Erie County (PA) Genealogy

Group Homes - Springfield Township

Elmwood Home - History

Contributed by Evelyn Baker


The article below has been written by Evelyn Baker and is based on information that was extracted from Erie Daily Times microfilm at the Erie County Bayfront Library and Conneaut New Herald microfilm at the Conneaut Ohio Library. Additional material used in the preparation of the article includes picture postcards provided by Florence Sorenson, and a 1931 Elmwood Home Program Guide courtesy of Bernie Czarnecki. Anyone having any questions or comments about this material, please contact Evelyn directly.

See also the related extract of the Charter of the Elmwood Home and the picture feature Elmwood Home - Pictures.


Elmwood Home - 30 Year History

Crumbling remains of concrete steps can still be found on the 79 acres that was once an active educational farm. Land records of Elmwood Home can be traced back to the Eagley homestead in Springfield Township. It was located on the Old Lake Road and the Elmwood Home Road, that still carries the name.

June 1909, all Erie Co. seemed interested. President, GEORGE P. SELDEN, called a Directors meeting in the Law Offices of the Erie Co. Courthouse.

The first boy was admitted.

June 10th, the Young Peoples Bible Class from the First Presbyterian Church in Erie, held an ice cream and strawberry Social. Admission to the Music Festival was 25 with proceeds to benefit Elmwood Home.

June 24th, the Kensington Club held a picnic with 6 boys now living at Elmwood Home. Their proceeds furnished a dorm and Mr. & Mrs. PRATHER were employed as managers.

Boys, ages 8 to 16, came from Erie, Crawford, Elk, Blair, Mercer, Lawrence, Mifflin, Jefferson, Venango, Allegheny, and Warren Counties. They were received from Children Aid Societies, Juvenile Court, private cases, and some by their parents.

A resident staff of 10 members included teachers, a farm manager, caretaker, and matrons under the supervision of the Elmwood Home Superintendent. HENRY HUBBARD was the 1st custodian.

LIVING QUARTERS

The main building provided living quarters with steam heat and electricity. It was large enough for recreational activities, Sunday services, a reading room, radio, music, and movies. The second floor contained the dormitories equipped with individual beds and an outside fire escape. The cellar contained showers, toilets, individual steel lockers, and a large play room for stormy days. The basement contained a fruit cellar where up to 5,000 jars of vegetables and fruits were stored.

OLD SCHOOLHOUSE

The 2 story 26'x 65' frame school had 2 class rooms on the 1st floor and a gymnasium on the 2cnd floor. A 9 month school term was taught and students took the same exams given in the public school system, prepared by the Erie County Superintendent of Schools.

Athletics were encouraged in basketball, track, swimming, skating, coasting, and baseball. Elmwood School teams played in sports competition with other nearby schools.

Vocational Agriculture was on the curriculum. Each boy was given his own plot of ground and laid out their individual garden. Seeds were furnished and they were allowed to grow whatever they chose. Excess produce was marketed and the boys were allowed to keep their own proceeds.

Students passing 8th grade were enrolled in the West Springfield High School. Commencement was held for pupils to receive diplomas.

ANNEX

In 1912, a 2 story concrete block building was erected to meet the growing needs of the institution. The 1st floor contained a sewing room, clothes storage area, and small dorm for the larger boys. On the 2nd floor was a small infirmary. Medical care was available at all times. All new admissions were given mental tests by a trained psychologist to determine their level of development. Epidemics were cared for using the infirmary as an isolation ward. The basement was equipped with a laundry and drying room.

THE SCHOOLHOUSE FIRE

December 19, 1927, the old frame schoolhouse burned down. An explosion occurred at 2 p. m., one hour after 72 boys began their afternoon classes. They were thrown from their seats, but none was seriously hurt. Doors leading out into a main hall made exit relatively easy. C. L. GRIFFEN & Mrs. B. J. GRIFFEN, teachers, led the boys to safety outside in a raging blizzard. One boy was ill and absent from class at the time.

Within minutes the school was a roaring inferno. An explosion tore a hole in the classroom floor and wrecked the furnace. Fanned by high winds, the school was consumed within 30 minutes. Only the piano, a few desks, and some books were retrieved. Total damage was estimated at $4,000 by W. H. BARNES, Superintendent. Loss was partially covered by insurance.

A main gas line leading into the cellar had broken. B. J. GRIFFEN, 55, attempted to repair the main inlet, when he was hurled to the ground. Cause of the explosion was attributed to escaping gas coming in contact with a hot furnace. GRIFFEN suffered severe burns to his face and hands and minor bruises. He crawled thru a door from the building on his hands and knees. Seconds later, the door was blown to splinters.

Improvised classrooms were held in the dormitory and hospital, the very next day. Contractors immediately began plans for a fire proof school.

Newspapers appealed for Christmas gifts for the boys. Hundreds of neckties and books poured in from Erie, Albion, Cambridge Springs, Edinboro, Springfield, and New York. Those contributing were: A. J. BROOKS, LULU F. ADAM, Mrs. F. M. HARDING, CARROLL REITZELL, Mrs. A. S. CONYER, Mrs. C. L. BROWN, GEORGE CARROLL, Mrs. NASH, Mrs. F. C. RICHARDSON, MARGARET MADDES, Mrs. C. H. FREEBERG, J. KENNETH WINTER, LELSIE BOYD, JAMES SHUTTS, Mrs. LEONARD, CHARLES GATES, F. H. PAYNE, J. R. DROZESKI, Mrs. H. W. GIBNER, Mrs. HOWARD R. STEVENS, FRANK & FREDERICK WALLACE, Capt. JOSIAH H. KING, CAUFFMAN KOCH, R. F. METZ, BOYD HAYES, Mrs. LUELLA GRAY, Mrs. E. C. MOORE, IRENE & ETHEL RUHLING, Mrs. A. D. SMITH, Mrs. H. W. DEVINE, CHARLES W. SCHUTTE, Mrs. A. BERG, W. G. KELLER, Mr. & Mrs. V. E. BEST, M. F. O'MARA, E. R. BEHREND, A. W. INNES, Mrs. E. E. ZIEGLER, Mrs. STAHL, O. J. SIMON, R. I ROBERTS, Miss LASHER, Mrs GARDNER, Mrs. R. WILLIAMS, KIRSCHNER BROTHERS, and Mrs. H. PALMETER.

In September 1928, a new one story brick school was dedicated. Class rooms were seperated by movable partitions to make one large assembly room with a 100+ seating capacity. A small library was maintained with selected books. The gym was 30' x 40' for indoor sports and basketball. The basement contained a more modern steam heating plant and large well lighted room equipped for manual training classes.

BARNS

The Dairy barn was of the basement style, with staunchions for 21 cows, and 2 large box stalls. Elmood Home developed a fine herd of show type and producing registered Holstein-Friesian cattle. In 1929, the milk record was over 120,000 lbs., or 60,000 quarts and was practically all consumed by the Home. A calf barn adjoined the dairy barn and occasionally a few of the young stock were sold. There were quarters for 4 horses, and housed a team of black Percheron horses.

Other farm buildings were: a house for 50 registered Berkshire hogs; a coop for 400 chickens, ducks, and geese; a milk house; a large vegetable cellar; and a large tool house and garage with a cement floor basement for tool storage. There was even a playfull dog or two for the boys.

Elmwood management leased about 150 acres adjacent to their property for additional pasture and farm land. Excess crop yields of milk, vegetables and eggs were sold to defray running expenses.

FIRE THREATENS ELMWOOD HOME

February 28, 1938

East Conneaut Volunteer fireman responded to a fire call in a 2 story frame building at the Elmwood Home at North Springfield. Mr. MacDONALD, night watchman, had discovered the fire in a partition on the 1st floor and put out the blaze with a fire extinquisher before they arrived. There was considerable loss of property, but damage to the building was slight.

G. C. HUCKABY, Superintendent, said a nail driven through the partition touched a wire and caused a short circuit. An electrician was called and restored power to the home. Two youthful suspects were taken to Erie Co. Prison pending furthur investigation.

Peak enrollment had now reached about 80 boys.

$30,000 BLAZE LEVELS FARM BUILDINGS

July 26, 1938

Two large barns, four garages, a corn crib, and three silos lay in ruins, with 55 tons of hay smouldering for days. Flames on the top floor of the hay mow were discovered at 4:30 p.m. by RICHARD JOHNS assistant farm manager. He rescued a calf, horse, a bull, and a tractor. All other animals were in the fields. One large barn, constructed in 1915, was reported to have been donated by Dr. OTTO F. BEHREND, Treasurer of the Hammermill Paper Co.

Residents of the Home were swimming in Lake Erie during the time of the fire.

Mr. JOHNS called the East Conneaut Fire Dept., but the flames had gained such headway that the buildings were beyond saving when fireman arrived. Again, the loss was partially covered by insurance.

Cause of the fire was determined to be spontaneous combustion.

SUPERINTENDENT'S COTTAGE

The Cottage is the only remaining building of the Elmwood complex. It is now in private ownership and well maintained with picturesque grounds. The home was dubbed the Honor House. It was orginally built as a Sears Kit House, and was occupied at one time by CHARLES & MARION HOWLAND employed as Superintendent and teachers. Other Officers and Directors who served were L. C. SHIPHERD; C. B. CROSS; C. W. SPENCER; F. C. BURTON, H. J. DOLL, WILLIAM HAMILTON, E. W. SHELDON, G. H. STRAYER, P. V. GIFFORD, and EDWARD SELDEN. Telephone instructions read: Call West Springfield, Bell or Mutual.


$35,000 FIRE DESTROYS ELMWOOD HOME

Wednesday, August 10, 1938

The end came in a blazing fury. Three injured, 10 rescued, and 15 fled to safety as fire from the attic swept down through 2 main dormitories on the 2cnd floor, to the recreation room and offices on the 1st floor.

The fire was discovered about 3:15 p.m. by GEORGE FABIAN, 14, playing outdoors, between showers, and saw smoke pouring from an attic window. JOHN REED, 14, rang the fire alarm bell, and suffered an arm injury when a wall caved in and falling bricks hit him. Most of the boys were indoors. Rain had kept them from a scheduled swim day at the lake.

RESCUES

ALVIN A. CARPENTER, 22, a staff member, and RICHARD KIRSCHER, 16, student, were the first to enter the building searching for anyone who might be trapped. KIRSCHER broke down a door with a fire extinguisher and rescued staff member, LUDWIG GUGENHEIMER, 29, who was trapped upstairs. KIRSCHER was struck by a falling timber and suffered a dislocated shoulder.

CARPENTER was burned on the arms, as he had rescued ROBERT ELLIOT, 14; WILLIAM SAELER, 14; and WILLIAM COWELL, 13; and JOHN KERYAN, 14; all overcome by smoke.

LAWRENCE PANFILOFF, 16; FLOYD COAST, 15; and CLIFFORD DUNKLE, 15, rescued ARCHIE BEMIS, 5, and SAM POST, who were sleeping on the 2nd floor of the dorm. G. C. HUCKABY, Superintendent, rushed to the attic with a fire extinguisher, but was turned back by a blast of flames. He immediately turned off the gas and electric and called the Conneaut and East Conneaut Fire Departments in Ohio.

The kitchen and dining room were gutted. Cooks preparing supper were: Mrs. HUCKABY, Mrs. FRED W. LESLIE, Mrs. ELSIE WRIGHT, and ROSAMOND GRUMPERT. All fled to safety with 10 boys who were slicing vegetables. They saved enough food to serve 75 an evening meal. Canned goods in the basement storeroom was destroyed.

The boys were organized into squads to save as many blankets, dishes, and furniture as possible, but were soon forced to abandon the search. An office safe remained intact. Office records were destroyed.

OHIO FIREMEN

When East Conneaut arrived, the dorm was a mass of flames and they were helpless to stop the blaze. Conneaut Fire Dept. had trouble getting their pumper truck started, but on their arrival, fireman were able to stop the fire before it spread to a wing of the short kitchen / dining area. The fireproof school, barn, and Honor House were not endangered. The 2 companies battled the blaze until 11 p. m. At 1 a. m., East Conneaut was re-called when wind fanned embers into another blaze. Fireman soaked the ruins with water. Elmwood staff and boys patroled the grounds throughout the night to prevent a reacurrence.

CONNEAUT FIRE DEPARTMENT

At 4:15 p. m., August 10th, city fireman received a call from Elmwood Home. They hopped onto "Old Kate" , the 25 year old pumper. She coughed and sputtered. Water leaked into 3 old cylinders, then gushed from the exhaust. The battery went dead.

Cranking was to no avail. They summoned a towcar and hauled the pumper to Liberty Street when "Old Kate" began to percolate. About the stateline, she began to warm up. Fifteen minutes had been lost because of the trucks condition. Firemen had to keep the engine running at Elmwood Home, to assure a return to Conneaut.

HAROLD DUNDON, Probation Officer, conferred with Superintendent HUCKABY, that arrangements be made to quarter the 40 boys left homeless at Camp Sequoyah until new quarters are built. The Boy Scouts of America campsite was located 3 miles east of Elmwood.

St. Joseph's Home, Erie, volunteered to take 28 boys. The rest slept in the cottage and a small dorm used by the staff. Escorted to St. Joseph's Home were: ARCHIE, FRED, FRANK & WALTER BEMIS; 4 brothers, CARL, EDWARD, RICHARD, and WILLIAM COLWELL; TONY WISER; LEWIS SNAVELY; DONALD MATEER; JACK KLECNER; MILTON FELDMAN; JOHN BEATTY; WILLIAM FISH; ALEX GRUNZEL; PERCY HOOVEN; ROBERT MEEKER; TONY MAPLES; MERLE OHM; JOHN REED; WILLIAM SAELER; TED McLAUGHLIN; RODGER DEAR; NICK De GEORGE; HAROLD TAYLOR; and ANDREW ZEPF. Ages ranged from 5 to 16 years.

DAVID GIFFORD, Director, summoned Captain RICHARD BRANDON at Pa. State Police Headquarters. State Trooper, W. J. JOSEFOWICZ, with 2 other officers, took charge of handling the crowd, traffic, and transporting the boys to Erie. He assisted in a final check to determine that all boys were accounted for and none were left injured.

JOHN D. STERRETT, treasurer of the Elmwood Home Corp., stated "the loss was almost entirely covered by insurance". EDWARD SELDON & CAMPBELL WRIGHT, Directors, were on the scene. VINCENT GIFFORD, Erie, was President in 1938.

Although the original charter stated boys and girls, there are no records found of girls being admitted. Since its inception, there were 1,000+ boys at Elmwood Home. Financial support came from private donations, Erie Co. Community Chest, agencies that had enrolled the boys, and sale of their produce.

The structures were never rebuilt.

Thus ending 3 decades of youth guidance.


This page was last updated on  Monday, October 07, 2002 .

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