The home at 251 W 21st Street was built around 1872, which is the same year that Augustus Bernard Felgemaker and his wife, Julia Dickerman Felgemaker, moved to Erie from Buffalo and brought along their Pipe Organ production business. The company was known then as the Derrick and Felgemaker Pipe Organ Company and at one point had their factory, also built in 1872, in a still extant building on E 25th and Ash (which also served as the Colby Piano Factory after the Felgemaker outfit moved to 19th and Sassafras Sts).
Pipe organ manufacturing was a booming business in Erie in the days of the Felgemaker production. The factory kept people in steady employ and made consistent, lucrative sales. Their production grew and grew, and they shipped out elaborate, artfully crafted pipe organs to hundreds of churches throughout the country, including many throughout Pennsylvania and New York that are still in use. As the 1886 article below states, Felgemaker made over 1,500 instruments between 1862-1886. In Erie, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and St. John’s Lutheran still have Felgemaker organs in use for their congregations.
Augustus died in 1905, and at that point the family was living in a home at 139 W 10th Street (which is long gone). His death notice in the newspaper poured over his good character: “Deceased was highly esteemed by all and his death will be universally regretted.” It goes on to list a short biography: He was the son of Joseph and Caroline Benning Felgemaker of Buffalo NY and was born on July 16, 1836. “Mr. Felgemaker became one of the leading church organ builders in the country and during the 46 years in which he engaged in the business, he placed organs in exactly 900 different churches.” “In his home life he was an ideal father and husband … in his business affairs, he was an honest and upright man … in his factory, he employed men who had been with him since he first began business and to them his death will be a heavy loss.”
“The fact that men could spend a lifetime in his employ speaks better than almost anything else in praise of the man who this morning answered the summons of the inevitable.”
After the Felgemakers left the home at 251 W 21st Street, it was purchased by William and Elizabeth Huff who would make the home their own for nearly 40 years. William was born May 14th, 1877 in Keating, PA, moved to Erie after marrying Elizabeth and lived in Erie for 41 years. The couple had eight children. He worked in the Signal Department of the Pennsylvania Railroad for 47 years and in his retirement, he enjoyed beekeeping, here at his home for all those years at 251 W 21st Street. He was a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church, which happened to have a Felgemaker Organ in use while he attended. He died in 1957, while his wife, Elizabeth, passed away 22 years earlier. It was after Huff’s death that the home at 251 W 21st Street began to change hands, become a rental property, and deviate from it’s original form.
Currently the home is for sale by Howard Hanna for $65, 000 as a cash only/as is sale. It is in need of extensive repairs after housing a number of destructive tenants. There are some features of the home that are still salvageable, namely the newel post and grand staircase, two antique red marble sinks, the beautifully carved front door with hardware, woodwork and hardwood floors, a newish boiler with radiator heat. There has been water damage, and most of the rooms will need completely overhauled. This will take a special owner dedicated to saving the home, but once rehabbed, this could easily be a standout home on the block. Much of the original Italianate features remain on the exterior including multiple banks of bay windows, decorative cornices and corbels, clapboard, decorative trim-work, some original wood windows. This home, since it is in a Nationally Registered Historic District, can be eligible for Historic Preservation Tax Credits, given the correct situation. There may also be funding available through the City Redevelopment Authority.
A huge thank you to realtor Nanci Lorei with Marsha Marsh who took the time to show me this home and who cares about saving the historic homes of Erie.