317 Frontier Drive was built in 1927 by the RB Way Company, who initially had their offices in the Commerce Building in downtown Erie. They referred to their homes as “WayBuilt” and were responsible for building homes in a number of neighborhoods in Erie, particularly in the area south of 26th Street near the Sigsbee Reservoir.
As you can see in the advertisement from the builders, the original of the home still remains as advertised back in 1927. “It’s light brick exterior, red tile roof, and attractive design have still further established the claim of this company for the building of homes of individuality.” Also mentioned is the use of stucco cornices, rather than wood.
The home was purchased shortly after it’s construction by Carl and Florence (Baumgartner) Weber. Carl was the president of the American Motor Sales Company at 521 French Street (which is now Erie Insurance) where they began selling cars as early at 1912. These would likely have been some of the first automobiles available in Erie. They were a prominent and active couple who held parties and gatherings at the home on many occasions.
Carl and Florence lived in the home for about 10 years, when it was purchased by Charles Palmer in 1937 and then Vedder and Mary White in 1944. They only lived in the home for 3 years, when in 1947 it was purchased by a very notorious Erie family: Joseph Semple (and his wife, Elizabeth “Betty” Mester Semple).
As you can see from this article, the Semple Family were very creative in their methods for smuggling alcohol into the city during prohibition.
Joseph A Semple was born in 1904 and died in 1998 at the age of 94. His wife was Elizabeth “Betty” Mester Semple. They purchased the home at 317 Frontier in 1947. Joseph and his brother John (and really his whole family) were notorious bootleggers during prohibition. They lived for many years in the W 3rd and Cascade area of the city, where the trolley line stopped and there was a direct line from the foot of Cascade down to the waterfront, where they would receive and distribute alcohol from Canada. They had a number of run-ins with the law and at one point purchased and connected two homes on 3rd and Raspberry, where they built a tunnel between the homes in the basement, which also contained a bank vault and storage room. Semple was also the owner of the Owls Club at 116 W 8th St and owned a number of income properties, including cottages near Waldameer for summer rentals. (for more on this area of 3rd and Cascade as well as history of the Semple Family, check out David Frew’s multitude of essays on the subject at https://www.jeserie.org/quick-reads).
Joseph and Betty’s son, Joseph Semple, went to medical school at Temple University to become an Obstetrician and is still in practice in Erie today. This home recently sold and, from the real estate photos, you can see that much of the original character of the home still remains including the unique arched windows and doors, french doors and hardware, built ins, red tile roof, and hardwood and tile floors.
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Love the research and time into the blog very interesting for sure