Erie County

Erie County, Pennsylvania

History of Erie County, Pennsylvania 1884

by Samuel P. Bates, 

Submitted by Gaylene Kerr Banister


Part III Chapter II - General Description and Progress

The city of Erie is located on a gentle slope extending south about two miles and a half from the bay of Presque Isle. The elevations of the bank along the bay front, beginning at Parade street and running west on Second, are as follows: Parade street, 19 feet; German, 58 feet; Holland, 59 feet; French, 58 feet; State, 56 feet; Peach, 59 feet; Sassafras, 63 feet; Myrtle, 63 feet; Chestnut, 67 feet; Walnut, 70 feet; Cherry, 50 feet; Poplar, 61 feet; and Liberty, 70 feet. Beginning at Second street and running south on State the following elevations are given on the map in the water office: Second street, 56 feet; Third, 65 feet; Fourth, 71 feet; Fifth, 75 feet; Sixth, 77 feet; Seventh, 82 feet; Eighth, 85 feet; Ninth, 88 feet; Tenth, 90 feet; Eleventh, 93 feet; Twelfth, 95 feet. The valley of Mill Creek now coming in on State, we will cross over to Peach street, where Thirteenth street has an elevation above the bay of 100 feet; Fourteenth, 104 feet; Sixteenth, 120 feet; Eighteenth, 126 feet; Twenty-first, 144 feet; Twenty-second, 157 feet; and Twenty-fifth, 194 feet, while the bottom of the reservoir on Twenty-sixth street is 210 feet above the surface of Presque Isle Bay.

The town site was originally covered with a dense growth of timber, and divided into watersheds by the following streams: Garrison Run, Mill Creek, Lee's Run, Little and Big Cascade Runs, and Ichabod Run, along each of which deep ravines extended, affording first class facilities for drainage. All of these streams emptied into the bay except Ichabod Run, which was a tributary of Mill Creek, and once furnished motive power for a brewery, distillery and woolen factory. In the improvement of the city, it was taken into the sewer on Seventeenth street, and is now out of sight. The sewer on Sassafras street took in the head-waters of Lee's Run, the main body of the stream having disappeared with the building of the canal. An immense ravine ran across the parks in first section, from their southwest corner to the Ellsworth House, traces of which can be seen at Second and other streets. People passed form one side of the town to the other by going into the ravine and crossing a foot bridge that spanned a stream of water which ran down to the bay. This ravine was gradually filled up with the growth of the town, and the court house was built over it where it crossed the West Park.

Erie, originally, was nearly all at the mouth of Mill Creek, and travelers entered it by Parade and East Sixth streets, the latter intersecting the lake road near the eastern limits of the town. From Mill Creek, Erie gradually extended up Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth streets to French. On the 29th of March, 1805, the General Assembly passed an act erecting the first section into a borough, and the little settlement was now on a fair road to prosperity. In 1808, William Davidson was paid $42 for clearing the timber off the public square, which at a subsequent day the Town Council saw was an error, and again planted in trees. The growth of Erie reached State street in a few years, for we find Robert Brown erecting a stone hotel on the southwest corner of State and South Park Row, the site of the Dime Savings Bank, in 1811; and there were also thinly scattered settlements which in after years adopted local names, such as Cloughsburg, Stumptown, New Jerusalem, Kingtown, Federal Hill, Marvintown and South Erie.

Cloughsburg was named after Rufus Clough, a blacksmith, who located on the southwest corner of Sixth and Parade streets, opened a blacksmith shop and subsequently a grocery. The neighborhood, embracing from the creek to Parade street and immediate vicinity, was a lively place sixty years ago. The house of Charles M. Lynch, was the residence of Maj. Clough during the latter part of his career.

Stumptown grew up during the war of 1812, when troops were called to Erie in the extreme cold weather of January, 1814. A large number of cabins were built by them for quarters, extending from Peach street to the gully of Lee's Run, and that part of Erie was known, as late as 1825, by the name of Stumptown.

New Jerusalem was christened by William Himrod, who in 1828-29 bought a large number of lots west of Sassafras and north of Sixth street. At that time, there were but two families living west of Lee's Run north of Sixth street, excepting down upon the bank of the bay, where there were a few scattering houses. Mr. Himrod, who resided on the northwest corner of French and Second streets, seems to have been a Bible student, as he called his own home "Jericho," because as he said it was on the side of a hill, and upon laying off his new purchase named it "New Jerusalem." It has been claimed that it was so named from the fact that many of the purchasers of lots were Jews, while Mrs. Gallagher says "the name of New Jerusalem was given to it because it was so hard to get to." However, every purchaser had to build and occupy a house in New Jerusalem as one of the conditions of sale, therefore the addition soon became a bustling place, but with the course of time as the town spread out, these local names gradually went out of use.

Kingtown was laid out by Alfred King, on some outlots owned by him a little southeast of "Garrison Ground," a spot around which clusters many of the earliest historical events of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

Federal Hill is the summit of the hill in South Erie, a name given to it be George Moore, on account of the large number of "Federals" who resided there. It was quite a settlement as early as the war of 1812, and there were several public houses and stores located at that point. One of the hotels was the "American Eagle," from which it also came to be known as Eagle Village. The village was a great stopping place for travelers, being the terminus of the Waterford pike and Ridge road. It was long the voting place of Mill Creek Township, and fifty years ago a mile of woods lay between there and Erie. Among those who resided on "Federal Hill" were George Moore, Capt. John Justice, Ira Glazier, Dr. P. Faulkner, John Sweeney, Simeon Dunn, Dr. Plara Thayer and other well-known citizens.

Marvintown was the home of Elisha Marvin, who lived at the "Sennett place," near the junction of Parade street and the Wattsburg road, had splendid grounds, and owned most of the land around. Being the intersection of two roads, a small village sprang into existence, and in 1852-53 Mr. Marvin employed Samuel Low to lay out the land in lots. The lots were sold principally to Germans, and finally Mr. Marvin disposed of his home to Mr. Sennett.

South Erie grew up in consequence of the building of the Lake Shore Railroad, which was finished to Erie January 10, 1852, and then called the Erie & Northeast Railroad, but subsequently became a part of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern line. Much of it was owned by Maj. David McNair, who lived close to his brewery on Turnpike street. He erected the latter in 1815, added a distillery in 1823, and a grist mill in 1827. South Erie was incorporated as a borough in 1866, and became a part of Erie by the extension of the latter in 1870. The interests of all these local points were identical with those of Erie, and they were, we might say, suburban villages of the latter during its different periods of growth, to be absorbed and lost sight of with the extension of the city limits.

Few cities of the West can compare with Erie in its numerous attractions, and around none center a deeper historic interest. It is nearly three miles from east to west, and two from north to south, containing thirty streets each way, or 150 miles of city highways. All streets running north and south are the property of the State, and no person can ever gain an ownership in them; also all east and west streets south to Twelfth; but those between Twelfth and Twenty-sixth street, running east and west, were taken from the outlots as originally laid out. East avenue and Twenty-sixth street were formed from the gores resulting from lack of agreement in subsequent surveys, growing out of a change in the variation of the needle. The twelve outlots between Twenty-sixth and Twenty-eighth streets, and Parade and East avenue, were laid out by Col. Thomas Forster, without authority, but his survey was afterward legalized by the State Legislature. Railroad street, on the west side of the cattle yards of the Philadelphia & Erie Railroad, running southeast to the city limits from East avenue on the west side of said railroad land, was granted to the city, on account of the railroad company being exempted from liability of their lands being crossed by east and west streets south of the Buffalo road. State, Parade, Sixth, Tenth and Twelfth streets are 100 feet in width, and the balance principally sixty, though some run under, and portions of others over that figure.

Twenty years ago, a great share of the business was done around the parks. The Reed House, Brown's Hotel, American House and Park House, as well as the largest stores, were there, but with the passing years the business center has gradually moved south on State street, which is now considered the most valuable portion of Erie, and the principal thoroughfare of the city. It is substantially paved, and lined on either side with fine business blocks, some of which would do credit to a city of metropolitan pretensions. Besides State street, which is paved from Front to Turnpike, the following parts of the several streets here named have pavements: Peach, from Second to Twenty-sixth; French, from Front to Tenth; Parade, from Sixth to Eighteenth; Turnpike, from State to Peach; North and South Park Rows; Fourth, from State to Sassafras; Fifth, from State to French; Sixth, from the park east to Parade with stone, and west to Walnut with asphalt; Ninth, from French to Peach with stone, and from Peach to Chestnut with asphalt; Eleventh, from State to Parade; and Twelfth, from State to Peach. Streets running east and west are numbered from State, with all odd numbers of the south side of the street, while those running north and south are numbered from Front, with the odd numbers on the east side of the street. Between every street there are 100 numbers, so that a stranger will have no difficulty in finding the location of any given number in Erie.

Visitors coming to the city for the first time are impressed by the activity in every department of business. After reaching the fine Union Depot, located on Peach street, between Fourteenth and Fifteenth, the business portion of Erie branches out toward the north and south, extending from Twenty-sixth street to the bay, and presenting a very substantial appearance. Where State street intersects Park Row are two handsome public parks, extending east and west to French and Peach streets, and from North to South Park Row, affording a delightful promenade and resting-place during the summer months. These parks are cut into artistic designs by asphalt walks, terminating at a beautiful fountain in the center of each. These fountains were made in Philadelphia, and erected in 1868 at a total cost of $3,237.98.

In the West Park and facing State street, is the Monument, erected "In memory of the soldiers and sailors from Erie County who gave their lives to save the Union." The bronze group consists of a soldier and sailor, standing side by side, mutually supporting the National flag, which hangs in graceful folds between them, the foot of the staff resting upon the ground, the right hand of the soldier grasping it, while his left is holding his rifle en traile. The sailor stands with his left foot upon a coil of rope, his right hand grasping the pommel of his sword, the point of which is placed upon the ground, while his left hand carelessly rests upon the right, the scene representing the mutual relation of these forces in sustaining the one flag. This group stands upon a granite pedestal, eight feet square by twelve feet high, from the marble works of Hallowell, Me., while the statuary was executed by the Ames Company, of Chicopee, Mass., after a design by Ball. The work was completed in the fall of 1872, and cost about $10,000. On the west side of the pedestal is inscribed the following memorable quotation from Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg: "We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Immediately south of the monument is a handsome drinking fountain, presented to the city in 1883 by George D. Selden, while across State street, in the East Park, stands a neat band pagoda, and as a whole these parks add much to the beauty of Erie.

Among the many fine buildings in the city, public and private, may be mentioned the Court House and Jail, the Union Depot, the Marine Hospital, the Custom House and Jail, the Union Depot, the Marine Hospital, the Custom House, St. Joseph's Orphan Asylum, St. Vincent's Hospital, Home for the Friendless, the Firs Presbyterian Church, First Methodist Episcopal Church, Park Presbyterian Church, St. Paul's Protestant Episcopal Church, St. Mary's Catholic church and Benedictine Academy, and St. Peter's Catholic Cathedral, which has been in process of erection for several years, and when completed will be an edifice second to none in this portion of Pennsylvania. Those of a private character principally noteworthy are the Reed House, Scott's Block, Downing Block, Park Opera House, Ellsworth house, Dime Bank building, Noble Block, Rosenzweig's block, Jarecki Block, Becker Block, Walther's Block, Hays Block, and numerous others, which all contribute largely to the architecture of the city. The public schools and extensive manufacturing establishments scattered throughout Erie might also be mentioned in this connection, but as the churches, schools, charitable institutions, county buildings and leading manufactories are fully written up under their respective heads, either in the county or city history, we refer the reader to those separate articles for the history of their beginning, growth and present prosperity.

The city is supplied with good newspapers, many of which have attained large circulation, and are recognized as strong factors in molding public opinion. They are as follows:

Erie Gazette, weekly and Sunday morning. Weekly established by Joseph M. Sterrett in 1820. Sunday established 1875, Republican. W. G. McKean, publisher.

Erie Observer, daily and weekly, R. B. Brown editor and proprietor. Democratic. Weekly established by T. B. Barnum, 1830. The Evening Observer was started by Mr. Brown October 15, 1881.

Erie daily and weekly Dispatch, J. R. Willard & Co., proprietors. Republican. Established as weekly at Waterford, 1851; removed to Erie in 1856; the daily was first issued at Erie, 1861, but it lasted only a brief period. In 1864, it was again started and has since been issued regularly.

Lake Shore Visitor,
Catholic weekly, Rev. Thomas A. Casey, editor. Established 1872.

Erie Advertiser, weekly, John M. Glazier, editor and proprietor; independent. Established April 1, 1876.

Erie Evening Herald and Dollar Weekly. Herald Printing and Publishing Company, proprietors, Democratic. Established July, 1878.

Erie Sunday Graphic, Jacob Bender, editor and proprietor; independent. Established in May, 1880.

The Star of Liberty is a monthly, established by H. R. Storrs, editor and proprietor, April 1, 1882.

Zuschauer, weekly, German, F. G. Gorenflo, editor and proprietor; Republican. Established 1852.

Leuchtthurm, daily and weekly, German, Otto Luedicke, proprietor; independent. Weekly established in 1860; daily, October 5, 1875.

Jornal de Noticias, weekly, Portuguese, A. M. Vincent, editor; independent. Established October 27, 1877.

The Sonntagsgast, Sunday, German; established May 15, 1881, by Frank Weiss & Co.; independent.

The excellent situation of Erie is a subject of remark, and the general health is much above cities of similar population. The sewerage of the city has receive considerable attention since 1868, and much intelligence and money have been directed toward its perfection. The public sewers take up about twenty miles of pipe. New improvements are being constantly made, and the city's sanitary condition is ably looked after by Dr. E. W. Germer, its present efficient health officer. Nuisances detrimental to the health of the people are promptly dealt with and soon become a thing of the past.

The city is lighted by 425 gas lamps, the luminous power of each being described as nineteen candle power, from which we can safely infer that Erie possesses well-lighted streets, and that she is fairly abreast with the progressive spirit of the age.

Throughout the city are distributed 213 fire hydrants, and forth-three miles of water mains. In connection with this we might here state that Erie is furnished with a first class fire department, which, together with its incomparable water supply, insures efficient service in saving property and fighting that fiery element of destruction, that has proven such a terror in so many poorly protected cities.

Hotels and Public Halls

While there are a great many hotels in the city, they differ widely in the character of their accommodations, but for the classes to which they cater probably no city is better supplied. For the benefit of the commercial class, we enumerate the following as among those calculated to best satisfy the general public demands: Reed House, Liebel House, Moore's Hotel, Wilcox House, Union Depot Hotel and Morton House. The Massassauga Hotel, which was built by Hon. W. L. Scott, some fours years ago, at the western end of the bay of Presque Isle, known as "The Head," was destroyed by fire December 1, 1882. The original cost of the hotel with its adjoining buildings was about $40,000, and it was becoming a very popular resort for summer guests from all sections of the country. This may also be said of the Reed House, which has been elegantly refitted throughout, and offers every attraction to the traveling public that may be found in any first-class hotel.

The public halls of the city are numerous and well adapted for all public gatherings. The prominent ones are the Park Opera House, a building which for stage convenience, seating capacity, acoustic arrangement and general internal decoration will favorably compare with those of most cities of similar size in the country; Jarecki's Hall, Becker's Hall, Odd Fellows Hall, Presque Isle Hall, Zuck's Hall, Metcalf's Hall, Masonic Hall, Grand Army of the Republic Hall, and several others of lesser note or of a more private character.

Pleasure Resorts
The fact that one of Perry's vessels, the Niagara, lies sunk in Misery Bay, makes it an interesting resort for residents, as well as tourists, and in summer many avail themselves of the steam yachts, Massassauga and Lena Knobloch to visit it. These yachts are largely patronized, on their trips to "The Head," and are often in demand by parties wishing to visit the fishing grounds, Long Point, Port Dover, Canada and other points of interest. The Emma V. Sutton and J. H. Welch, smaller yachts than those mentioned, are in constant use on the bay, which in the summer season is a delightful resort; while dozens of sail and row boats are continually gliding over its waters with pleasure seekers. The Massassauga is said to be one of the fastest yachts on the lake, and carries with safety 225 passengers. The captains of these boats are skillful seamen, and use every care in the safe transportation of their patrons. The enjoyment of these excursions upon the bay and lake can be equaled any at the sea coast. The "Big Bend," on the peninsula, is one of the well-known pleasure resorts, as are also Cochran's Grove in the southern precincts of the city, and Wagner's Grove still farther south. There are, doubtless, other points used as the occasion require, but those mentioned are the ones best known and patronized.

The climate is notably healthy, and in summer cool and delightful, the land and lake breezes alternating every day with the regularity of sea breezes on the coast. The bathing facilities, both in the bay and lake, are fine and greatly enjoyed, many preferring the fresh to salt water. The facilities offered for walks and drives about the city are numerous, and those who prefer land trips can avail themselves of the drive to "The Head," enjoying the lake breeze from the shade of the original groves at "Massassauga Point," which at night are brilliantly illuminated by natural gas. The drives throughout the southern boundary, overlooking the city, harbor and lake, offer special attractions to the pleasure seeker.

Railroads and Shipping Facilities
Centering here are the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern, a great East and West trunk line; the Philadelphia & Erie, communicating with the lumber, oil and coal fields of the State, and the short line to tide water; the Erie & Pittsburgh, running between the two points from which its name is derived, and the New York, Chicago & St. Louis, a new trunk line, which has proven of great benefit to this section. Much feeling has been indulged in concerning the railroad interests of this city, ever since the first rail was laid within its limits, but aside from all disagreement, stand the fact of Erie's existence, as a great manufacturing point, her natural advantages, and the circumstance of her lying between two large and densely populated sections, both consumers of the products of her manufactories, has led to continued progress in the face of all arbitration against her interests. So long as the enterprise and ingenuity of her people plan, and their capital executes; so long as the community fosters industry and thrift, so long will Erie continue to progress.

The city is well supplied with wharfage, while the Philadelphia & Erie, and the Erie & Pittsburgh Railroads have branches running to the water front, and extensive docks, making the trans-shipment of freights from vessels to the cars, or vice versa, easy and convenient. W. L. Scott & Co. also have large docks on the bay front. With these advantages, the shipping facilities of the city by water and rail are unsurpassed, and that they are availed of is attested by the large quantities of coal, iron, iron ore, lumber and miscellaneous freights which are yearly handled.

The "Erie & Western Transportation Company," better known as the "Anchor Line," handle large quantities of grain, and the general railroad business to and from the lake is enormous. The Transportation Company commenced business in 1868, the nucleus being one small elevator, built at Erie by Messrs. Noble, Brown, McCarter & Shannon, and from that modest beginning it as grown to its present magnificent proportions. At this port the company own about forty acres of the finest dock property on the lakes, upon which it has two spacious, first-class elevators, with a combined capacity of 625,000 bushels; two large freight warehouses of sufficient capacity to store 3,000 tone of merchandise, together with all the necessary racks and other appliances for handling freight rapidly and cheaply. The "Anchor" fleet consists of seventeen propellers, one tug, and three schooners, viz.: the Clarion, Lehigh, Philadelphia, Alaska, India, China and Japan (all iron); the Juniata, Delaware, Conestoga, Lycoming, Conemaugh, Wissahickon, Gordon Campbell, Annie Young, Winslow, and Arizona (wood); the Allegheny, Annie Sherwood, and Schuylkill (schooners); and the tug Erie, a total tonnage of 29,780 tons. During the season of navigation these vessels, both passenger and freight., leave the "Anchor Line" docks at the foot of Holland street, on their regular trips to Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, and all Lake Superior ports. The effect of these facilities upon the city's future prosperity cannot be too highly considered, and must be the means of attracting capital for manufacturing purposes.

Bay, Harbor and Peninsula
The bay of Presque Isle is about four and a half miles long by one and a half miles wide, with an average depth of more than twenty-two feet over the greater portion of it, and no shoal within the deep area to obstruct navigation. It is entirely land-locked, protected from the heaviest gales, and has the best character of bottom for anchorage. It is formed by the peninsula of Presque Isle, a sand-bar, from a few rods to a mile in width, which just out from the main shore of Lake Erie at Massassauga Point, some four miles west of the city, runs two miles into the lake and makes an abrupt turn to the east, sweeping down the lake to the entrance of the bay, a point opposite the eastern boundary of Erie. As the safety and welfare of the harbor depend upon the maintenance of this peninsula, much money has been expended by the Government in closing breaches and protecting it from heave seas. An erroneous impression exists that the peninsula is the property of the United States, and that it devolves upon the Government to protect it so that it shall not be cut away by the sea. Such is not the case; the United States has never accepted the gift, and the only object in constructing the works of protection is to prevent a breach which might endanger the harbor of Erie. No one has a right to live on it, however, save the keepers of the two light-houses and the crew of the life-saving station. It is covered with a dense growth of timber, shrubs and vines, which are not allowed to be cut down, and is penetrated in every direction by chains of small lakes or ponds connected with the bay by channels usually navigable for small boats. The peninsula is one of the finest spots around Erie for picnics, pleasure excursions and camping-parties, and affords admirable sport for gunners and fishermen. Wild fowl and fish abound both in the bay, in the peninsula ponds and in the lake outside, and are carefully protected by the Northwestern Pennsylvania Game and Fish Association. The result is, that the peninsula, covering about 4,000 acres, and the bay about 4,000, form a natural preserve which will last for generations.

The ruins of a large brick house or fort, erected near the east end of the peninsula long prior to American occupation, were still to be seen in 1795; and in 1813 a block-house was built at Crystal Point, just west of Misery Bay, to defend the harbor entrance. This bay was so named by Lieut. Holdup, in 1814, on account of the prevailing gloomy weather and the comfortless condition of the vessels anchored in it at that time. I is also called Lawrence Bay, after Perry's flagship, which was sunk in its waters, but subsequently raised and taken to the Centennial in 1876. Erie has always had jurisdiction over the peninsula, and in 1833 R. S. Reed was appointed superintendent of it for five years, and a fine of $500, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, was the penalty for cutting timber or setting fire to the shrubbery thereon. In 1835, the borough resolved to proceed against any one who might erect buildings upon it. The Legislature passed an act, in 1841, imposing of fine of not less than $10, nor more than $25, on any person who should gather cranberries on the peninsula between July and October. The 1st of October was "cranberry day," a great event in olden times. Large parties would cross the bay the night before and remain until morning. The marshes were full of cranberries, to a much larger extent than at present, and for that reason were well patronized by the people of Erie.

Immediately after the war of 1812, the Government asked Commodore Perry for his opinion as to the feasibility of removing the sand-bar which blocked the entrance to the harbor, and he reported favorably on the project. In 1819, a survey was made by the General Government, but nothing further was done at that time. In 1822, the State of Pennsylvania appointed Thomas Forster, Giles Sanford and George Moore, of Erie, a committee to survey the bay of Presque Isle and ascertain the depth of water in the bay, on the bar, and the anchorage outside the bar, and expended $15,000 toward improving the harbor. The project was then taken in hand by the General Government, which has since continued the work. It is said that in 1821 the peninsula was covered with timber from the mainland to the beacon light on its southeastern point, but that a few years afterward the heavy seas washed the timber off the neck, and subsequently made the breach through to the bay, which remained open for more than thirty years, partly by the assistance of the United States Engineers, who tried to made of it a western channel to the lake.

The present project of harbor improvement adopted in 1823, and amended from time to time as the demands of commerce called for an increased depth of water, consists of two break-waters extending from the main shore and from the end of the peninsula at the eastern extremity of the bay, with parallel piers, 350 feet apart, running from the ends of these beak-waters to a depth of sixteen feet in the lake, the object being to contract the entrance, and by the increased velocity of the current to deep the channel scoured out to the proper depth. In addition to this work at the entrance, the project also requires the protection of the shore at the neck of the peninsula of Presque Isle, which by its position forms the harbor of Erie, and which peninsula has been breached several times during the past fifty years.

The report of the Chief Engineer U. S. A. for 1881 in an interesting article says: "The original survey of this harbor under the chief of engineers was made in 1819, when there was a long, low sand-bar stretching across the present entrance, the channel being narrow and tortuous, with a depth of only six feet. By the act of March 3, 1823, a new survey was made, and a board of engineers consisting of Gen. Simon Bernard and Lieut. Col. J. G. Totten, submitted plans of improvement which were commenced in 1824. At that time the channel at the entrance was narrow and tortuous, with a depth of only six feet, and the depth on the present line of channel was only two feet. By 1827 vessels of ordinary draft were able to enter the harbor; by 1829, the depth of the entrance was from seven and half to fifteen feet, and in 1833 there was a good channel with a depth of twelve feet from the lake into the bay, and this depth was maintained to 1839, when operations were suspended. In 1844, the piers were in a dilapidated condition; there was a depth of eighteen feet between them, but shoals were forming at each end. In 1864, there was still a depth of twelve feet at the entrance, but the channel was narrow and crooked and had been driven to the southward by the sand drifting around the north pier. In 1868, the channel was straightened and the depth increased to thirteen feet, with a width of one hundred feet. The width and depth have been increased from time to time since 1868, more or less shoaling taking place in the meanwhile, and at the close of the fiscal year ending June 30, 1880, there was a channel three hundred feet wide, not less than sixteen feet deep from the lake to deep water in the bay."

The first breach recorded in the peninsula appears to have taken place near "The Head" during the winter of 1828-29. Its extent is not reported, but the entire appropriation of $7,390 was used in closing it. In the winter of 1832-33, another breach occurred at the same point, and during the summer of 1833 Lieut. Col. J. G. Totten, by direction of the chief of engineers, examined the harbor. In November, Col. Totten submitted an elaborate report, wherein he suggested the possibility of maintaining entrances at both ends of the harbor, but recommended that the effect of the breach should be studied for a year or two before any complete plan was decided upon. In 1835, Lieut. T. S. Brown submitted plans for an entrance at the west end of Presque Isle Bay through the peninsula. The breach which had commenced in 1832-33 had greatly widened, so that where threes thickly stood when work began in 1824, there was in 1835 an opening nearly one mile wide and daily increasing, so that the whole peninsula was threatened. Lieut. Brown's plan provided for partially closing the breach by crib-work, but left a channel four hundred feet wide, so that vessels might enter or depart from either end of the bay. In 1836, work was commenced upon the plan of Lieut. Brown; 420 feet of crib-work break-water was completed, strengthened by piling and partially filled with stone; barracks were erected for workmen, machinery purchased, and arrangements made for a vigorous prosecution of the work. Work was continued in 1837, 1,920 feet of crib-work was completed, making in all 2,340 feet, or one-third of the whole breach. The progress thus far in partially closing the breach was reported as very satisfactory. In 1838, under Capt. Williams, of the Topographical Engineers, 1,035 linear feet of crib-work was built, 570 feet being north of the proposed new channel piers and 465 south of them. In 1839, work was continued; the break-water on the south side of the proposed new channel was prolonged 690 feet, and 150 feet of the work built in 1838 was strengthened; 300 feet of crib-work was placed in position on the low ground at the northeast end of the work, north of the proposed new entrance, to prevent the lake from cutting through at that point. No appropriations were made nor work done during the years 1840, 1841, 1842, 1843. In 1841, an examination showed that the lake was making rapid encroachments upon the peninsula north of the works and threatened the destruction of the harbor.

In 1844, the condition of affairs was as follows: The peninsula, which in 1823 joined the main shore, had become an island. To prevent the destruction of the harbor, an extensive line of crib-work had been built, and plans had been prepared and work progressed for the purpose of opening a new channel. Part of this crib-work had answered admirably the purpose designed, but a portion left incomplete for want of funds in 1839 had been destroyed. The gap in the peninsula, which in 1835 was over one mile wide, had been reduced to a width of 3,000 feet, with a depth of from five to six feet. In 1841, the erosion in the vicinity of the barracks built in 1836 for workmen threatened their destruction, and 470 linear feet of crib-work was built for their protection. Nothing further was done at this locality until 1852. An examination made at that time by Maj. William Turnbull, of the Topographical Engineers, showed that the breach in the peninsula still existed, and that the crib-work protection built in previous years had been almost destroyed. In 1853 and 1854, efforts were made to prevent further erosion by protecting the shore with brush and stone, with very great success. Operations were continued during 1855-56, protecting the beach with brush and stone, with such success that there were strong prospects of restoring the original water line. In September, 1857, Maj. J. D. Graham reported the suspension of work through lack of funds, and nothing further was done until 1864, in which year Col. T. J. Cram was assigned to the charge of the harbor. His report stated that the breach at the west end of the harbor was entirely closed, nature having completed the work during the interval of seven years of suspended labor, although about 500 feet of the peninsula was so low that high seas broke clear across it. This weak spot was strengthened in 1865, and since that time but one breach of any importance has occurred, viz., during a heavy gale in November, 1874. This was soon closed, under the superintendence of Col. Blunt, the officer then in charge, by what he termed "a bulk-head protection," constructed of piles and plank, the experiment of planting young trees on the neck of the peninsula resorted to in 1871-72, having entirely failed, nearly all of them being destroyed by the heavy winter gales. Since that time Col. Blunt's mode of protection, together with an abatis of brush and stones, has been generally followed, but it has taken constant vigilance to keep these works in repair. There are two places where the neck of the peninsula is not more than 200 feet wide, and the crest only about three feet above the level of the lake, and where at times of very high seas, the water of the lake rolls across into the bay.

The winter of 1881-82 was an open one, and the beach was deprived of its usual revetment of heavy ice. A number of furious gales occurred during the fall and winter, and upon the opening of the season of 1882 the old bulkheads were found to be seriously damaged, and the beach to have suffered more or less from the heavy seas. The water of Lake Erie was unusually high during the spring of 1882, and on March 21, the level of the lake was the highest recorded at Erie for a number of years. A strong northwest gale was blowing at the time, and the heavy seas rolled clear across the lowest portion of the peninsula into the bay. The erosion at the time was still not sufficient to excite apprehension of immediate danger, but some steps were absolutely necessary for protection during the coming fall and winter. The engineer in charge submitted a project for the protection of the beach line with piles and plank, but afterward amended it upon the recommendation of the local engineer, Capt. Adams, and concluded to drive short intermediate piles between the old poles still standing, which formed a portion of the bulk-head protection.

The earliest chart in possession of the engineer in charge is that of Maj. Anderson, made in 1819, which shows that the peninsula then occupied about the same general location and direction that it does at the present time. A comparison of Maj. Anderson's map with Maj. McFarland's map of 1878 indicates that for about three miles from Massassauga Point the outer shore line has receded about 1,500 feet. Some errors are noticed in this map of 1819, however, and it may not be entirely reliable. A comparison of Lieut. Woodruff's map of 1839 with McFarland's map of 1878 shows a similar retrograde movement of the shore line. A comparison of the lake survey map of 1865 with McFarland's map of 1878 and Maj. Wilson's map of 1879 shows little or no variation in the position of the outer shore line. These maps seem to indicate that from 1819 to 1865 there was a general recession of the outer shore line, while from 1865 to 1882 there has been but little change in it. A comparison of Woodruff's map of 1839 with McFarland's of 1878 shows that the mass of this part of the peninsula has materially increased during the interval of time between these surveys, for the distance from the 12-foot or 15-foot curve outside the peninsula to the curve of corresponding depth inside was in 1878 about double what it was in 1839, while no very great change appears to have taken place in that part of the neck which lies above the water level. This increase in width seems to have come chiefly from the shoaling of the water inside the peninsula, but from whatever cause it comes, it indicates that the danger of the formation of a breach at this point has not increased, but has decreased, in the last forty years.

Erie Harbor is in the collection district of Erie, Penn., and is lighted as follows: A fourth order coast light on the northern shore of the peninsula, flashing red and white; a fixed red of the sixth order on the outer end of the north pier, and two sixth order fixed white lights to mark the range for the channel within the bay. There was also a light-house located on the main land east of the city, which has been abandoned. There is a fog bell on the outer end of the pier, and the nearest work of defense is Fort Porter, ninety miles distant. The following appropriations have been made from time to time for this harbor:

March 3, 1823  
  August 30, 1852  
May 26, 1824  
  June 23, 1866  
March 25, 1826  
  March 2, 1867  
March 2, 1827  
  June 30, 1868  
May 19, 1828  
  April 10, 1869  
March 3, 1829  
  July 11, 1870  
March 2, 1831  
  March 3, 1871  
July 3, 1832  
  June 10, 1872  
March 2, 1833  
  June 23, 1874  
June 28, 1834  
  March 3, 1875  
June 28, 1834  
  August 14, 1876  
March 3, 1835  
  June 18, 1878  
July 2, 1836  
  March 3, 1879  
July 2, 1836  
  June 14, 1880  
March 3, 1837  
July 7, 1838  
  August 2, 1882  
June 11, 1844  


Life Saving Service
The life-saving service of the United States was extended to the lakes about 187-. Lakes Erie and Ontario constitute the Ninth District, and have been in charge from the first of Capt. D. P. Dobbins, of Buffalo, a native of Erie. There are four stations on Lake Ontario and five on Lake Erie. Those on the latter lake are at Buffalo, Erie (Station 6), Fairport, Cleveland and Marblehead Island. The surfmen were employed during the season of 1879-80 as follows: 1879 -- July 1, to December 15; 1880 -- March 20, to June 30. The following is the record of disasters within the Ninth District during that season: Number of disasters, 55; value of vessels in trouble, $385,577; vessels lost, 5; actual loss, $71,675; lives lost, 1; shipwrecked persons sheltered at stations, 54; days of shelter afforded, 75.

The life-saving station at Erie has a crew of seven men under the command of Capt. William Clark, making a force of eight men. Their work has been at times one of hardships, but of great efficiency, resulting in the saving of much valuable property and many lives, and calls for the heartiest commendation of the Government and the community, besides a better compensation in wages.

Erie was a naval station from the time Perry's fleet was built until the year 1825, at which date it was completely broken up, but as this country, by treaty with Great Britain, is compelled to maintain a naval force on the lakes, the harbor has been the station for vessels so provided. The United States steamer Michigan, and the revenue cutter Perry, both make this their headquarters, and always winter in the bay. The latter vessel was sold by the Government in the fall of 1883 to a firm in Buffalo, who took it in part payment for a new revenue cutter which is now in process of construction. This will also be called the "Perry," but is expected to be superior to the old cutter in speed and other important particulars valuable in a vessel engaged in the revenue service.

The Head
The head of Presque Isle Bay, now the popular resort of the people of Erie and vicinity, does not extend so far west as when the town was laid out in 1795, the outer shore of the peninsula at the neck having gradually receded toward the east, while the inner shore kept growing in the same direction. A narrow sand beach commenced at the mouth of Millar Run on the Reed farm, one mile above "The Head", and extended down the lake a similar distance, from which the peninsula jutted out. Much higher up than now inclosed by the sand beach was a long, narrow pond, entirely cut off from the lake, up which the scows frequently ran from the bay, as late as 1840, to gather wood for steamboats. In 1796, some twenty of thirty Indian families, belonging to the once great and warlike tribe of Senecas, resided at the head of the bay. The beach was then much larger than it is to-day, and a heavy forest covered the low land nearest to the shore. The Indians had corn-fields southwest on the farms owned by J. C. Marshall, and the estate of E. J. Kelso. This Indian village was the last in Erie County, but they also gradually disappeared, and after their departure the site was occupied for awhile by a half-breed negro named McKinney, who lived by fishing. He subsequently removed to the upper Laird farm, where he met his death by a fish-bone lodging in his throat while eating. His daughter married Ben Fleming, who was the last survivor of Perry's fleet residing in Pennsylvania.

"The Head" was first taken up under the laws of the State, in 1800, by Eliphalet Beebe, a ship carpenter, who looked upon the site as an available one for a ship-yard. In the course of a few years, it passed into the hands of Thomas Laird, who died in April 1833, and by whose heirs it was held until its purchase by William L. Scott at Sheriff's sale. Mr. Scott erected thereon the Massassauga Hotel, and greatly improved the grounds, so that it was rapidly becoming a popular summer resort for tourists, but in December, 1882, the house was burned to the ground, and has not since been rebuilt.

"The Head" is also called Massassauga Point after the tribe of Massassauga Indians who once lived in this vicinity, and bore tribal relations to the extinct Eriez. It is claimed, however, by some writers that the name sprang from a species of rattlesnake known as the Massassauga -- a short, thick looking snake that were numerous when Capt. Bissell erected the forts east of Mill Creek in 1795-96, but which have long since disappeared before the onward march of civilization.

In 1832, an iron ore bed was discovered on the south one of the Laird farm, which was used at the blast furnace of Vincent, Himrod & Co., of Erie, for several years. A furnace at Conneaut, Ohio, fell short of ore about this time and sent an agent to quarry this ore and ship it at "The Head". The scow schooners Jack Downing and Olive Branch ran in the iron ore trade for three seasons, or until the supply became exhausted. At that period the vessels on their downward trips came through the western opening in the peninsula, returning loaded by the eastern channel. The road from the schoolhouse to the shore of the bay, which ran till lately through the woods and down the side of the bank, was laid out for the purpose of hauling the ore to the vessels. This road has been used by the public ever since, though it still remains, as then, private property. The Jack Downing wintered in 1834-35 about fifty rods above where the Massassauga Hotel was built, and there tied up to a sycamore tree, where now the sand beach renders the approach of a vessel impossible.

When the pioneers located at Presque Isle in 1795, they had to resort to fishing in the log canoe for the purpose of obtaining food supply, and the soldiers under Capt. Bissell made a business of laying in a stock of fish for each season which they preferred to the government rations. Log canoes for fishing purposes were as much of a necessity to the early settlers along the lake, as log cabins to shelter their families, and each went fishing as his wants required. The first man in the vicinity of Erie who followed fishing as a special business was the mulatto McKinney, who has been previously mentioned in the article on "The Head," at which point he resided. He made the business a success, furnishing families who could not take the time to "go fishing," or who preferred to purchase their supplies. Upon his death, which occurred by the lodgment of a fish-bone in his throat, he was succeeded by his son-in-law, Ben Fleming, who long supplied the citizens of Erie with fish. Prior to 1830, only the hook and line were used, but in that year Thomas Horton began fishing with a seine, which proved very successful. He was followed by David Fowzier and others, but none cared to risk their lives outside the bay of Presque Isle, and all the fishing was done in the bay.

White fish were not supposed to exist this side of the Detroit River, where every fall they were caught in large quantities, packed and salted for the market. The seines were finally tried in deep water outside the bay and came up loaded with white fish, which was the beginning of the Erie fish trade that now gives employment to many men, and brings annually a large amount of money to the city. The following Erie firms are engaged in the business: E. D. Carter, 12 boats; John Harlow & Co., 12 boats; Louis Streuber, 8 boats; H. A. Bush & Co., 7 boats; B. Divel, 7 boats; Henry Divel, 4 boats; total, 5 boats. Each boat averages four hands giving a force of 200 men employed by these firms. Many outside boats bring their product to Erie, and the trade is of great benefit to the city enhancing its commercial importance by thousands of dollars.

Pennsylvania, though consuming large quantities of fishery products, has no important fishing grounds within its borders. The principal business connected with the fisheries is the oyster industry, for, though no oysters are produced in the waters of the State, a large number of persons are engaged in transporting oysters from the southern beds to Philadelphia, and others make a business of receiving, shelling, and packing them for shipment. From this industry $187,500 is realized by the residents of the State. The sea fishing is confined to the capture of sea-bass and other species, by a fleet of eight vessels that make occasional trips to the fishing grounds of Cape Henlopen during the summer months. Shad, sturgeon, and other less important species are taken in small quantities in the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers, and lake fish of different kinds are caught along the shores bordering Lake Erie. From Table XVIII, which shows in detail the fishing interest of the State, we gather the following summary:

Persons employed  
Fishing vessels  
Fishing boats  
Capital dependent on fishery industries  
Pounds of sea products taken  
Value of same  
Pounds of river products  
Value of same  
Pounds of lake products  
Value of same  
Total value of products to the fishermen
(including the enhancement on oysters)

We copy the above from the last census statistics. It will be observed that in 1879, Pennsylvania's lake fisheries located at Erie, gave nearly as large a product in pounds as the combined river and sea fisheries. Since these statistics were formulated, the fishing industry at this port has increased at least 75 per cent, so that the above table does not give the Erie fisheries the importance they now possess.

Bibliography: Samuel P. Bates, History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, (Warner, Beers & Co.: Chicago, 1884), Part III, Chapter II, pp. 519-534.


This page was last updated on  Saturday, January 06, 2001.

Return to Erie County Genealogy Project

2016 Erie County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project