114 East 34th Street // The Vance Nemenz House

This is the home at 114 East 34th Street as it exists today. It has gone through many changes throughout the years, but was originally constructed in 1928.

The bungalow at 114 E 34th Street was my childhood home, where I grew up, in the neighborhood of my youth. I have strong memories of playing in Baker’s Field behind my backyard, walking to Jefferson School playground with my cousins and neighborhood friends, hosting our annual “Don’t Let the End of Summer Be A Bummer” picnics in the huge backyard (which was essentially an entire un-built lot), riding my bike past the mansions of Glenwood Hills nearby, venturing into the woods by Mill Creek off Eliot Road. The home held many memories of the time my family owned it (from 1981-2007) and my mother has asked me numerous times to figure out its history. So for my mom, Pam, on Mother’s Day, here is what I came up with.

This is the home at 114 E 34th Street as I best remember it. Harvest Gold Aluminum siding with black shutters, the ever-present 1970s eagle adornments, the huge backyard with my father’s Frito-Lay Truck parked in back and the basketball hoop in the driveway.

The home at 114 East 34th Street was originally owned by George and Helen “Nellie” Vance. They purchased the home after it was built in 1928 and owned the home until Helen’s death in 1964. George Vance was born in 1884 in Dunkirk NY but moved to Erie as a child. His father worked at Erie Malleable Iron Works at 12th and Cherry (which will soon no longer be standing) and the family lived at 645 W 10th Street (which is no longer standing) in 1900 and at 558 W 11th (which is no longer standing) in 1920, eventually moving to 562 W 8th Street (which IS still standing).  George’s father, George Sr. was from Canada and his mother, Kate Froehlich Vance, was of German descent and grew up in Dunkirk NY. George was an engineer for the New York Central Railway his entire career, retiring in 1951. 

Helen was born in Erie in 1888 to Samuel and Cecelia Hauck. Her family lived in McKean and her father Samuel was a grocer. Her mother, Cecelia, was of Ohio Mennonite lineage and grew up on a farm. Helen’s family later moved to the City where her father worked as a merchant at Common Hose (women’s hosiery). 

Helen and George married in 1917. The couple had one child, John Richard Vance, who died at one year of age from gastro-enteritis. They never had any other children.

This ad from February 1964 shows the home at 114 E 34th St more like how it would have appeared originally with 9 over 1 wood windows on the second floor with wood columns on the porch. Prior to 1964, the home did not have a finished 2nd floor and the downstairs was configured in such a way as to contain two bedrooms.

After Helen died in 1964, the home was purchased by Edwin and Eileen Wagner who lived there for four years. Edwin and Eileen were both employees of General Electric.

From Erie Times News April 24th, 1949. Eileen and Edwin were the 2nd owners of the home.

Then it was occupied briefly from 1968-1970 by David and Kristina Kendell. And in 1970 it was purchased by John and Loretta Brumfield, who owned the home up until my parents, Pamela and Dennis Nemenz purchased the home in the early 1980s. 

In his youth, John Brumfield was a standout baseball pitcher (who pitched a 7 inning 1 hitter against Strong Vincent, setting a long standing record, in his freshman year) and football Quarterback for Tech Memorial. He played for All Star Leagues and was a local high school baseball phenom (his name was in the papers constantly for his outstanding pitching prowess). He continued to play baseball as an adult for different local leagues. John and Loretta were married in 1964, they had a son, Tommy, who passed away at 2 years old.  They went on to have three more children. Upon selling the home in 1981, the Brumfields moved to Texas.

John Brumfield in his glory days as a multi-talented athlete; his favorite and most outstanding sport was baseball, at which he was an All Star Pitcher who set records for the Erie School District.

It was the Brumfield family who took the home from the 1920s to the 1970s and I recall vividly the puce green shag carpeting, the avocado tub and toilet, and the textured ceilings in the living room and dining room. I do recall a few remnants of the old, original home. There were original windows when we lived there that were replaced, but a couple remained: one rope and wood window in the first floor bathroom and one original casement window on the eastern side of the living room. There was still unpainted beadboard on the front porch ceiling as well as in parts of the kitchen, which also had a couple of original wood doors. 

My mother sold the home to downsize in 2007 and it was sold again in 2017 and in 2020. The interior has been totally renovated, with an open floor plan on the entire first floor. At some point, a large garage was constructed in what was previously the most spacious yard on the block (which is triangle shaped, and begins doubled homes along 34th and 33rd after 114 E 34th St). In some small 1970s victory to someone somewhere, the wood paneling that covered the second floor is still there (although it has been painted).

The Richards Hamilton House // 220 West 9th Street

220 West 9th Street, built around 1888 by Capt. John Stevens Richards and Adelaide McAllaster Richards, was most recently a part of the Erie Business Center’s Campus (formerly Erie Business College).

The home at 220 W 9th Street was originally built by Captain John Stevens Richards and Adelaide Philadelphia McAllaster Richards around 1888. The family’s original home was 214 W 9th (where the Lodge at Sass stands currently). John and Adelaide’s daughter Mary actually married her neighbor (from across the street at 205 W 9th), George Metcalf and they lived in the home at 214 W 9th after they were married, which is when John and Adelaide had this home at 220 W 9th built. Adelaide was a daughter of the American Revolution, her great grandfather, Richard McAllaster, was a member of the first board of selectmen of Antrim NH, 1775. He served in the Canadian expedition of 1776 and was in the battle of The Cedars

These photos of John Stevens Richards and Adelaide McAllaster Richards were found on Ancestry.com

Capt. John Stevens Richards’ biography is well published, as he was a very prominent member of early Erie society and incredibly wealthy. In addition to being a director of the 2nd National Bank of Erie, he took over the presidency of the William Scott Coal Company upon William’s death (he was also the executor of Scott’s estate) and was President of the board of directors of Hamot Hospital. 

According to the ever useful History of Erie County PA by J. E. Reed: “John Stevens Richards was born on the 5th day of June, 1821, at the Richards homestead, in Erie, Pennsylvania. He was the son of John and Ann Hinton Richards, natives of Cardiganshire, North Wales, but who were married in Erie in 1814. John Richards,the elder, went to sea from his home in Wales at a very early age, and had circumnavigated the globe three times when he entered New York City and apprenticed himself to Brown & Bell, ship builders. When the War of 18I2 broke out this firm was engaged by the Government to construct war vessels, and during the building of the slips of Perry’s fleet, forwarded a considerable number of men from New York to Erie, the elder Richards being among the number. Subsequently, and throughout his life, he made his home in that city, finally engaging in ship building.”

John Stevens Richards (the younger) began his career in shipbuilding along with his father, but soon realized that sailing the open waters was more appealing to him. After starting as deckhand on a number of vessels sailing the lakes, he was given command of ships in Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan. He eventually became involved in shipping coal, and settled in Erie into that business. 

The massive 11,000 + square foot Victorian Stick Style home is adorned with some wood paneling in the front (the writer assumes there was more of this ornamentation in the past), roof cresting, multiple gables creating a number of asymmetrical angles, along with paneled and ornamented chimneys.

Richards died in 1897 and Adelaide remained in the home until her death in 1913 when it was purchased by William Hamilton. William was born in England and his family came to Erie in 1870 when William was 5 years old. William’s father William was a machinist and William (the younger) went into the same line of work and eventually became president of the Erie Car Works, which manufactured freight cars. William Hamilton took over the Presidency of the Erie Car Works after William Galbraith (whose home is now the Women’s Club of Erie on w 6th and Myrtle). He also served as the President of the Erie Chamber of Commerce, served as Water Commissioner, was President of the Erie School Board, Director of Hamot Hospital, Director of the Elmwood Home, and was President of the Erie YMCA. He was also a candidate for Mayor at one point. He was instrumental in the creation of Zuck Park, single handedly planting a number of rose beds there.

According to his obituary: “Remaining active until his illness a week ago, he was a familiar part of the downtown scene, especially at the ‘Y’ where he would stop to talk with old friends.” The family lived in the home from around 1913 until 1922, when they temporarily moved to Newark OH to oversee the Erie Car Company’s absorption of a bankrupt Jewett Car Company outfit. Upon returning to Erie, the family lived at 2642 Glenwood Park Avenue until Charlotte’s death, when William moved in with his sister Hattie at 2920 Poplar Street.

Erie Times News March 21, 1925

The home at 220 W 9th was then occupied for only a couple of years by Neilsen Streuber, of a prominent local leather manufacturing family, when it was eventually sold to the Knights of Malta and the Church of Divine Science in 1923 to house their “club house.” By the 1940s the building became occupied by Erie Business College which was founded in 1884 and was run, until recently, as Erie Business Center (the home at 220 W 9th being a part of their campus which eventually included the building at 246 W 9th – built in 1969) and which closed permanently in 2014. The home was purchased in 2016 by DTW Development LLC (the sign in front of the property states ‘Walker Rose Development’) and it appears to be apartment rentals.

Erie Times News August 31, 1953

355 E 9th St // Weber Studio

This home at 355 E 9th Street was built around 1880 for the Weber Family and an adjoining building was their family’s photography studio and gift shop: Weber Studios.

The home at 355 E 9th Street was likely built prior to 1880 (it appears in ownership to the Weber Family on the 1880 census but does not appear on the 1870 census). This home remained in the same family from the day it was built until 1989 when it was sold to the Benedictine Sisters who own the property currently.

This is an advertisement for Weber Studio appearing in the Erie Times News July 1910

F.W. (Frank William) Weber was born in Erie on May 15th, 1857 to Maria (Spath) and Franz Anton Weber who immigrated to Erie from Germany. According to A History of Erie County PA, Franz Anton Weber was a blacksmith by trade until his health failed then he became a grocer. “He was buried on the present site of St. Vincent’s Hospital and the body was later removed to Trinity cemetery, Erie.”

F.W.’s wife, Helen Rechtenwald Weber’s mother, Eva Specht came from France and was a dressmaker, her father, Peter Rechtenwald came to Erie from Germany and he was a tailor; the couple had a tailoring business on State Street (1016 State Street, at one point). Peter Rechtenwald served in the Civil War in Pennsylvania’s 19th Regiment. Both families (the Rechtenwalds and the Webers) were long time residents of the areas of E 8th-E 10th near Parade Street for generations.

F.W. Weber was a local photographer and specialized in portraits (family portraits and weddings). According to A History of Erie County PA: “F. William Weber grew up in Erie and after receiving his education was employed by his brother, F. J., who was a well known photographer of Erie. When he was 21 years old Mr. Weber purchased his brother’s interest in the business, which is located at 351 East 9th Street, and is now conducted by his son, H. J. Weber. Mr. Weber has been considered the leading photographer of the city for many years and is an artist in his work. He also has an interest in the Erie Picture and Framing Company.” The studio (Weber Studio) was in a building adjoining the family home (with the address 351 E 9th). He was also the Vice President of the Parade Street Market Association, which was a large building with an open air farmer’s market located at 915-931 Parade Street and was in business from 1895 until the 1960s. Helen died in 1934 and F. W. in 1946.

The couple had 14 children over 22 years (11 living through childhood) and the home was occupied by their descendants; their youngest child, Rosemary, continued operation of the Weber Gift Shop until 1970. Leanor Weber Weiderle resided there most recently with her daughter, Helen Rapp. Leanor died in 1985 and in 1989, the home was sold to the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, who own the property to this day. The home is directly next door to the former St. Benedict Academy, which was an all girls Catholic High School (where the female Weber children attended) that was established in 1869. The school was moved in 1955 to East 10th Street and closed permanently in 1988. The home at 355 E 9th is currently used as a priory for the Benedictine Sisters and appears in searches as St. Scholastica Priory.

This historic image was posted in the Project Erie Pennsylvania Facebook group in January 2021 and it was speculated that it is an early photograph of 355 E 9th Street. The footprint of the home looks very similar, although the facade has been altered over the years (and a bay window added, note the repointing of the bricks in the modern photo, as well as the replacement windows and aluminum in the gable). Given that the Webers were photographers, it stands to reason that they would photograph their own home. This has not been verified and is a speculation. See below for a side to side comparison of the photographs.

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