied to the Presbytery for a release from his
charge, which was granted.
Rev. Johnson Eaton
During the year 1805, Rev. Johnson Eaton came on from the southern part of
the State, and preached for some time at the mouth of Walnut Creek and in
Springfield. In the fall of that year, he went back to his home, returning
in 1806 with a bride, and settling permanently in Fairview Township. The
devotion of the young wife, and the earnestness of the minister can only
be appreciated when it is remembered that they rode on horseback through
the woods the whole way from the Ohio River to Lake Erie, with nothing but
a trail to guide their course, and with scarcely a house on the route at
which to obtain shelter and refreshments, to take up their abode in what
was almost an unbroken wilderness. Mr. Eaton immediately entered upon his
pastoral duties, having the whole county for his field, but giving special
attention to the people at Fairview and Springfield. In 1807, he succeeded
Mr. Patterson at North East, and he also held occasional services for
several years at Colt's Station, Middlebrook, Waterford and Erie. He was
not ordained, however, till June 30, 1808, the ceremony, for lack of a
church building, taking place in William Sturgeon's barn, in or near the
limits of Fairview Borough. A church was built at the mouth of Walnut
Creek in 1810. During the war with Great Britain, Mr. Eaton gave his
services to the Government as a Chaplain, besides ministering to his
congregation with as much regularity as the unsettled condition of the
time would allow. By 1816, the population of Erie had increased
sufficiently to enable an arrangement to be made by which he gave
one-third of his time to the congregation there, which had been organized
by him September 15, 1815. He continued as pastor of the Erie congregation
until 1823, and of the Fairview Church until his death, on the 17th of
June, 1847. The first year of Mr. Eaton's residence in the county, his
salary was $360 a year, one-half of which was to be taken in produce.
In 1808, supplies were granted by the Presbytery to "Upper
Greenfield, Middlebrook, Waterford and Erietown," and in 1809 it was
reported to that body that none of these places could support a pastor. It
must have been due to the poverty of the people, though, rather than to
their want of religious principle, for we find that in 1808 one Jared
Goodrich, of Greenfield, was fined $4 by Justice Marvin, of the same
township, for driving his ox team to Erie on Sunday. If every offense of a
similar nature were punished now, the offices of Justice and Constable
would be more profitable than that of Sheriff.
The Erie and Other Churches
No regular preaching of any kind was had at Erie until Mr. Eaton was
called to give one-third of his time, as before stated, the people who
were piously inclined being compelled to attend worship at North East and
Fairview. A Faithful few rode their horses to these places every Sabbath
when service was held, regardless of the weather, and for a number of
years the churches were not even warmed in winter. Men, women and children
in those primitive days thought nothing of riding ten to twenty miles over
rough forest roads in the middle of winter to attend Divine worship, which
meant a good deal more to them than an opportunity to show off their fine
clothes, or a mere compliance with the mandates of fashionable society.
The Presbyterian congregation of Waterford was organized in 1809, and that
at Union in 1811, being the first in those places. Rev. John Matthews was
settled as pastor of the Waterford and Gravel Run (Crawford County)
congregations October 17, 1810. The Union congregation did not put up a
building till 1831, and that of Waterford till 1834. In 1817, Rev. Mr.
Camp was employed as a missionary to supply the churches unable to support
a pastor, and served in that capacity for two years. The minutes of the
Presbytery in 1820 show congregations at Springfield, North East,
Waterford, Middlebrook, Union, Fairview and Erie.
Methodist Episcopal Church
The Methodists held occasional worship at an early date in various
portions of the county, but principally n the western and southwestern
townships. The first service of which there is any positive knowledge was
led by Rev. Joseph Bowen, a local preacher, at the house Mrs. Mershon,
near West Springfield, in September, 1800. A class was organized near
Lexington, in Conneaut Township, in 1801, and the same year a great
revival was held at Ash's Corners, Washington Township. The first church
building was erected in 1804, about a mile south of West Springfield, and
soon after its dedication was the scene of a famous revival, during which
Rev. Andrew Hemphill was the instrument of converting about 100 souls. The
first quarterly meeting was held in that church in July, 1810. Meetings of
the denomination in Erie were held by circuit preachers, at long
intervals, commencing in 1801. Worship took place in the winter of
1810-11, in a tavern on the west side of French street, between Sixth and
Seventh. A congregation would seem to have been partially established soon
after the beginning of the century, but was probably unable to support a
pastor until 1826, at which period the First Church of Erie City dates its
organization. The earliest of the other congregations in the county were
those at Mill Village, organized in 1810; North East, in 1812; Fair Haven,
Girard Township, 1815; Girard Borough, 1815; Waterford Borough, 1816;
Union City and Fairview, 1817; Middleboro, 1819; Northville, 1820;
Wattsburg, 1827; Wesleyville, 1828.
The following interesting incidents relative to the history of the
Methodist Church in Erie County were contributed by Mr. Frank Henry to the
At the annual session of the Pittsburgh Conference of the Methodist
Episcopal Church, held at Uniontown, Fayette County, Penn., in the month
of August, 1830, the following resolution was passed, viz.:
that a new circuit be formed, and called Erie
Circuit. That it shall comprise that part of North East Circuit lying west
of North East, Greenfield and Venango Townships, and that part of
Meadville Circuit lying north of Waterford and east of Springfield
Townships, in Erie County.
I have the original
minutes of the new circuit up to the time when it was again subdivided and
Wesleyville Circuit was formed. Also, the complete minutes of Wesleyville
Circuit to the present time.
Nearly all the preachers who met in conference in Uniontown in 1830 went
there on horseback over mountains and through the wilderness, fording or
swimming over creeks and rivers, and often camping out at night. Some were
too poor to own a horse, and went to conference on foot. They were indeed
heroes and those were "the heroic days of Methodism." What a
wonderful change has been wrought in the half century that has passed
away. There are only a few -- perhaps half a dozen members of the
conference in 1830 -- who are now living. Nearly all the persons whose
names are recorded in the minutes have passed "from labor to
reward," but their names are written in the Book of Life. Many
readers of the Gazette well remember these old pioneers, and will
be interested to have the work of the fathers recalled to memory, and will
doubtless be pleased to read a few extracts from the old "log
First quarterly Conference for Erie Circuit held at Harbor
Creek, September 13, 1830. Present, William B. Mack, Presiding Elder,
Joseph A. Barrass and A. Young, circuit preachers. Roll call, present:
Local preachers, N. W. Curtis, Barney Bort, William Stafford; exhorters,
Luther Stone, D. D. Daniels, Y. Wilkins, Joseph S. Buck, Justus Osburn;
class leaders, David Burton, A. Bowers, William Allen, William Campbell,
Edmund Brace; circuit stewards, James Flowers, Sturkely Stafford, John
Wheaton. James McConkey, Recording Steward. Voted unanimously, that the
members of this Quarterly Conference will do all they can to establish
weekly class collections on this circuit. Signed: W. B. Mack, P. E.; A.
During this conference year, Rev. Mr. Barrass, preacher in charge,
received his salary in full, viz., $167. The salary now paid the pastor of
one of the charges -- in the city of Erie -- would have endowed a college
professorship in those primitive times. This meeting was held in warm
weather and the doors and windows were open. An enterprising and devout
cat persisted in annoying those having charge of the communion basket,
causing merriment among some of the young people present, and disturbing
the meeting. Finally, Brother Barrass took the cat outside and beat its
brains out against the corner of the house. It is said that that cat was
none of the nine-lived species. This act filled the hearts of some of the
"beam in their own eye" ones with holy indignation and horror.
The storm eventually subsided and the good brother was not "cast out
of the synagogue."
On the 26th of December, 1830, at the close of a meeting in the court
house, where the Methodists then worshiped, a subscription paper was
circulated to raise money to pay the preacher. We notice the names of
George Moore, Captain Wright, Albert Kelso, J. Lantz, Pressly Arbuckle,
William Himrod and Thomas Moorhead, Jr., on the paper. At the next meting
$4 were raised to pay for wood and candles.
The second quarterly meeting was held in West Mill Creek in December 1830.
Josiah Flower was one of the exhorters present. John Brace, of Beaver Dam;
Timothy Clark, of North East, and Thomas Stephens, of Erie, were added to
the Board of Stewards.
The third quarterly meeting was held in Harbor Creek, February 19, 1831.
Stephen Stuntz, A. C. Barnes, Watts B. Lloyd and Josiah Flower were among
the exhorters present at this meeting, and James McConkey was Secretary.
The fourth quarterly meeting was held in connection with a camp meeting in
a grove on the farm of Judge Sterrett, in Harbor Creek, near Wesleyville,
June 25, 1831. James Flower, a Steward, resigned, and John Shadduck was
appointed. The following local preachers were present: Barney Bort,
William Stafford, John Keese Hallock, N. W. Curtis, Philip Osborn, William
Burton, Titus Cook. Josiah Flower joined the Annual Conference. Exhorters
present: Justus Osburn, Luther Stone, D. D. Daniels, Nehemiah Beers,
Stephen Stuntz, David Burton, John McClune, Joseph S. Buck, Watts B.
Lloyd, Freeman Palmer and Franklin Vandoozer.
The first annual meeting of the Erie District Bible, Tract and Sunday
School Society was held at the brick meeting house, Harbor Creek, July 4,
1836, Rev. W. B. Mack, Chairman; James McConkey, Secretary; and John
Shadduck, Treasurer. Managers, Stephens Stuntz, John Wheaton, Stukely
Stafford, J. S. Buck, Thomas Adams, Timothy Clark, David D. Daniels,
George Walker, James Flower, E. N. Hulburt, John Richards and David
Sterrett. The meeting adjourned to meet at Wheaton's meeting house in Mill
Creek July 4, 1832. Almond Fuller and Stewart Chambers were among the
subscribers to the funds of the society. All the members of this society
are now dead except Stewart Chambers, of Wesleyville, Penn., and George W.
Walker, of Marquette County, Wis.
The first quarterly conference of Erie Circuit ever held in the borough of
Erie, met November 19, 1831, W. B. Mack, Presiding Elder; John P. Kent and
A. Plimpton were circuit preachers. Peter Haldeman acted as Secretary, pro
tempore. James Flower, Peter Haldeman, John Magee, A. Bowers, James Boyle,
and __ Sweetland were the class leaders present. Watts B. Lloyd was by
verbal consent allowed to preach for the time being. Stephen H. Wilcox was
licensed to preach.
The next meeting was held in Wesleyville, and Ezekiel Chambers was
licensed to preach. The fourth quarterly conference was held at Peter
Himebaugh's, in Beaver Dam, July 28, 1832. David Vorse, Asa White and
Edmund Brace were among the exhorters, and William Chambers, James Bail,
William B. Weed, Luther Lewis and B. Deighton, class leaders. A committee
to build a meeting house in McKean was appointed, viz.: John K. Hallock,
Ezra White and James Bail. The following local preachers' licenses were
renewed: Barney Bort, William Stafford, Philip Osborn, Josiah Flower,
Nehemiah Beers, David Vorse and Peter Haldeman. At this meeting Watts B.
Lloyd was licensed to preach, and Capt. Thomas Wilkins was licensed to
exhort. At their own request, the papers of Stephen Stuntz and Justus
Osborn were not renewed.
Second quarterly conference was held in Wesleyville, February 9, 1833, J.
S. Barrass, Presiding Elder; John Chandler and E. P. Stidman, circuit
preachers. Luther Stone was silenced and expelled from the church. Edmund
Brace and F. Vandoozer returned their licenses to exhort. A committee was
appointed to estimate the expense of building a meeting house in Erie,
viz.: J. McConkey, T. Stephens and E. N. Hulburt; Trustees for same, E. N.
Hulburt, J. McConkey, T. Stephens, David Burton and John Richards.
The third quarterly meeting was held in Erie April 18, 1833. W. Rogers, J.
Hay and J. McCoy were made an estimating committee to build a meeting
house in Fairview.
The fourth quarterly meeting was held on the camp ground in Fairview June
22, 1833. F. Vandoozer was expelled from the church, after trial by a
committee, viz.: W. S. Chambers, N. Beers, William May, Solomon Riblet,
George W. Walker, P. Cauffman, Robert Ferguson and Alva Phelps. An appeal
of Barney Deighton was laid over.
"At a regular meeting of the Stewards of Erie Circuit, held in Erie
September 21, 1833, to take into consideration the proper amount of money
to be collected from each class for the support of the preachers, the
following apportionment was made, viz.:
"Wesleyville, $40; Erie, $55; Haybarger's, $8; Burton's, $10;
Brown's, $10; McKean, $12; Bean's (3), $12; Lake Pleasant, $10; Adam's,
$10; Wheaton's $30; Fairview, $30; Bradish, $6; H. Clark's, $6; Backus's
$12; T. Clark's, $8; Haldeman's, $8; Rees Hill, $18; Gospel Hill,
Rev. J. Chandler and Samuel Gregg were the "circuit riders," and
the amount estimated for the support of the two men and their families for
an entire year was $343. During the conference year, beginning September,
1879, and ending September, 1880, the combined salaries of the Methodist
Episcopal preachers within the limits of this same territory, including
house rent, was $8,054.
The second quarterly conference for the year 1833 met at the Wheaton
Meeting House (now Asbury) in West Mill Creek. Rev. Hiram Kinsley was
Presiding Elder. The minutes are in the peculiarly illegible handwriting
of Rev. Samuel Gregg, author of "History of Methodism Within the
Bounds of Erie Conference." James McConkey tendered his resignation
as Steward, and George W. Walker was elected Recording Steward.
The following trustees were "appointed to secure a proper location
and build a meeting house in Fairview Township," viz.: James
McClelland, or Miller, Henry Rogers, John McKee (?), Stephen Stuntz, James
The fourth quarterly meeting met in Wesleyville July 7, 1834, Rev. Hiram
Kinsley, Presiding Elder, in the chair. The name of Audley McGill appears
on the minutes as class leader. Also the name of Christian Bort. Local
preachers, Capt. Thomas Wilkins and Philip Osborn, were also present. E.
N. Hulbert was appointed a Steward for Erie, and Henry Rodgers Steward for
Fairview. The decision of the committee in the case of John Dillon was
sustained. A committee was appointed to build a parsonage for the use of
the circuit, viz.: George W. Walker, Thomas Rees and William Chambers.
This committee was authorized to apportion to each class the amount
expected from them to pay for the same. The parsonage was built in
Wesleyville, and has been used for that purpose ever since. Rev. Noble W.
Jones and family are its present occupants.
The preachers were paid in full. The account reads as follows:
"Preachers -- John Chandler, $100; wife, $100; child, $16; total,
$216. Paid. Samuel Gregg, $100. Paid." The Recording Steward very
properly classed Mrs. Chandler and chid as preachers, and paid them
accordingly. There is no class of women on earth more earnestly devoted
and self-sacrificing than the wives of Methodist preachers. Many
successful men owe more to their wives than to their own unaided
exertions, but are not magnanimous enough to admit the fact.
The next quarterly meeting was held in Fairview, Rev. Alfred Brunson,
Presiding Elder; P. D. Horton, circuit preacher; Harry Rogers, Christian
Bort, F. Dixon, M. Haybarger, R. Weeks and J. Bradish were the class
The second quarterly meeting was held in Wesleyville December 6, 1834,
George W. Walker was released from the Parsonage Building Committee, and
Rev. P. D. Horton appointed to fill the vacancy.
The third quarterly conference met at Wheaton's meeting house February 28,
1835. David Chambers appealed from the decision of the committee at
Wesleyville, and the committee were not sustained. G. Hawly was chosen
Recording Steward, in place of George W. Walker, resigned.
The fourth quarterly meeting was held in McKean May 23, 1835. U. Gittings,
D. Ray, George Deighton, S. Brace, William Kinnear, Philip Osborn and
William Stafford were the local preachers present.
At the session of Pittsburgh Conference, held in the summer of 1834, a new
circuit called Wesleyville Circuit was set off, and the rest of the old
Erie Circuit left to take care of themselves. The minute book was left for
use of the Wesleyville Circuit, and the last record is in the hand writing
of William P. Trimble, Recording Steward, and bearing the date of January
25, 1862. I believe, however, that Wesleyville Circuit contained for a
long time all the territory of the old Erie Circuit outside the borough of
A quarterly conference for Wesleyville Circuit was held at Backus
Schoolhouse, in South Harbor Creek, March 12, 1836; Isaac Winans,
Presiding Elder; Thomas Graham and P. D. Horton, circuit preachers.
A new committee, Stutely Stafford, Ezra White and James Bayle, was
appointed to build a new meeting house at or near McKean Corners.
The next quarterly conference was held in Wesleyville June 25, 1836.
Philip Osborn and Barney Bort were recommended to the annual conference
for admission to the "traveling conexion." The preachers were
paid in full -- $124 each for a year's hard work. Some of the membership
charged the preacher's family with extravagance in using up so large a
salary! It was not considered advisable to pay the preachers much money in
those days. It had a tendency to make them "stuck up and
worldly-minded." Any unmarketable produce, such as rancid butter or
lard, moldy hay, or wilted potatoes, etc., was often taken to the
parsonage as "quarterage," and the preacher and his wife were
expected to receive these tokens of brotherly thoughtfulness with becoming
humility and thankfulness. I called at the parsonage in Wesleyville many
years ago, and while there a good brother brought in a cheese. He did not
inquire whether the preacher wanted it or not but laid it on the table,
with a sanctimonious grin on his weazened face. At that time good cheese
could be bought for 8 cents per pound. "Brother, how much shall I
credit you for this?" inquired the preacher. "I took it on a
debt, and will not be hard with you. Call it 10 cents per pound," was
the prompt reply. The preacher's son, a promising lad of twelve summers,
inspected the cheese very closely. In a few minutes he came in with a
piece of his mother's new clothes' line in his hand. "Why, my son!
what in the world are you going to do?" his mother inquired.
"Going to tie up pa's cheese to keep it from crawling away." was
the laconic reply. The cheese was a living, loathsome mass of maggots, and
the old rascal knew it before going to the parsonage. The good layman
sneaked off, and was that preacher's enemy ever after. If such fellows
succeed in dodging into heaven, then the doctrine of universal salvation
will be "the correct thing."
In 1836, J. Chandler, L. D. Mix and Albina Hall were the circuit
At the meeting held in Wesleyville January 21, 1837, David W. Vorse, of
McKean, was licensed to preach. At a meeting held in McKean July 4, 1837,
he was recommended to the annual conference for admission to the itineracy.
David Chambers was made an agent of the circuit to build the parsonage.
This enterprise seemed to move along slowly . . . A resolution to sustain
him unanimously passed.
The next meeting was held at Hoag's Schoolhouse, in South Harbor Creek,
September 30, 1837. A committee on temporal interests was appointed, viz.:
William Campbell, George W. Walker and David Chambers. This committee was
directed to notify subscribers to the parsonage fund that they must pay up
or be dealt with according to discipline. D. Preston and D. Pritchard were
the preachers. March 3, 1838, at a meeting held in Fairview, Peter
Haldeman was licensed to preach.
At the meeting held in McKean June 2, 1838, Philip Osborn was recommended
to the annual conference for deacon's orders. All that part of Wesleyville
circuit west of the Waterford Turnpike was formed into a new circuit, to
be called McKean Circuit. The following is the first official board of
McKean Circuit: Joel Stafford, Recording Steward; Joseph S. Buck, Lewis
Calder, John L. B. _____, Philip Osborn, George Deighton and John Palmiter.
At a meeting held in Wesleyville June 15, 1839, Mathias Himebaugh was
licensed to preach. David Preston and Theodore D. Blinn were the circuit
preachers. The former received a salary of $169.58, and Mr. Blinn received
United Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, etc.
Rev. Robert Reid, a minister of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian
Church, gathered a congregation in Erie in 1811, which was the first
regularly organized religious body in the city. Services were held in a
schoolhouse until 1816, when a church building was erected, eight years in
advance of that of the First Presbyterian congregation. These two were the
sole religious organizations in the city in 1820. A second society was
organized by Mr. Reid at Waterford in 1812, three years after the
Presbyterian body of the same place. The denomination became known as the
United Presbyterian Church in 1858, as will be explained below.
In the year 1815, Rev. Charles Colson, a Lutheran minister from Germany,
came to the Northwest and organized four congregations of that church, one
each at Meadville, French Creek, Conneaut and Erie. The Erie society died
out very soon, and does not appear to have been revived until many years
later. The earliest Lutheran Church in Erie City was built in 1835.
The first knowledge we have of the Episcopalians is through a paper, a
copy of which has been preserved, drawn up in 1803, and signed by fourteen
citizens, agreeing to contribute the sum of $83 annually "to pay
one-third of Rev. Mr. Patterson's time in Erie, until a Church of England
clergyman can be placed." Mr. Patterson, it will be recollected, was
the Presbyterian minister in charge at North East. Among the signatures
are the familiar names of Reed, Rees and Wallace. No organization of the
denomination was effected till March 17, 1827, when a number of persons
withdrew from the Presbyterian Church and became united as St. Paul's
Episcopal congregation. About the same time, Rev. Charles Smith came on
from Philadelphia and assumed charge as rector. Services were held in the
court house till a building was completed in November, 1832. The Waterford
society, the second in the county, was organized the same year as the one
The first building of the Christian denomination was erected at East
Springfield in 1826, and the second in Fairview Township in 1835.
Catholics and Other Denominations
The Roman Catholics had no organization in the county until 1833, when a
church was erected in the northern part of McKean Township, and occupied
until the new one was put up i Middleboro. St. Mary's and St. Patrick's
congregations in Erie date from 1833 and 1837 respectively. The Catholics
now number more communicants than any single denomination in the county.
The Lake Erie Universalist Association was organized in Wellsburg in 1839,
where a church had been established the preceding year. The Erie church
was not organized until 1844.
The earliest Baptist congregation was in Harbor Creek Township in 1822.
This was followed by societies at Erie in 1831, and in North East and
Waterford Townships in 1832.
The United Brethren, the Adventists and the other denominations are
comparatively new to this section.
Some of the churches are large, handsome and expensive structures, while
about one-third are plain wooden buildings that cost less and are less
imposing than many of the barns in the county. The most elaborate churches
are in Erie, Corry, North East, Union, Girard, Fairview, Miles Grove,
Harbor Creek, Waterford and Mill Village. The Cathedral church of the
Roman Catholics, at the corner of Tenth and Sassafras streets, in Erie,
which has been building for several years, will, when completed, be the
most extensive, costly and handsome religious edifice in this part of
List of Churches
Below is a list of the various congregations in the county in 1880, with
the year each one is supposed to have been organized. Any additions that
have been made since that year will be mentioned in the township sketches:
Presbyterian (19) -- Belle Valley, 1841; Beaver Dam, Wayne
Township, about 1820; Central Church, Erie, 1871; Chestnut street, Erie,
1870; Corry, 1864; East Springfield, 1804; Edinboro, 1829; Fairview
Borough, 1845; First Church, Erie, 1815; Girard Borough, 1835; Harbor
Creek, 1832; Mill Village, 1870; North East Borough, 1801; Park Church,
Erie, 1855; Union City, 1811, Waterford Borough, 1809; Wattsburg, 1826;
Westminster, Mill Creek Township, 1806-1852; Wales, Greene Township, 1849.
The Presbyterian Churches of Erie County are within the bounds of the
Synod of Pennsylvania and of the Presbytery of Erie. The Synod was
constituted in 1881, and embraces the four old Synods of Philadelphia,
Harrisburg, Erie and Pittsburgh. The Presbytery embraces Erie, Crawford,
Warren, Venango and Mercer Counties, and contains sixty-two churches and
about fifty ministers.
United Presbyterian (6) -- Beaver Dam, Wayne Township, 1859; First
Church, Erie, 1811; Five Points, Summit Township, 1842; Mission Church,
Erie, 1874; Waterford Borough, 1812; Whiteford's Corners, Summit Township,
The name of this denomination in Erie County was originally the Associate
Reformed Presbyterian Church. On the 26th of May, 1858, the Associated
Presbyterian and the Associated Reformed Presbyterian societies of the
Northern States consolidated under the name of the United Presbyterian
Church. The churches of this county are attached to the First Synod of the
West and to the Lake Presbytery. The Synod embraces all of the churches in
Pennsylvania west of the Allegheny and portions of Ohio and Michigan. The
Presbytery covers Erie and Crawford Counties, a portion of Mercer and a
small part of Trumbull County, Ohio.
Episcopal (8) -- Emanuel, Corry, 1864; Cross and Crown, Erie, 1867;
Miles Grove, 1862; Mission of the Holy Cross, North East, 1872; St. Paul's
Erie, 1827; St. John's, Erie, 1867; Union City, 1875; St. Peter's,
Waterford Borough, 1827.
The churches of Erie County are embraced in the Diocese of Pittsburgh and
in the Erie Deanery. The Diocese includes all of Pennsylvania west of the
Eastern lines of Somerset, Cambria, Clearfield, Elk, Cameron and McKean
Counties; the Deanery comprises Erie, Crawford, Venango, Lawrence and
Mercer Counties. The Pittsburgh Diocese was organized November 15, 1865,
on which date Rev. John B. Kerfoot was elected Bishop. His consecration
took place on the ensuing 26th of January. He was succeeded by Rev. Dr.
Cortland Whitehead, who was consecrated on January 25, 1882. The Erie
Deanery was erected on the 12of June, 1874. The Deans have been as
follows: 1st. Rev. J. F. Spaulding, Erie; 2d, Rev. W. H. Mills, Erie; 3d,
Rev. Henry Purdon, Titusville.
United Brethren (13) -- Branchville, McKean Township, about 1866;
Corry, 1864; Clark settlement, Harbor Creek Township, 1856; Erie, 1878;
Elk Creek and Girard line, 1870; Elk Creek Township, 1853; Fairview
Township, about 1857; Greene and Venango line, 1871; Macedonia, Venango
Township, _____; New Ireland, Le Boeuf Township, 1876; Shattuck's Corners,
Greenfield Township, about 1874; Union City, 1872; Wayne Valley, Wayne
Roman Catholic (16) -- Albion, prior to 1850; St. Mary's, Erie,
1833; St. Patrick's, Erie, 1837; St. Joseph's, Erie, about 1853; St.
John's, Erie, 1869; St. Andrew's, Erie, 1871; St. Thomas, Corry, 1860; St.
Elizabeth, Corry, 1875; St. John's, Girard, 1853; St. Boniface, Greene
Township, 1857; St. Peter's, Greene Township, 1870; St. Matthew's, Summit
Township, 1867; St. Francis Xavier, Middleboro, 1833; St. Gregory's, North
East, 1854; St. Teresa's, Union City, 1857; St. Cyprian's, Waterford
The Erie Diocese comprises the counties of Erie, Crawford, Mercer,
Venango, Forest, Clarion, Jefferson, Clearfield, Cameron, Elk, McKean,
Potter and Warren. It was established in 1853, Rt. Rev. Michael O'Conner
being the first Bishop. He was transferred from Pittsburgh in 1853, and
re-transferred in 1854. His successor, Rt. Rev. J. M. Young, was
consecrated April 23, 1854, and died September 18, 1866. Rt. Rev. T.
Mullen, present Bishop, was consecrated August 2, 1868.
Methodist Episcopal (55) -- Albion, prior to 1850; Ash's Corners,
Washington Township, 1867; Asbury, Mill Creek Township, 1846; Asbury,
Union Township, 1840; Beaver Dam, 1838; Carter Hill, about 1835; Corry,
1862; Cherry Hill, 1858; concord Township, 1879; Cranesville, about 1830;
Crane road, Franklin Township, 1867; East Springfield, 1825; Edinboro,
1829; Edenville, Le Boeuf Township, 1839; Elgin, 1854; Eureka, 1867; First
Church, Erie, 1826; Fair Haven, Girard Township, 1815; Fairplain, Girard
Township, 1840; Fairview Borough, 1817; Franklin Corners, 1866; Gospel
Hill, Harbor Creek Township, 1816; Greenfield, 1826; Girard Borough, 1815;
Harbor Creek, 1834; Hatch Hollow, Amity township, prior to 1835; Hamlin,
Summit Township, 1837; Keepville, about 1867; Lowville, 1875; Lockport,
1843; Miles Grove, 1867; McLane, Washington Township, 1863; Mill Village,
prior to 1810; Middleboro, 1819; Macedonia, Venango Township, _____; North
Corry, 1870; North East Borough, 1812; Northville, about 1820;
Phillipsville, prior to 1848; South Harbor Creek, Harbor Creek Township,
prior to 1830; Simpson Church, Erie, 1858; Sterrettania, 1842; South Hill,
McKean Township, about 1860; Sharp's Corners, Waterford Township, 1838;
Sherrod Hill, _____;; Tower Schoolhouse, Venango Township, _____;; Tenth
Street, Erie, 1867; Union City, 1817; Waterford Borough, 1814; Wellsburg,
1833; Wattsburg, 1827; West Springfield, 1801; Wales, Greene Township,
about 1850; West Greene, 1827; Wesleyville, 1828.
The Methodist Episcopal Churches in Erie County are attached to the Erie
Conference, organized in 1836, the bounds of which extend o the west to
the Ohio State line, on the east to a line running slightly beyond
Jamestown, N. Y., and Ridgway, Penn., and on the south to a line running
east and wet below New Castle, Penn. The Conference is subdivided into six
Presiding Elders' districts, viz.: Erie, Clarion, Franklin, Jamestown,
Meadville and New Castle. The Erie District includes the churches of Erie,
Mill Creek, Fairview, Girard, Greene, Greenfield, Harbor Creek, McKean,
North East, Summit, Springfield, Wesleyville and Waterford; the Meadville
District those of Albion, Edinboro, Lockport, Mill Village, Union and
Wattsburg; the Jamestown District those of Corry. The Presiding Elders of
these districts have been as follows:
Erie District -- G. Fillmore, 1821-24; W. Swayze, 1825-27; W. B. Mack,
1828-31; J. S. Barris, 1832; H. Kinsley, 1833; J. Chandler, 1836-38; J. C.
Ayers, 1839-42; T. Goodwin, 1843-44; J. Robinson, 1845-48; B. O. Plimpton,
1849; E. J. L. Baker, 1850-53 and 1865-68; J. Leslie, 1854-57; J. Flower,
1858-61; J. H. Whallon, 1862-64; D. M.Stever, 1869-72; R. M. Warren,
1873-75; W. F. Wilson, 1876-78; R. W. Scott, 1879-80.
Meadville District -- Z. H. Coston, 1832; A. Brunson, 1833-34; I. Winans,
1835; J. S. Barris, 1836-37; H. Kinsley, 1838-39, 1843-45 and 1855-58; J.
Bain, 1840-42; B. O. Plimpton, 1846-48; W. Patterson, 1849-52; E. J.
Kenney, 1853-54; N. Norton, 1859-62; J. W. Lowe, 1863-66; G. W. Maltby,
1867-70; W. P. Bignell, 1871-74; J. Peate, 1875-78; F. H. Beck, 1879-80.
Jamestown District -- H. Kinsley, 1834-36; R. A. Aylworth, 1837-38; D.
Preston, 1839-41; J. J. Steadman, 1842-43; D. Smith, 1844-47; W. H.
Hunter, 1848-51; J. H. Whallon, 1852-55; B. S. Hill, 1856-58; J. W. Lowe,
1859-62; G. W. Maltby, 1863-66; J. Leslie, 1867-70; A. Burgess, 1871-72;
N. Norton, 1873-75; O. G. McEntire, 1876-79.
Universalist (5) -- Corry, 1877; Erie, 1844; Girard, about 1850;
Wellsburg, 1838; West Springfield, 1848.
Evangelical Association (6) -- Emanuel, Summit Township, about
1838; Salem, Fairview and Mill Creek line, 1833; Salem, Erie, 1833; Mt.
Nabo, Fairview Borough, 1833; North East Borough, 1870; congregation at
Lutheran (11) -- St. John's Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed,
Erie, 1835; St. Paul's German Evangelical, Erie, 1850; German Evangelical
Lutheran Trinity, Erie, 1881; First English Evangelical Lutheran, Erie,
1861; Evangelical Lutheran, Girard Borough, 1866; Evangelical Lutheran,
Fairview, 1856; St. Paul's German Lutheran, Mill Creek Township, about
1836; St. Paul's German Evangelical, North East, 1864; St. Jacob's
Evangelical United, Fairview Township, 1852; Franklin Township Church,
1871; german (Lutheran), Corry, about 1874.
Baptist (16) -- Corry, 1863; Edinboro, 1838; Franklin and Elk Creek
line, 1866; First Church, Erie, 1831; German Church, Erie, 1861; Lowrey
settlement, Harbor Creek Township, 1822; McLane, Washington Township,
1838; North East, 1832; Newman's Bridge, Waterford Township, 1832 or 1833;
Pageville, 1839; Second Greenfield Union Free-Will Baptist, Greenfield
Township, 1881; Union City, 1859; Waterford and Amity line, about 1835;
West Springfield, 1826; Wattsburg, 1850; Wellsburg, 1839.
Christian (8) -- Corry, 1864; Draketown, 1877; East Springfield,
1826; Fairview Township, 1835; Girard and Franklin line, 1872; Hare Creek,
Wayne Township, 1877; McLallen's Corners, 1828; Oak Hill, Waterford
Disciple (2) -- Albion, 1880; Lockport, 1877.
Congregational -- Corry, 1874.
Hebrew -- Erie, 1858; Corry, about 1873.
Advent -- Edinboro, 1863.
Wesleyan Methodist (3) -- Concord Township, 1840; Erie, 1847;
African Methodist Episcopal -- Erie, re-organized, 1877.
Union -- Manross Church, Le Boeuf Township, erected 1869.
Recapitulation -- Presbyterian, 19; United Presbyterian, 6; Episcopalian,
8; United Brethren, 13; Roman Catholic, 16; Methodist Episcopal, 55;
Congregational, 1; Advent, 1; African Methodist Episcopal, 1; Universalist
5; Lutheran, 11; Evangelical Association, 6; Baptist, 16; Christian, 8;
Disciple, 2; Hebrew, 2; Wesleyan Methodist, 3; Union, 1; total, 174.
The first Sunday school in the county was founded by Rev. Mr. Morton and
Col. James Moorhead at Moorheadville, in 1817. In 1818, Mrs. Judah Colt
returned to Erie after a visit to New England, where schools for the
religious instruction of children on the Sabbath had recently been
introduced, and by the aid of Mrs. R. S. Reed and Mrs. Carr established a
class for girls, which met alternately at the houses of the two ladies
last named. After a time the brothers of the girls asked to be admitted,
but fears wee entertained that they would be hard to control, and it was
only after much debate and hesitation that they were allowed to enjoy the
benefits of the class. Col. Thomas Forster became interested in the
enterprise, and in 1820 tendered the ladies a room, which was gladly
accepted. A public meeting was held in the court house on the 25th of
March, 1821, to consider the project of regularly organizing "a
Sunday School and Moral Society." Resolutions in favor of the same
were drafted and introduced by R. S. Reed, Thomas H. Sill and George A.
Eliot -- one capitalist and two lawyers -- and solemnly adopted by the
audience. A paper for contributions was passed around, and the munificent
sum of $28.50 subscribed to procure suitable books. This subscription
paper is now hanging up in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church
of Erie. The school commenced in May with an attendance of sixty-four, big
and little, who had increased to eighty-one at the end of six months, of
whom twenty-one, or nearly one-fourth, were colored. Horace Greeley, then
an employee in the office of the Erie Gazette, was one of the
scholars in the winter of 1830-31. A second school was started in
September, 1830, by the ladies of St. Paul's Episcopal congregation, and
held its sessions in the court house until their church building was
completed. The first schools had to encounter some opposition, even from
zealous Christian citizens. A Sabbath school is now connected with almost
every church in the county.
Bible Society and Y. M. C. Association
The Erie County Bible Society was established in 1824, and has been in
continuous operation ever since. Its mission is to distribute the Holy
Book free of cost to those who are too poor to buy, and at a moderate
price to persons in better circumstances. The first officers were Rev.
Johnston Eaton, President; Rev. Robert Reid, Vice President; George
Selden, Secretary; and E. D. Gunnison, Treasurer. Its annual meetings are
held on the first Wednesday after the second Tuesday in May.
The only Young Men's Christian Association in the county is in Erie and
was organized in September, 1860. The society owns a fine building at the
corner of Tenth and Peach streets, which is conveniently fitted up for its
purpose. Its library of nearly six thousand volumes is free to all who
visit the reading rooms, and, for a moderate sum per annum, the holders of
tickets are allowed to take books to their homes. Aside from its religious
influence, the association has done a good work among the young men and
women of the city by increasing their literary taste, and giving them the
opportunity to read good books instead of the trashy stuff that floods the
land. It also maintains a Railway Employes' Reading Room in the building
on Peach street, opposite the northern entrance to the Union depot.
Graveyards and Cemeteries
As death and religion are always associated to a certain extent, this
seems to be the proper place to give a brief sketch of some of the old
graveyards in the county, which, thanks to the improved taste, are fast
giving way to neat and ornamental cemeteries. The first burial place of
which there is a record, was established at Colt's Station in Greenfield
Township on the 6th of July, 1801. A party of fifteen met and cleared off
an acre for the interment of the dead, which has remained as a graveyard
to this day, though in a sadly neglected condition. Their example led the
people at Middlebrook to follow suit, and a burial place was begun there
in the following month. Most of the bodies in the latter have been removed
within the last thirty years, and the spot is now used for farming
purposes. A graveyard was established at Erie nearly at the same time, on
the bank of the lake, east of Parade street, but was abandoned about 1805.
Others were located at an early day at Waterford, North east, Fairview,
Springfield and elsewhere. In 1805, three lots were set aside for a
graveyard at the southeast corner of French and Eighth streets, Erie,
which was used by all denominations until 1827, when it became the
property of the United Presbyterian Church, whose building adjoined the
premises on the east. The property was sold in 1862, the bodies were
removed to the cemetery, and the site is now covered with dwellings. The
Presbyterians purchased four lots at the southeast corner of Seventh and
Myrtle streets, in Erie, in 1826, and used them for burial purposes for
upward of twenty years, when the bodies were carefully removed to the
cemetery and the land was sold to private purchasers.
The Episcopal Graveyard was also on Seventh street, nearly opposite the
gas house. Besides the above, there was a graveyard on Third street, east
of the Catholic school, on the north side, which was used for burial
purposes as late as 1837. The Catholic burial grounds on Twenty-fourth,
between Sassafras and Chestnut streets, still contain numerous bodies,
which will probably be removed some day to the cemetery west of the city.
An unused graveyard is also attached to St. John's Church in South Erie.
The various cemeteries in present use will be described in connection with
As the county increased in population, graveyards were located in every
section, some of which continue, while the sites of others have almost or
entirely been forgotten. Many families chose burial places on their farms,
and some of these still exist. The old-style graveyards were, and those
that remain are, generally speaking, dismal and forbidding places, the
tombstones dingy and often tottering, the fence sides grown up to
brambles, the graves and walks in a horrible state of neglect, and the
whole aspect well calculated to encourage the belief in ghosts, goblins
and demons, which was quite universal forty years ago.
The establishment of the cemetery at Erie, which was dedicated in May,
1851, and speedily became one of the tastiest in the Union, has had a
gratifying effect upon the whole county. People of refinement from the
neighboring towns, comparing it with the neglected graveyards at their
homes, became ashamed of the contract, and efforts, some successful and
other futile, have been made to secure creditable places of burial in
almost all sections. Corry, Union City, North East, Waterford, Girard,
Fairview, Springfield, Sterrettania and Lowville have cemeteries that
speak well for the taste of their citizens, and at Erie the new Catholic
cemetery near the Head is fast assuming a first rank. The writer hopes to
be spared long enough to see every vestige of the old-style graveyard
removed from the face of the earth, and each town and township in
possession of a cemetery that will be an honor to the living and afford a
proper resting-place for the dead.