Benjamin Whitman.

Nelson's biographical dictionary and historical reference book of Erie County, Pennsylvania : containing a condensed history of Pennsylvania, of Erie County, and of the several cities, boroughs and townships in the county also portraits and biographies of the governor's since 1790, and of numerous r online

. (page 32 of 192)
Online LibraryBenjamin WhitmanNelson's biographical dictionary and historical reference book of Erie County, Pennsylvania : containing a condensed history of Pennsylvania, of Erie County, and of the several cities, boroughs and townships in the county also portraits and biographies of the governor's since 1790, and of numerous r → online text (page 32 of 192)
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place at present.

Erie and Corry, having city governments,
are not subject to the county rules, and have
separate Boards and Superintendents.

[For the school history of the several cities,
boroughs and townships, see the chapters re-
lating theicto].


Events of Special Note and Miscellaneous Information.

IN addition to the events heretofore men-
tioned, the county has been the scene of
numerous occurrences of more than com-
mon interest.

A live king in ERIE.

One of these was the visit of Louis Phil-
lippe, future King of France, accompanied by
his brother and a servant. They spent a day
or two at Erie, in 1795, with Thomas Rees,
sleeping and eating in his tent on the bank of
the lake, near the mouth of Mill creek.
Lafayette's visit.

In 1825 the county was honored with a
visit from Lafayette, who was making a tour
of the country whose independence he had
periled his life and fortune to establish. He
was accompanied b)' his son, a companion and
a servant, on their way from New Orleans to
New York. They reached Waterford, where
they were hospitably received, on the evening
of the 2d of June, and stayed there overnight.
A committee from Erie met them at Water-
ford, and the party left the latter place early
on the morning of the 3d, by way of the turn-
pike. At Federal Hill, they were met by a
body of military, who escorted the distinguish-
ed guest to the foot of .State street, where they
were greeted with a national salute and for-
mally presented to the United States naval
officers and other prominent citizens. From
there a procession marched to the public
house of Capt. Daniel Dobbins, at the north-
east corner of State and Third streets, where
Burgess Wallace welcomed Lafayette in the
name of the borough. He was then taken to
the residence of Judah Colt (at the corner of
French and Fourth streets), who was chair-
man of the reception committee, and intro-
duced to the ladies. Meanwhile, a public
dinner had been in course of preparation, un-
der the supervision of John Dickson, which
was the grandest affair of the kind known up
to that day in Erie. The tables, which had
been erected on a bridge over the ravine on
Second street, between State and French, were
J70 feet long, elegantly adorned and covered

with an awning made of the sails of the
British vessels captured by Perry. After the
dinner, toasts were offered, among them the
following by the hero of the occasion :

" Erie — a name which has a great share in
American glory ; may this town ever enjoy a
proportionate share in American prosperity
and happiness."

Lafayette and his party left on the fore-
noon of June 4th, and were accompanied by
numerous citizens to Portland, at the mouth
of Chautauqua creek, N. Y., where he took
a steamer for Buffalo. During his stay in Erie
his stopping place was in the Dobbins House
above mentioned, which is still standing. He
occupied a large room on the second iloor, at
the northwest corner of the house.

HORACE Greeley's residence in erie.
Horace Greeley, the world-famed editor,
and the Liberal-Democratic nominee for Presi-
dent in 1872, resided in Erie a short time as a
journeyman printer, in the employ of the
Gazette. His parents settled in Wayne town-
ship in 1826, and in the spring of 1830 Horace,
who had remained in New England to finish
his apprenticeship, came on foot to visit them,
secured employment as above, and stopped in
Erie until the summer of 1831. During most
or all the period of his stay, he boarded at the
house of Judge Sterrett, then proprietor of
the Gazette. Even at that youthful age, he
was fond of talking politics, and was regarded
as an oracle on subjects of that nature. He
left Erie for New York in August, 1831,
reaching there with only .$10 in his purse.
His father and mother died in W^ayne town-
ship. Mr. Greeley's last appearance in Erie
was during the campaign of 1872, when he
made a speech from one of the east windows
of the Union depot. [See Wayne Township
for a sketch of the Greeley Family.]

numerous presidential visitors.

Erie has been visited by no less than

eleven gentlemen who either had been, were

at the time, or afterwards became President

of the United States, viz. : William H. Harri-


son, 1813; Buchanan in 1840; Van Buren in
1842; John Quincy Adams, in 1848; Taylor
and Fillmore in 1849; Lincoln, in 1861 ; John-
son and Grant, in 18(50 ; Garfield at various
periods between 1860 and 1880; and Cleve-
land in 1891. Stephen A. Douglass, one of
the Democratic nominees for President in 1860,
made a long speech in the West Park during
the campaign of that year.

Harrison came as the cominanding gen-
eral of the western army, in company with
Perry, as detailed at length in the account of
the battle of Lake Erie. He stopped at the
McConkey House, on the northeast corner of
French and Third streets.

Buchanan was the leading speaker on the
Democratic side at the great assemblage in
1840, when the two rival parties sought to see
which could collect the largest crowd, an ac-
count of which will be found later on.

Van Buren readied Erie by steamer from
the west on the 6th of June, 1842, and was
given a public reception.

Ex-President John Qiiincy Adams also
arrived in Erie by steamer, and remained from
7 to 9 o'clock in the evening. He was wel-
comed by Hon. Thomas H. Sill, on belialf of
the citizens. The Wayne Grajs and the three
fire companies paraded in his honor.

President Taylor was on a journey up the
lakes for recreation from the cares of office.
He came by way of Waterford, where he was
taken sick. On reaching Erie, he was too
ill to proceed any further. He remained in
the city some ten days, stopping with Dr. W.
M. Woods, of the United States Navy, in a
dwelling on or near the northwest corner of
Eighth and State streets. Vice-President
Fillmore came up from Buffalo and met the
President, remaining with him until the next
day. On departing, the United States
steamer Michigan undertook to fire a Vice
President's salute, when the gun exploded,
killing two men. Finding that his condition
unfitted him for proceeding further, the
President returned to Washington, where he
died in less than a year, and was succeeded by
Mr. Fillmore.

Lincoln passed through Erie on his way to
\V'ashingion to be inaugurated. He made a
few remarks from the .second story of the old
ilepiit. Mis remains were taken over the Lake
Shore road in 1865. A short halt was made

in Erie to enable the citizens to pay their re-
spects to his memory.

Erie was favored with a speech by Presi-
dent Johnson in his famous "swing around
the circle,'' in 1866. He was attended by
Gen. Grant and Wm. H. Seward, the latter
of whom also spoke.

Garfield, being a near neighbor, made
frequent trips to Erie, both political and
social. He spoke in the court house during
the canvass of 1878.

Cleveland was in the city to attend the
burial of Wm. L. Scott, on Thursday, Sep-
tember 24, 1891. He and Gov. Pattison rode
in the same carriage in the funeral procession.


The Presidential campaign of 1840, when
Harrison and Van Buren were the opposing
candidates, was probably the most bitter and
i exciting ever experienced in America. The
I feeling between the two parties was intense,
j and the meetings everywhere were character-
ized by a retaliatory spirit that has seldom if
ever been exhibited in politics. At a conclave
of the Whig magnates, it was agreed to hold
a mass meeting in Erie on the 10th of Septem-
ber, the anniversai-y of Perry's victory. The
Democrats, determined not to be excelled, and
fearful that the prestige of the day might give
their enemies an advantage, resolved to hold
j a convention at the same time. This decision
j created the wildest indignation among their
antagonists. The excitement ran up to fever
heat. Both elements made the utmost exer-
tion to get out their adherents. Runners and
bills were sent all over the western counties of
the State, as well as through northeastern
[ Ohio and western New York. For several
days before the 10th, the roads leading to Erie
] were crowded with men, women and children,
on foot, in wagons and on horseback, many
carrying banners and all shouting themselves
hoarse for tiicir favorite candidates. On the
eventful day, the town was crowded as it
never had been before and probably never has
been since. It was feared that collisions
might occur between the embittered partisans,
but the danger was averted by holding the
conventions in different sections of the town.
The Whig gathering assembled on a vacant lot
on Second street between Holland and Mill
creek, and the Democratic at the corner of



Second and Walnut streets. James Buchanan,
afterward President of the United States, was
chief speaker for the Democrats, and Francis
Granger, of New York, subsequently ap-
pointed Postmaster General, presided over and
was the leading figure of the Whig convention.



Though numerous persons have been tried
for murder, it is worthy of note that but one
execution for that offense has ever taken place i
in the county. Henry Francisco was convicted
before Judge Shippen, on the 8th of Novem
ber, 1837, of having poisoned his wife, and
was sentenced to be hanged. The history of
the case is very peculiar. Fiancisco married
a Miss Maria Robinson, who is described by
old residents as one of the handsomest girls
ever seen in Erie. For reasons not proper to
mention, thej- mutually agreed, three weeks
after the wedding, to commit suicide. Each
took four ounces of laudanum at the same
time. The liquid acted as an emetic upon
Francisco, but caused the death of his wife.
He was sick for some time, and immediately
after his recovery was arrested for murder, on ,
the ground that he had influenced liis wife to
take the poi«on. On the 9th day of March, '
1838, " Sheriff Andrew Scott pinioned Fran-
cisco s arms in his cell, and the procession
started with solemn tread for the fatal spot in
the jail yard. First came the Deputy At-
torney General from Harrisburg, with Dr.
Johns, the jail physician, then Sheriff Scott
and three deputies, followed by the iury that
convicted the culprit. Next came the pris- I
oner, supported by Rev. Dr. Lyon, of the I
First Presbyterian Church, and Rev. Mr. 1
Glover, of the Episcopal Church. Three
guards brought up the rear. These were the
only witnesses to the execution.

" Upon reaching the gallo\\s. Francisco
was placed beneath the beam and over the
drop, and Sheriff Scott proceeded to strap his
legs. The condemned man conducted himself
with great firmness, betraying no signs of fear
for his fate. The prisoner shook hands with
his jailers and spiritual advisers, and with the ;
jury. To his waiting executioner, he was pro- i
fuse in express-ions of gratitude for kind and j
humane treatment. The farewells being over,
tlie Sheriff slipped the noose over his head and
pulled down the cap that wms to spare the
witnesses the horrible sight of his distorted

features while undergoing strangulation. AH
was silent as the grave as the neighboring
clock chimed a quarter after two. The drop
was to fall at 2 :30.

" Rev. Dr. Lyon knelt down and offered an
impressive prayer, and when he arose Sheriff"
Scott, according to the usage of those days,
told the poor wretch how many minutes he
had to live, and adjured him to make good use
of them in petitioning for mercy at the Throne
of Grace. In the middle of his passionate
prayer the bolt was drawn, the drop fell and
Francisco's body plunged down the trap, and
after three minutes of violent contortions it
hung motionless at the end of the rope.

■' In thirty five minutes the body was cut
down and inclosed in a neat coffin, which was
screwed down in jail, but such was the
curiosity to see the remains that those charged
with the burial had to unscrew the coffin
twice. The body was interred at the corner
of Seventh and Myrtle streets, on property
long owned by H. S. Jones."


The first agricultural society was formed
in 1822. and held a fair on the public square
of Erie in 1823. The next organization was
perfected in 1848 under the title of the Erie
County Agricultural Society. Fairs were
held on the Academy grounds in 1849, 1850,
1851, 1852; on the Cunningham lot, east of
Parade street, in 1853. 1854 and 1855; on the
Garrison tract in 1856, 1857 and 1858 ; and on
the Ebersole farm, in East Mill Creek, in 1859
and 1860. The society was chartered as a
joint stock association in 1860, with a capital
of $5,000. Thirty acres of the Ebersole farm,
east of the city, were purchased, a race track
laid out, and a small exhibition building erect-
ed, but no fair was held after 18*30, in conse-
quence of the war.

The Erie County Agricultural Society was
formed in 1869 and held fairs annually on the
Reed lots, just west of Erie City, until within
a few years.

The Pennsylvania State Agricultural
Society has held four exhibitions at Erie, on
the Reed tract above referred to. The years
of its fairs were 1872, 1873, 1877 and 1878.
John W. Hammond, of Erie, was president
of the society when its last two fairs in this


county were held. James Miles, of Girard,
was president in 1882-83-84

An association was formed in 1864 for
holding a " Harvest Home " picnic annually,
which has been one of the most successful in
the county. These picnics are usually held in
August, at the Head, and are attended by
thousands of farmers, as well as many city
people. J. C. Thornton, one of the origi-
nators of the idea, has attended every picnic
from the beginning. The 30th annual Harv-
est Home Picnic was held at the Head on
Thursday, August 16, 1894.

The order of Patrons of Husbandry, or
" Grange," as it is usually known, was intro-
duced into Erie county December 23, 1873,
when Corry Grange, No. 55, the first in the
county, was instituted. D. C. Kennedy was
the first master and H. G. Pratt the first
secretary in the county. The order has since
spread until it numbers a dozen or more so-
cieties and wields large influence.

The first Farmers' Alliance, known as
" Erie County," was organized near Hornby,
in Greenfield township. May 20, 1889 ; the
second, called Greenfield Alliance, at the
Prindle school-house, in the same township,
November 25, 1889, and the third (Macedonia)
in Venango township, January 11, 1890.
Charles Morgan, Jr., of Greenfield, was the
active man in starting the organization.
From Erie county the association has spread
over a number of the States, and is one of the
most influential farmers' organizations in the

The organization known as the State Police
and Home Guards of Pennsylvania and Ohio,
was started in Ashtabula county, Ohio, and
Crawford county, Pennsylvania. At the begin-
ning, the societies had no regular legal author-
ity, but in 1872 Hon. E. H. Wilcox secured an
act of Assembly which entitled them to incor-
poration, and gave them specific powers. The
object of the organization is to protect the
farmers and citizens of villages against outlaws,
and more particularly against horse thieves.
Numerous camps of the organization exist in
this and the adjacent counties of Pennsylvania
and Ohio. Geo. C. Gates, of Springfield,
was secretary of the society for seven years,
and captain for three years.

The Erie Fair Association was organized
in Januarj', 1895. A fine racing track for
their use has been prepared by Charles M.

Reed, on the Reed farm, located upon the
Lake road, some three miles east of the city.

Local fairs have long been held annually
at Corry, Edinboro and Wattsburg, under the
direction of the .societies at those places.


By the act of 1804, every able-bodied man
between the ages of eighteen and forty-five
was enrolled and compelled to perform two
days' military duty each year, or pay a fine.
The militia were divided into companies, bat-
talions, regiments and brigades, each of which
elected its own officers. Beginning in a
proper spirit, the " militia trainings," as they
were termed, degenerated into a public farce.
Every member was expected to have a gun
and bring it along for inspection, but, as the
system weakened in popular estimation, the
discipline giew more slack, and many carried
sticks, canes, brooms, corn stalks, and even
light fence rails. The contrast between the
flaming uniforms of the officers, and the out-
landish appearance of the men was indescri-
I bably laughable. For a long time, though,
training day was a great event throughout the
I State, and was looked forward to as a fair or
I a circus is now. The militia law was repealed
at the session of 1847-48, and the old-fashioned
! trainings went out of vogue. A good many
men who are or have been known as generals,
majors or colonels, secured their titles under
i the old militia system.

In addition to the regular militia, volunteer
companies have been in existence almost from
the earliest settlement. The first of these was
Capt. Elisha Marvin's Greenfield company,
organized in 1801, with about eight)' mem-
bers. The second was Capt. Thomas Forster's
Erie Light Infantry, organized in 1806. This
company took part in the war of 1812-13.
; Other old-time companies were as follows : In
: 1821, the Erie Greens; in 1824, the Washing-
! ton Artillery ; in the same year, the Erie
Guards; in 1831, an artillery company: in
[ 1836, a cavalry company; about 1841, the
I German Guards and the Washington Guards ;
! in 1842, the Wayne Grays; in 1858, the
Franklin Pierce Rifle Company ; in 1859, the
Wayne Guard, John W. McLane, captain,
I and the Perry Artillery Company, Gustav
Jarecki, captain.

The Wayne Grays and the Wayne Guard
are the best known, a number of citizens who



are yet living having been members of one or
the other of these companies. The Grays
tendered their services in the Mexican war,
but they were declined, the quota from Penn-
sylvania being full. The Wayne Guard were
at the height of their prosperity at the out-
break of the rebellion, and the company
formed the nucleus of all the regiments that
left Erie. More than half of the company be-
came oflicers in the war.

Besides these volunteer organizations, the
following are known to have been in exist-
ence in the county : At North East, in 1822,
the Burgettstown Blues; at Waterford, in
1824, the Invincibles; at Fairview, in 1824,
a company, name unknown ; at the same place,
the Fairview Guards; at Girard, in 1860, the
Guards. Most of the volunteer soldiery of
the county tendered their services to the gov-
ernment in 1861, when the war for the Union
opened. [For an account of the military
organizations in Erie since the war for the
Union, see chapter XIII., Erie .City.]


In the early days of the county the use of
whisky was almost universal, and there were
few houses in which a supply was not kept
constantly on hand. No one thought it wrong
to "treat" visitors, or to drink in the pres-
ence of his family. Distilleries were as com-
mon as gristmills became afterward, and a
large share of the grain was converted into
liquor. Many farmers made a practice of
regularly taking a portion of their grain to the
distilleries and having a jug full or a barrel
full of whisky made for their household use.
The first prohibition society was established
at Wattsburg in 1829, and the next year a
grt at temperance wave swept over the county.
A large portion of the people signed the
pledge, it became unpopular to keep liquor
in the house or to have grain made into
whisky, and the distilleries rapidly disap-
peared. To-day there is not one in the
county. The manufacture of wine began at
North East in 1869, and has since become
considerable of an industry at that place and
Erie. Beer is a comparatively modern bev-
erage in the county, having been introduced
with the later German immigration. There
are eight or ten breweries in the county, of
which three in Erie are on quite an extensive


In 1840 there was a temperance society in
almost every town and township. Temper-
ance organizations have been in existence ever
since, and the Temperance party has run a
county ticket annually for many years. The
Good Templar society in Erie county was
first organized in 1856.


j The colored population of the county was

larger, proportionately, eighty years ago than
now. Most of those who were here in early

I days, were brought in as slaves, some of the
most reputable families having been owners
of this kind of property. The emancipation
act of the State provided that all negroes over
a certain age should remain slaves until their
death ; all below should become free at the
age of twenty-eight. Under its provisions, a

I large portion of the colored race became en-
titled to their freedom, but there were a few

I who continued in slavery till released by the

j Master of all.


The month of May, 1834, is notable in the
weather records of the lake shore country.
For three days before the 13th, there were
strong cold winds from the west, with snow
squalls. On the 13th, the bay and lake were
unusually rough. Six inches of snow fell on
the 15th. The leaves and blossoms were
I nearly all killed. No vessel was able to enter
the port of Erie for four days. At the end of
that time, the steamboat "New York," from
Buffalo, stopped at the channel pier. A small
boat set out from the wharves to board her,
and was capsized on the way over. Of eleven
persons in the boat but two were saved.
Frosts took place as late as June of that year.
Two of the worst storms on record occur-
red on the 10th and 11th of November. 1835.
and on the 15th of the same month, 1842. On
the occasion first named, the water was lashed
I into such fury that a party of fifteen men, who
were raising the " Detroit " in Misery bay,
I dared not venture to return home, and had to re-
\ main on the Peninsula from the evening of the
i 10th to the morning of the 12th without food,
! fire or shelter. The waves rolled over the sand
beach clear up to the foot of Garrison Hill.

In May, 1858, there was a continued period
of cold weather. Rain fell nearly every day
in the month, and fruits of all kinds were kill-




ed b)' frost. The heaviest late frost recorded
by the weather office in Erie occurred May 29,
1884, but milder frosts took place the first
week of June, 1878, 79, '86 and '88.

On June 6, 1842, there were snow and ice
in various parts of the county, and in July of
the same year frost formed over a good por-
tion of Northwestern Pennsj'lvania. Snow
fell in some parts of the State on June 6, 1843.
The greatest snow storm on record fell on the
afternoon and night of December 29, 1876,
the date of the Ashtabula disaster. It was so
deep that people in the city doing business,
but a few squares from their homes, were ex-
hausted in making their way to their suppers.

In the winter of 1880-81, snow fell about
the middle of November, and lasted without
interruption till February. During most of
that time there was a slight snow-fall daily.
A break-up came in February, but it was
quickly followed by more snow, which lasted
until the 15th of March. Then came the great
snow-storm of March 30 and 31. The cold
was intense during most of the winter. On
the 3d of February the thermometer was 18
deg. below zero at Erie, 20 deg. at McKean,
24 deg. at Edinboro, 28 deg. at Albion, and
30 deg. at Waterford. February 10, 1881,
the weather was 20 deg. below zero in Erie
at 8 A. M. The lake was frozen over to the
Canada shore during a good portion of the
winter, and the ice on the bay was over twenty
inches thick. The snow and cold prevailed
over the country from the Rocky Mountains
to the Atlantic. There were snow and ice in
portions of the South where they had never
been known before.

The winter of 1882—83 was unusually long
and steady. There was .scarcely a pleasant
day from November 1 to April 1. The groimd
was found to be frozen in some places in Erie
to a depth of three and a half feet.

The night of Februarj' 10, 1885, is memor-

Online LibraryBenjamin WhitmanNelson's biographical dictionary and historical reference book of Erie County, Pennsylvania : containing a condensed history of Pennsylvania, of Erie County, and of the several cities, boroughs and townships in the county also portraits and biographies of the governor's since 1790, and of numerous r → online text (page 32 of 192)