The Hearn House at 832 Cascade :: Sarah Hearn Memorial Presbyterian Church

The church at 947 W 9th was constructed in 1926 in Sarah Hearn’s memory, according the the will of Sarah’s son Hudson Hearn.

The house at 832 Cascade was built by Sarah Hearn’s son Charles and her grandson C.G Hearn in the late 1800s

The Sarah Hearn Memorial Presbyterian Church at 947 W 9th Street and the home at 832 Cascade both still stand to represent the built history of the Hearn family in Erie.

Sarah Loomis Brown Hearn was born in 1823 to Hiram and Philena Brown.  Hiram Brown was born in North East PA in 1800, his parents Lemuel Brown and Sarah Loomis were pioneer settlers of this area of Erie County. Lemuel Brown one of the first tavern owners in North East PA. The family’s original tavern was on the site of the present day Haynes House. According to the History of Erie County Pennsylvania: “In course of time, the tow Browns almost monopolized the tavern business of the town. Hiram L. eventually purchased the Eagle Hotel at the corner of State street and the northeast side of the Park in Erie. It burnt down and he erected another house on its site, which was known as Brown’s Hotel until its purchase by Col. Ellsworth, when the name was changed to the Ellsworth House.” The Brown’s Hotel was built in 1851, became the Ellsworth House in 1869 and was torn down entirely in 1891 (By William Scott, who had intentions to build a new building there but died before he got a chance, leaving an empty lot until the Ford Hotel/Richford Arms was built in 1928).

This image of the Brown’s Hotel/Ellsworth House on the northeast corner of State and North Park Row is from the Old Time Erie Blog

Lemuel Brown (Sarah’s grandfather) was born in 1774 in Massachusetts, his wife, Sarah Loomis was also born in Massachusetts and her father, Seth Loomis, was also an early settler of North East, coming to Pennsylvania around 1800.  The Loomis family was also integral to the foundation of North East.  Seth’s grandson, Rufus, built the first church there. These two pioneer families of North East, the Brown and Loomis family joined when Lemuel Brown married Sarah Loomis.  Their son Hiram’s daughter (Lemuel and Sarah’s granddaughter), Sarah Loomis married John Hearn, who immigrated in Erie from Ireland.  Sarah, John, and their children lived at Sarah’s parent’s hotel on State and North Park Row for many years.

Eventually Sarah and John Hearn purchased their home at 144 W 6th Street (constructed in 1839), which was a brick house adjoining what was once the Erie County jail and which is now the parking lot for the County Courthouse.  John was a coal merchant and the couple was very wealthy.  According to the 1870 census, John Hearn’s personal value was $145,000 which equals approximately $3,000,000 today.

November 13, 1906 Erie Times News chronicles the construction and ownership history of 144 W 6th St. In 1906, all seemed eager to tear it down.

Sarah and John’s son, Hudson, was ultimately responsible for the construction of the Sarah Hearn Church at 947 W 9th Street.  According to Hudson’s will: “as soon as the common stock of the Nickel Plate railroad reached the price of $115 a share, 1000 shares were to be sold and a church erected to the memory of his mother.”  Hudson was unmarried and lived at his mother’s residence at 144 W 6th St until his own death, 3 years after his mother’s death.  Construction on the church was eventually completed in 1926 with work being done by the H. Platt Company.  A time capsule was placed in the cornerstone of the building containing “a bible, an American flag, program of the cornerstone laying service, officers of the church, history of the church, newspapers and other articles.”  The original pastor of the church was Charles S. Beatty. Sarah Hearn’s great-grandson, George Hearn, son of Chester and Harriet Hearn, was present at the ceremony. The church is now known as New Revelation Full Gospel Baptist Church but it does not have an active congregation presently.

This historic image of the Sarah Hearn Memorial Presbyterian Church is from the Indiana Limestone Photograph Collection

Chester Gordon Hearn, Sarah’s grandson, and his wife, Harriet Nelson Hearn occupied the home at 823 Cascade. Tax records for this property exist from around 1896, but this intersection of the city was also the home of Chester’s parents, Capt. Charles C. and Helen Hearn, where Chester would have grown up, as well as Chester’s wife, Harriet, who grew up on the opposite (northeast) corner (which is now an empty lot).  The address was sometimes listed on census reports as 1002 W 9th St, particularly in reference to Charles’ address, which likely means either this home was built before 1896 or another dwelling was there before the current home was built with the 832 Cascade address.  In 1907, Chester had the southern addition and porch added.  Chester Hearn was a banker, auditor and cashier for the First National Bank which was established by William Spencer and his son, Judah Colt Spencer. Chester’s mother, Helen Hayward Hearn, was a daughter of the American Revolution: her Great Grandfather, Daniel Hayward Jr. served in Capt. Gershom Nelson’s company, Col. Ezra Wood’s regiment, of the Massachusetts Continental Line.  Chester and Harriet had four children: Chester Jr (a banker), John (who died at age 28 from meningitis), George (a Lieutenant in the Coast Guard), and Harriet (a teacher in Erie’s Public Schools). Chester died suddenly in 1934 and Harriet and, sporadically, her adult children lived in the home on 9th and Cascade until around 1944.  Harriet moved to 453 W 6th Street after that time and lived there until her death in 1965. The home is now a four family unit apartment building.

The Streuber House :: 231 W 21st St

The Streuber House was built in 1882 for Emil and Mary Streuber at 231 W 21st St

The Italianate/Colonial Revival Victorian style home at 231 W 21st St was built for Emil and Mary Streuber in 1882.  Emil Streuber was born in Alsace, France in 1846 and came to Erie with his parents shortly after the Civil War.  His family established a Tannery business (Streuber Brothers Tannery) and had their headquarters on State Street between 18th and 19th. 

From Erie Times News July 27, 1893

Eventually the family expanded the business and built a belt factory between East 21st St and the Nickel Plate Railroad on 19th Street, between Holland and German. Emil also owned stone quarries.  Emil was an animal enthusiast, having many pets, livestock, and wild animals, including various deer, rats, monkeys, reptiles, rare birds and a stocked aquarium. He once purchased a herd of deer to reside in Glenwood Park, for them to be an attraction to the “sylvan resort.” He would often put on animal displays for the children in nearby Sarah Reed’s Home for the Friendless and St. Joseph’s Orphan Asylum.  The couple had three children, Albert, Arthur, and Harriet. 

November 22, 1864 Erie Times News

Emil died in 1911 and his wife Mary Rindernecht-Streuber died in 1927.  Their daughter Harriet married William G Lay and the couple lived in the home after Emil and Mary’s deaths.  William G. Lay was the secretary/treasurer for the Gottfried Organ Company, which produced organs and parts for the Flegemaker Organ Company of Erie, and many others.  Gottfried was once regarded as the “largest organ supply house in the world.” The Gottfried Company occupied the building at 1901 Myrtle (which is still standing). Gottfried Organs was established by Anton A. Gottfried and was in business in Erie, producing organs for 54 years before the company was sold to Standaart Organ Company out of Suffolk Virginia.  Anton Gottfried came to Erie from Germany in 1888 after learning organ building in Switzerland, where he became associated with two of Europe’s premier organ builders.  Gottfried was regarded as “a genius in the field of tone” and he brought that talent to Erie to produce thousands of organs for churches, homes and venues in Erie and far beyond. 

Gottfried Organ Company at 19th and Myrtle. Photo is current and taken from the Erie County Tax Assessment Website.

After the Lays’ deaths, the home at 231 W 21st Street became a rooming house which had many residents over the years.  It remained a rental/rooming house through the 1980s, when it fell into disrepair.  In 1992, the property was purchased by Paul Cappa who completed major restoration work on the home and built the existing garage.  Cappa was interviewed  in an Erie Times News article in 2007: “‘It was a disaster,’ the 43-year-old church choir director said before giving details about the leaky roof, the asbestos-laden furnace, and the exterior wall by the main entrance that was completely caved in… In all — after restoring the inlaid marble and woodwork in the main parlors, sanding the hardwood floors and dozens of other projects — Cappa has spent about $140,000.”

This home is among the 35 contributing properties comprising the West 21st Street Historic District which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.

As of December 2021, 231 W 21st Street is listed for sale for $175,000.  It has 6 bedrooms, two bathrooms, and over 3,800 square feet.

These interior images were taken from the real estate listing in 2021. Listing agent: Nancy Placidi

The Wells House :: 337 W 10th St

.The Ca. 1870 Italianate Style home at 337 W 10th Street still retains much of it’s original exterior elements including columns, windows, bracketing and clapboard.

This Italianate home on the south side of W 10th Street was built ca. 1870 and would remain in the same family until 1991 (121 years). It was originally occupied by Captain John L. Wells and his wife S. Adelia Chambers-Wells. John was born May 20th, 1841 in Harborcreek to Jarvis Wells, who was a chair maker, and his wife Polly Chambers. Adelia was also born in Harborcreek: her father was Stewart Chambers and was a very successful farmer. John and Adelia are both descendents of the Chambers family: their grandfathers were brothers and they are both descended from Colonel Benjamin Chambers who was the founder of Chambersburg, PA in Franklin Township.  

Portrait of Col. Benjamin Chambers, one of the pioneer residents of Pennsylvania (via Ancestry)

Col. Benjamin Chambers was born in 1708 in Antrim, Ireland and came to America when he was around 21 years old. He settled in what would become Chambersburg by 1734 and was considered the first non-indigineous settler in Franklin County, PA. He was granted 1000 acres (and his brother, John, 400) by William Penn. He chose the area at the junction of Falling Springs and the Conococheague and built a log cabin, grist and saw mills utilizing the nearby creeks.

“Fort Chambers” was constructed by Benjamin Chambers ca. 1756 and this portion still stands at 52 W King St in Chambersburg PA

In 1756, during the French and Indian War, he built “Fort Chambers” (for his family’s own protection) portions of which are still standing at 52 W King St in Chambersburg.  The remaining building still has the original log walls and flooring. According to History of Franklin County Pennsylvania (published in 1883): “During the controversy between Lord Baltimore and the Penns, concerning the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland, he (Chambers) went to England to assist, by his evidence and advice, in the adjustment of the difficulties involved. From England he went to Ireland, his native soil, where he induced many acquaintances with their families to remove to his new settlement.”

It is from this pioneer lineage that John Wells and Adelia Chambers were born. This also likely contributed to the ease of their fortune. It was John and Adelia’s shared Great Grandfather was Ezekiel Chambers Sr. who came to settle in Harborcreek. Ezekiel and his sons Benjamin and Ezekiel Jr. are mentioned in A Twentieth Century History of Erie County as being among the earliest settlers of Harborcreek, shortly after it was organized in 1800. Ezekiel Sr., who served in the American Revolution, would die shortly after moving to Harborcreek in 1803. The family acquired large tracts of land along Buffalo Road and worked farms there. The land was eventually sectioned off for each Chambers child and their families. This is how John Wells’ parents and Adelia Chambers’ parents happened to both be settled in the same area of Harborcreek.

From the Will of Benjamin Chambers (grandson of Col. Benjamin Chambers) showing the plots of farmland and property to be divided among the family along Buffalo Road in Harborcreek. (via PA Wills and Probates)

John L Wells served in the Civil War in the 111th Regiment of the PA Volunteer Infantry. Upon returning to Erie and marrying Adelia, they initially lived together in a boarding house operated by Kate and Hortense McCarter on 4th and State.  Shortly thereafter, they moved into the home on 10th Street and their family would remain there for over a century, until 1991. John was a pension attorney for the US Government. He also worked in real estate and insurance. He and Adelia had two sons, Raymond and Herbert. Herbert was a paint salesman for Glidden Paints and lived on Rankine Ave in Lawrence Park with his wife Rena.  

Louise Wells, appearing in the Erie Times News March 22, 1928

Raymond ended up living at his parents home at 337 W 10th for the remainder of his life with his wife, Louise. Raymond was also a travelling varnish and paint salesman for Glidden, but he was also a vocalist and musician. In his youth, he often traveled to New York to practice with professional musicians including Professor William J. Parsons (originally from Union City), who also spent some time in Erie at the Wells’ home on 10th Street to give vocal students in Erie a chance to have a lesson with the professional. Raymond performed many concerts in Erie at different churches (often accompanied by Mrs. Charles Colby on piano), concert halls, and venues, as well as offering private voice lessons out of the family home. Raymond’s wife, Louise, was also a singer and a very active local actress, and one can imagine that the home on W 10th Street was often filled with their beautiful songs.

Louise died in 1951 and Raymond remarried. Both couples were childless. Raymond died in 1969 and his second wife remained in the home on 10th Street until her death, when the house then passed to family friend, Emma Maeder-Bussard in 1991, which is the first time the home was not owned by a Wells in its entire history. Shortly thereafter, the home was converted to offices. It is now the Family Law Group LLC offices.

Erie Home History Research Presentation

This is the entirety of the talk I presented for the Erie County Public Library on July 17, 2021. In it, I go through the steps I use when researching an old home or property. I should, hopefully, provide you with some tips for using internet resources to research the history of your Erie County home.

317 Frontier Drive :: Weber Semple House

317 Frontier Drive // The Weber-Semple House

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.

Advertisement from August 13, 1927 Erie Times News

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.

Advertisement from Feb 28th, 1912 issue of Erie Times News showing Carl J Weber as President of the American Motor Sales Co at 521 French St. He and his wife, Florence, were the first occupants of 317 Frontier Dr.

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).

From Dec 24th, 1929 Erie Times News

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.

These photos are not my own but from the recent real estate listing for 317 Frontier Dr. listed by Coldwell Banker.

Home History Research Resources

On Saturday July 17th, 2021, I gave a presentation through the Erie County Public Library about how to use free/mostly free internet resources to research the history of your old Erie home. I am listing the resources I most commonly use here as a reference for anyone working on their own house history.

Erie County Tax Assessment Website

Historical Erie County Newspapers on Newsbank via ECPL

Find A Grave

Ancestry or Family Search

Ancestor Tracks

Hagen History Center

The Heritage Room :: Raymond M Blasco Memorial Library

Erie County Courthouse Clerk of Records :: Deed Research

The Colby Piano Company, Erie PA

From 1888 through the turn of the Century, Charles C. Colby brought high quality piano production to Erie.

The former manufacturing site of The Colby Piano Company at 25th and Ash. This building is still in use as a storage facility and is very well maintained.

In the 1880s, Charles C. Colby brought piano manufacturing to Erie.  Colby was born in Vermont and spent parts of his youth in East Springfield, Erie County.  He lived for a large part of his adult life in Missouri, and worked as a teacher “but his natural bent and desire was music and he embarked in business in St. Louis as a piano manufacturer with indifferent success” (Erie Times News April 9, 1895).  He then went to Europe to hone his skills and became a true artisan of piano making.  When he returned from Europe, he started out in New York City and began the “Colby and Duncan Piano Company” in 1888 and was very successful. “In finish of case, perfection of action, and purity of tone the instrument had been brought up to Mr. Colby’s ideal of what a piano ought to be.”

This is an original Colby piano that was manufactured in Erie. Photo contributed by @lakeerievegan (via Instagram)

It was then, in 1888, that Charles decided to move his family (wife Ellen, and children Charles, Maggie and Pearl) to Erie and begin a manufacturing plant here to supplement business in New York.  He purchased the old Derrick and Felgemaker Pipe Organ factory at 25th and Ash, which is still standing and in beautiful condition, and began production of his prized pianos. “The building, which is 35×150 feet and four stories high, with a large addition to the south, will be commodious enough to supply all the immediate demands of the company.” (Erie Morning Dispatch, Sept 19, 1888). The company’s sales and showroom was originally at 921 State Street, later moving to 1222 State Street.  It was the factory’s location at 25th and Ash that is largely credited with much of the home construction in that area of the city, as employees of the company chose to build their homes close to the factory where they worked, and for a while, it was a large and busy workforce. “The capacity of the works will be between fifty and sixty instruments every week–it will be one of the largest piano factories in the United States.  This important addition to the business of Erie will be learned of with satisfaction by every citizen.”

The original stone sign on the E25th St side of the Colby Piano Company at 25th and Ash reads: the Derrick and Felgemaker Pipe Organ Company 1872. The Colby Piano Company moved into the former pipe organ factory in 1888.

In the 1890s there was an economic downturn and the Colby Piano company struggled to remain in business.  However, business started to look up in 1894.  Colby was quoted in the Erie Times on Sept 28, 1894 in a candid conversation that gives you a sense of his personality: “When people are hungry and it takes all they can earn to supply bread, there is no demand for such things as pianos among the masses.  We have been fairly busy during the recent depression, but we, of course, suffered the same as all other institutions.  During the past two months, however, we have noticed a decided change for the better.  Orders have been coming in so rapidly that we have not been able to fill them and we are far behind at present … A piano manufacturer can tell the pulse of trade as nearly as anyone I know, because his business is the first to feel the effects of a panic and the last to recuperate.”

The pianos were of impeccable quality and were largely made with imported, exotic woods. “The company finishes its cases almost entirely in rosewood, St. Jago Mahogany and in Sicilian walnut, and special pains are taken to have this portion of the work done in a manner which will ensure its durability.”  To give a sense of the value of a Colby piano, in 1889, the Erie Commercial Travelers Association held a fundraiser and raffled off a Colby piano which was valued at $800 (which would today be equal to $24,000).

Photo of Colby Piano manufactured in Erie contributed by @lakeerievegan (Instagram)

While the Colby family lived in Erie, their homes were largely in the E 8th and Parade Street area.  In 1891, Charles and Ellen Colby bought a home from Joseph B Crouch, who owned a number of residences on E 8th Street, was a Civil War veteran and was a successful flour mill owner. Two homes are associated with the Colby family: 348 E 8th Street and 332 E 8th.  According to tax records, these homes were both built in 1812, although accurately, they were likely built in the mid to late 19th century. Both are still standing, one is a single family home (348) and one is a rental, split into apartments (332).  Both are Italianate in style, with 348 being the more grand and ornate home.  By the time Charles died in 1895, he was living at 332 E 8th Street.  He was described as a “model man, considerate and loving as a husband, and kind and indulgent as a father.” (Erie Times News, April 9th 1895)

After Charles died, his son, Charles took over operation of the company for three years before turning over the property to the Secretary/Treasurer of the Colby Piano Company George Diehl, who took on some financial issues that the company had accumulated.  The Colby Company remained in Erie through the turn of the century.  

960 E 21st St :: The Wakefield House

This was once the home of W.W. and Flora Wakefield. W.W. began his career as a manager at Warner Brothers Dry Goods and Carpets on the northwest corner of 10th and State. He quickly got into other ventures and eventually took over his brother-in-law’s company, The Carey Roofing Company/Carey Manufacturing. Flora was an active suffragette, often using the couple’s home as a meeting place for organization.

They first moved to this area of the city after purchasing the old Martin Warfel Homestead, which was a tract of land extending from Buffalo Rd to 28th Street and from East Avenue to Elm Street. Apparently, an Eriez burial ground was unearthed in the gravel banks between 25th and 28th Street east of East Avenue. According to “The History of Erie County” by John Elmer Reed: “Just beyond Warfeltown, in Erie, used to be a famous place for school children, and others, to search for skulls and other human remains. Many burial mounds were to be then found thereabouts, which when disturbed yielded many a treasure as a reward for efforts of the searchers. It is said a very large human skeleton was found there, and with it two copper bowls which had been perforated around their edges and held together with a buckskin thong laced in and out of these perfo- rations. The bowls held about a pint of beads each ; but what has become of either bowls or beads, we have been unable to learn.”

Photograph of Martin Warfel, who initially settled the land this home was eventually built upon.

This home was built in 1914 and the Wakefield family lived there through the 1930s. They also owned a summer home on Lakeside Drive, on the bluff overlooking the lake, which was demolished in the 1960s.

262 W 3rd St :: The Tallman House

I initially researched this property for Preservation Erie’s 2021 Endangered Properties List, but found that, although it hasn’t been occupied since at least the mid 1990s, it has been maintained enough to keep it standing, it meets all code requirements, recently had a new roof, and the owner has no intention to sell or demolish it. So, while it is not endangered, it does have some majorly unfulfilled potential.

This home was originally built around the turn of the 20th century by William and Caroline Tallman.  William was a naval Captain and had a maritime towing business.  He came into a great fortune when a wealthy relative from Virginia passed away and he inherited a great deal of money.  It was at that time the home on West 3rd Street was built.  He was married to Caroline Melaven Tallman, who lived in the home after William’s death in 1916 until her own death in 1933, with her sister Frances Melaven.  Neither the Tallmans nor Melaven had any children and after Frances’ death, the home was purchased by Carl E Warner who converted the large family home into apartments.  

Eventually the home went up for sheriff’s sale in 1992 and was purchased by Peter Kubeja, who is the current owner.  The home is a prominent corner lot and has some distinguishing exterior characteristics, including a corner turret with topper, and a large curved wrap around porch.  This is a prominent historic home in the core of Erie’s downtown and adjacent to many Gannon properties.  It has great potential to be a showpiece in an area where empty lots are gaining more and more ground every day.