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Nelson's biographical dictionary and historical reference book of Erie County, Pennsylvania : containing a condensed history of Pennsylvania, of Erie County, and of the several cities, boroughs and townships in the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 68 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Online LibraryBenjamin WhitmanNelson's biographical dictionary and historical reference book of Erie County, Pennsylvania : containing a condensed history of Pennsylvania, of Erie County, and of the several cities, boroughs and townships in the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 68 of 192)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


As an illustralion of the need of an
efficient fire system, it may be stated that in
1894 alone there were 108 fire alarms, and
that the loss by conflagration within the city
limits was 168,728.18. That the damage
would have been much greater had it not
been for the prompt and skillful efforts made
by the firemen, no one will question who
knows the workings of the department.

The city has been troubled on several
occasions by the malignant or mischievous
acts of incendiaries. One of these periods
was in the spring and summer of 1870. Fire
after fire occurred, and a general reign of ter-
ror prevailed. A large reward for the detec-
tion of the incendiaries ^vas finally off'ered,
which led to the arrest and conviction of
several members of the volunteer department,
who were sent to the penitentiary. It turned
out that the fires were started in order that
the company to which the men belonged
might have the glory of being first upon the

Another run of incendiary fires in 1888
led to the offering of a reward which was
never claimed. Still another occurred in
September, 1894, which caused the mayor to
appoint "twenty special officers to patrol the
city at night, and engage the services of two
detectives from abroad. The extra men were
on duty about two weeks, and the expense
entailed amounted to over .$900." The sum-
mer of 1895 was marked by an unusual num-
ber of fires, principally barns and unoccupied
buildings, and there is little question but that
they were caused by the torch of the incen-


A fire alarm system was introduced in
March, 1879. This did not prove satisfactory,
and the Gamewell system replaced it in the
fall of 1886. The latter is still in use. The
numbers of the boxes on July 1, 1895, ran from
three to ninety-one.


The affairs of the Fire Department were
managed by the Mayor and Councils until
April 7, 1884, when they were placed in charge
of a Board of Fire Commissioners, created by
city ordinance :

The members of the Board are appointed

by the Mayor and Select Council for terms of
three j'ears, the term of office of one member
expiring annually on the first Monday of
April. The Clerk of the Common Council is
cx-officio Secretary of the Board of Fire Com-
missioners. The names of the members of the
Board of Fire Commissioners from its organi-
zation in 1884 to 1895 inclusive, are as fol-
lows, the first named for each year being the
Chairman :

1884— J. R. Sherwood, W. W. Pierce,
Otto Germer.

1885— W. \V. Pierce, Otto Germer, J. R.

1886— Otto Germer, Charles Jarecki, J. R.

1887— J. R. Sherwood, Charles larecki,
R. Liebel.

1888— Charles Jarecki, R. Liebel, Thomas

1889— R. Liebel, Charles Jarecki, Thomas

1890— W. H. Hill, H. R. Barnhuist, R.

1891— H. R. Barnhurst, R. Liebel, W. H.

1892— R. Liebel, W. H. Hill, Walter.

1893— W. H. Hill, Charles F. Hummel, F.
A. Mizener.

1894— Charles F. Hunmel, F. A. Mizener,
Thomas G. Morse.

1895— F. A. Mizener, Thomas G. Morse,
Henr}' Beckman.

Messrs. Jarecki and Brown resigned and
were succeeded by Messrs. Hill and Barn-


The Chiefs of the department, from its or-
ganization to 1895, inclusive, are named be-
low :

1851— S. T. Nelson.

1852— A. P. Uurlin.

1858— G. A. Bennett.

1854 — James Kennedy.

1855 — T- B- Gunnison.

1856— Thomas Magill.

1857-58— G. A. Bennett.

1859-61— William Murrav.

1862-'64— G. A. Bennett."

1865-'66— J. S. Stafford.

1867 — Fred'k Gingenbach.

1868— William Murrav.


1869-70— G. A. Bennett.

1871-70— Tames S. Irwin.

1877-'93— J. A. Moser.

1894— John J. McMahon.

A. H. Conkey was Assistant Chief for
many years. The present Assistant is M. J.


The fire district is embraced within tlie
limits described below, inside of which no
building is permitted to be erected or placed,
except such as are constructed of brick, stone,
iron or other incombustible material. Ve-
neered buildings within this district are per-
mitted to be erected only for dwelling house
purposes :

"State street, from Front street to Seven-
teenth street; Peach street, from Front to
Twenty-first street ; French street, from Sec-
ond to Twelfth street ; Sassafras street, from
Fifth to Twelfth street; Second and Third
street, from French to Peach street ; north
side of Fourth street, from French to Sassa-
fras street; south side of Fourth street, from
French to a point 1(35 feet east of Sassafras
street ; north side of Fifth street, from French
to a point 165 feet east of Sassafras street ;
south side of Fifth street, from French to Sas-
safras street ; Sixth street, from Holland to
Chestnut street ; Eighth street, from a point
165 feet west of Holland to Sassafras street ;
Seventh, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth
street, from French to Sassafras street;
North and South Park row and Turnpike
street, and extending back from said streets
165 feet, except on Peach between Fifteenth
and Sixteenth streets, where it extends west-
wardly from said street 330 feet."


Although a Police Department has been
kept up since 1855, it did not assume much
consequence until the outbreak of the last war,
when the number of rough characters who
flocked to the city called for increased protec-
tion to the general public. Prior to that
period the slight amount of police duty that
was required was mainly done by the consta-
bles and specials, the former of whom were

quite formidable officers in their day. The
first man to bring "order out of chaos" was
Thomas Crowley, a giant of a man, appointed
Chief in 1863, whose very appearance was
enough to strike terror to evil doers. The
police force is named by the Mayor, with the
consent of .Select Council, and consisted in
1895, of one Chief, at a salary of $1,000 per
year, one Captain at $840, and twenty-eight
patrolmen, each of whom receive $720. During
the year 1894, 1,775 arrests were made, 826
of which were commonwealth, and the bal-
ance so called city cases, a large share of
which were for vagrancy. " An average of
twenty tramps are lodged nightly at the
police station, none being refused lodging, as
it is thought better to have them under lock
and key than roaming the streets. The
amount of fines and costs collected in city
cases during 1894 was $1,544."

The patrol wagon was introduced in the
spring of 1891, and the Gamewell police call
system in the fall of the same vear.



Below is a list of the Chiefs of Police ;

1855— S. L. Foster.

1856-'58— Willard Braley.

1859— R. M. Butterfield.

I860— H. L. Brown (volunteer).

1863-69— Thomas Crowley.

1870— W. H. Harris.

1871— Walter H. Smith.

1872-76— Joseph Blenner.

1877-'83— Thomas Crowley.

1884-85— Joseph R. Ferguson.

1886-87- 88— Alfred King.

1889— Wm. J. Grant (acting).

1880-'94— Win. J. Grant.

1895— A. E. White.

The position of Captain of Police, which
is a later office than that of Chief, has been
filled as follows :

First — Adam Schneider.

Second — Charles Justice.

Third— John P. Sullivan.

Fourth-^Daniel Mitchell.

Fifth— J. Dudenhoefer.

Sixth— Hubert Golden.

Seventh — Wm. J. Grant.

Eighth— John W. Henry.


The Peninsula, Bav, IlARnoR, Docks, Lake Trade, Fish and Fishing Interests,
Pleasure Boats, Etc.— [See Chapters VI and XVI, General History of Erie County.]

THE Peninsula, named by the French
Presque Isle, or " nearly an island," is
a low, sand formation of about six
miles long, varying in width from 300
feet " at the neck, which is nearly
two miles long and joins the body of the penin-
sula to the mainland at its western end, to
one and one-half miles at its widest part."
Inside of this and between it and the main-
land, is the bay of Presque Isle, forming the
harbor of Erie, a body of water " about four
and one-half miles in length by one and one-
half miles in width, affording a land-locked
anchorage area of about one and one-half
by two miles, with eighteen to twenty-eight
feet of water." The harbor thus created by
nature is probably the finest on the entire
chain of lakes. It is entirely land-locked,
protected from the heaviest gales, and has
the best character of bottom for anchorage.

As the safety and welfare of the harbor
depend upon the maintenance of the Penin-
sula, much money has been expended by the
Government in closing breaches and protect-
ing it from heavy seas. No one has a right to
live on it, save the watchman, the keepers of
the light-houses and the crew of the life-sav-
ing 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 small lakes or ponds con-
nected with the bay by channels usually
navigable for small boats.

In 1888, when the Peninsula was under
the jurisdiction of the State, and incidentally
of the Erie authorities, R. S. Reed was ap-
pointed Superintendent for live j-ears, and a
fine of $500, or imprisonment for a term not
exceeding six months, was fixed as the pen-
alty for cutting timber or setting fire to the
shrubbery. In 1835, the borough resolved to
proceed against any one who might erect

buildings upon it. The Legislature passed
an act, in 1841, imposing a fine of not less
than ten dollars, nor more than twenty-five
dollars, on any person who should gather
cranberries on the peninsula between July
and October. The 1st of October was " cran-
berry day," a great event in olden times.
Large parties would cross the bay the night
before and remain until morning. The
marshes produced cranberries to a larger
extent than at present.

historical items.

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. In 1818 a block-house
was built at Crystal Point, just west of Alisery
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. Two of Perry's
ships, the Lawrence and Niagara, were sunk
in its waters — the latter remaining there, and
the former having been raised in 1876, and
removed to Philadelphia, to be exhibited at
the Centennial. It is said that in 1821 the
peninsula was covered with timber, from the
mainland, at the head, to its southeastern


The first breach recorded in the peninsula
appears to have taken place near " The Head "
during the winter of 1828-2U. Its extent is
not reported, but the entire appropriation of
17,390 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 condition of



affairs. He submitted an elaborate report, in
which he suggested the possibility of main-
taining 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 1885, Lieut. T. S. Brown submitted
plans for an entrance at the west end of Pres-
que Isle Bay through the peninsula. The
breach which had commenced in 1832-33 had
greatly widened, so that where trees thickly
stood when work began in 1824, there was in
1835 an opening nearl)- one mile wide and
daily increasing, so that the whole peninsula
was threatened. Lieutenant Brown's plan pro-
vided for partially closing the breach by crib-
w^ork, but left a channel 400 feet wide, so that
vessels might enter or depart from either end
of the bay. In 1836, work was commenced
upon the plan of Lieutenant 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
being completed, making in all 2,340 feet.
The progress thus far in partially closing the
breach was reported as very satisfactorj'.

In 1838, under Capt. Williams, of the
Topographical Engineers, 1,035 linear feet of
crib-work was built, 570 fefet being north of
the proposed new channel piers and 465 feet
south of them. In 1889, work was continued ;
the break-water on the south side of the pro-
posed 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 official report stated that the lake
was making rapid encroachments upon the
peninsula north of the works and threatened
the destruction of the harbor. The proposed
channel for vessels at the west end of the bay
seems by this date to have been abandoned.
During the time the channel was open a num-
ber of vessels passed thiough it. Among
these, as shown by official records, were the
steamer Ohio, drawing about seven and one-

half feet of water, on July 3, 1831, and the
brig Virginia, drawing some five and one-half
feet of water, in 1833 or '84. Capt. John
Fleeharty, who is good authority on lake mat-
ters, says he saw the revenue cutter Erie,
which drew fully five feet of water, go through
the channel about 1838 or '89.


In 1844, the gap in the peninsula had been
reduced to a width of 3,000 feet, with a dehpt
of from five to six feet. The erosion in the
vicinity of the barracks built in 1836 threat-
ened their destruction, and 470 linear feet of
crib-work were 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 1858 and
1854, efforts were made to prevent further
erosion by protecting the shore with brush and
stone. Operations were continued during
1855-56, with such success that there were
strong prospects of restoring the original water

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 re-
port 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, but a breach occurred
during a heavy gale in November, 1874. This
was soon closed, under the superintendence of
Colonel 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 en-
tirely failed, nearly all of them being destroyed
by the heavy winter gales. Since that time
Colonel 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 the work in repair. There
are two places where the neck of the penin-


sula is quite narrow and the crest only a few
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 ot 1881-82 was an open one,
and the beacli was deprived of its usual revet-
ment 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 dam-
aged, 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 blow-
ing at the time, and the heavy seas rolled
clear across the lowest portion of the penin-
sula into the bay. The erosion at the time
was still not sufficient to excite apprehension
of immediate danger, but some steps were ab-
solutely 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 recommenda-
tion of the local engineer, Capt Adams, and
concluded to drive short intermediate piles
between the old piles still standing, which
formed a portion of the bulkhead protection.

A severe westerly storm on October 28-29,
1892, caused seas to wash over the neck from
tlie lake into the baj'. Gullies from two to
ten feet wide and one to two feet deep were
cut through the sand on the crest of the neck
formation, and a few small trees and bushes
uprooted. The gullies were, however, soon
filled up by drifting sand and the neck prac-
tically restored to its normal condition. The
remaining sheet piling and walings of the
shore protection along the neck were carried
away. Another westerly storm, on August
28, 1893, did some damage, which was soon
restored by the drifting of the sand.


The earliest chart in possession of the gov-
ernment 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 some 1,500
feet. Some errors are noticed in the map of
1819, however, and it may not be entirely re-
liable. A comparison of Lieut. Woodruff's
map of 1839 with McFarland's map of 1878
shows a similar retrograde movement of the
shore line, while that 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 prove that from
1819 to 1865 there was a general recession of
the outer shore line, while from 1865 to 1895
there has been but little change. A compari-
son of Woodruff's map of 1839 with McFar-
land's of 1878 shows that the mass of this
part of the peninsula has materially increased
during the interval of time between these sur-
veys, for the distance from the twelve-foot or
fifteen-foot cnr\e 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 ap-
pears to have come chiefly from the shoaling
of the water inside the peninsula, but, from
whatever cause it may arise, it indicates that
the danger of the formation of a breach at this
point has not increased, but has rather de-
creased in the last forty years.


The following are extracts from the reports
of the government engineers for 1893 and '94 :

" The preservation of the peninsula is of
vital importance to Erie harbor, and it is for
the purpose of preserving the harbor that the
protection of the weak parts of the peninsula
formation has been deemed necessary. The
weak portion is the long narrow neck at the
western end. The object for which all the
works of protection have been constructed is
the prevention of a breach through this narrow
neck. This danger exists during severe storms
from the westward.

" Former attempts to propagate a growth
of trees on the barren neck of the peninsula
did not prove satisfactory. In order to obtain
some knowledge of the feasibility of tree-
planting, a lot of seventy small willow and
Cottonwood trees and cuttings were set out



early in May, 1893, some being planted in tlie
sand soil, with an enrichment of vegetable
mold, and others planted directly in the sand,
without enrichment. At the close of the
fiscal year the cuttings were all dead and the
small trees showed little promise of living.
The experiment does not necessarily prove
that tree propagation is not feasible. It does
prove, however, that cuttings will not readily
grow and that planting should be done much
earlier in the spring.

"In a report, made in 1885, it was recom-
mended that the neck of the peninsula be pro-
tected b>- a breakwater, and the movement of
sand around the eastern end of the peninsula,
which threatens to close the harbor entrance,
be arrested by the construction of jetties per-
pendicular to the shore of the peninsula, at an
estimated cost of $173,044.50.

" Work under this project was in progress
until October, 1889, when it was abandoned,
it having been found that the structures built
would not stand against the violence of the
storms. No further work is at present (1894)
contemplated, but the sum of $20,000 has
been reserved from the appropriation for the
improvement of Erie Harbor, to be used, in
case of necessity, in closing any breach which
may occur."

Capt. James Hunter, appointed by the U.
S. authorities, has been custodian of the pen-
insula since 188fi.


In the fall of 1895, a proposition to use tjie
peninsula for railroad and manufacturing pur-
poses led to some discussion over its control
and ownership. The question was submitted
by the editor of the Evening News to Judge
Galbraith, who answered in the following clear
and conclusive letter :

Erie, Nov. 19, 1895.

" Answering your question as to the ownership
of the peninsula of Presque Isle, I find, on a care-
ful examination of the variou.s acts of Assembly
and other records, that while the rig-ht of occu-
pancy and control is vested in the government of
the United States, the title and actual ownership
remain in the State of Pennsvlvania.

" On February 4, 1869, theLegislature of Penn-
sylvania passed an act 'supplementary to the act
incorporating- the Marine Hospital at Erie,' which,
after a preamble reciting- that 'the Councils of the
city of Erie have so neglected the management and
.supervision of the peninsula, which forms the

northern boundary of the harbor of Erie, as to
prevent any adequate revenue arising therefrom,
therefore, be it enacted, etc., That section 14 of the
act of April 2, 1868, entitled ' A further supplement
to an act to incorporate the city of Erie,' be so
amended as to place the supervision and control
of the said peninsula in the power of the Board of
Directors of the Marine Hospital of Pennsylvania,
* ■* * * and the said Board of Directors are
hereby empowered to exercise such supervision,
disposition and control of same by leasing, or other-
wise, as to them shall be deemed for the best inter-
est of said hospital.'

" In 1871, by the act of Assembly, passed May
11, of that year, an appropriation of S30,000 was
made to the Marine Hospital at Erie, but only on the
condition that that corporation should reconvey to
the State all the lands granted by their act of in-
corporation in 1867, 7.nd on the further condition
that said Marine Hospital 'shall convey to the
United States of America all title it may have to
the peninsula of Presque Isle, -*-■»** to be
held by said United States, as near as may be, in
its present condition, and only for the purposes of
national defense, and for the protection of the har-
bor of Erie, but in all other respects, to be subject
to the civil and criminal jurisdiction of the State
of Pennsylvania; and the consent of the State of
Pennsylvania is hereby given to such transfer of
title iinlji fiir.thi piirposrs and under the JimiUttions
herein bi'fon mentioned.''

" An act of Congress was passed in the same
year, 1871 (U. S. Statutes, vol. 24, page 312), by
which the Secretary of War was directed to receive

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 68 of 192)