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Nelson's biographical dictionary and historical reference book of Erie County, Pennsylvania : containing a condensed history of Pennsylvania, of Erie County, and of the several cities, boroughs and townships in the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 92 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Online LibraryBenjamin WhitmanNelson's biographical dictionary and historical reference book of Erie County, Pennsylvania : containing a condensed history of Pennsylvania, of Erie County, and of the several cities, boroughs and townships in the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 92 of 192)
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ney to Erie after its settlement. Both were learned
and able men and did much towards the advancement
of Erie, while the families of each continued to identify
the name with Erie's progress. Mention is now made
of both of these able and accomplished brothers,
whose early homes erected in the wilderness still
stand — associated as each is with Erie's earlier history,
and the part its distinguished occupants took therein.

Dr. John C. Wallace (deceased) was the first resi-
dent physician in Erie county, and the only one until
a short time before his death. He was born in Dauphin
county, Pennsylvania, February 14, 1771, and died in
Erie, December 8, 1827. He graduated at Philadel-
phia under Dr. Rush and other celebrated medical
men. He was appointed surgeon in the United States
army, and in 1794 accompanied Gen. Wayne in the
Indian war. During the war he visited Erie for a
short time. Some years later he resigned his position
in the army, and after residing in Franklin, Pa., for
three years, came to Erie with his family in 1803.
Professionally he was identified with the entire county,
his professional calls often taking him far beyond its
bounds. In 1806 he was elected the first burgess of
Erie, and also held the offices of justice of the peace,
county commissioner and coroner. At the beginning
of the war of 1812, he commanded an Erie county
regiment, and after the battle on Lake Erie assisted
Dr. Parsons, of the navy, in attending the wounded.
Dr. Wallace was married in Franklin, in 1801, to Miss
Margaret Heron, daughter of Capt. James Heron of
the army. They had seven children: Eleanor, Ben-
jamin, Elizabeth, Gordon, Jane, Mary Ann and_ Will-
iam Perry, of whom only two are now living. Gordon
Wallace lives in Missouriton, Mo., and Jane (now a
widow), who married Capt. Wheeler, late of the army,
lives in Troy, Mo. The only one who remained in
Erie county was Elizabeth, who married Charles Pol-
lock, March 8, 1831. They had nine children: John,



Wheeler, Charles, Benjamin, James, Robert, Jane,
Elizabeth and Ellen. Five are still living: Wheeler,
Charles, James, Robert and Elizabeth. Wheeler has
three children: Burt, Josephine and Winnie. Charles
has two children: Annie and Robert. Several of this
family were noted and specially merit mention. Ben-
jamin was a volunteer, with the rank of major, in the
Texan army in their war against Mexico for independ-
ence in 1836-36. He was taken prisoner by the Mexi-
cans, and by order of Santa Anna, with other prisoners
was murdered in cold blood at the massacre of Goliad.
O. Wheeler, son of Elizabeth Pollock, is a captain in
the 23d infantry U. S. regular army. Their family
home, stately and of a ciuaint finish, as occupied by
the family up to 1827, still stands with but little change,
the third house east of French on the north side of
East Fifth street.

William Wallace was a lawyer. He came from
Harrisburg in 1800 as attorney for the Pennsylvania
Population Company. His first wife (Rachael Forrest)
died in Erie in 1804. In 1806 he married Eleanor,
daughter of Hon. Wni. Maclay, one of the first U. S.
Senators from Pennsylvania. He made his home on
East Sixth street, in the wooden dwelling near Holland
street, which afterwards was enlarged and has been
long known as the Sill homestead. He remained in
Erie until 1810. His daughter, Mary Eleanor, was
long conspicuous in Harrisburg as Mrs. Rev. Dr. W.
R. DeWitt, and his son, Dr. William Maclay, whose
extended career in Erie as a physician and president
of the State Medical Society made him so widely
known, died in 1878. Mr. Wallace returned to Har-
risburg with his family in 1810, and both he and his
wife are interred in the old Paxtang churchyard. His
younger son, Irwin M. Wallace, was an esteemed cit-
izen of Erie until his death in 1894, and another, Mr.
Benjamin, was a gifted and successful minister of the
Presbyterian Church, and an editor. William Maclay,
son of Irwin M. Wallace, is assistant cashier of the
Second National Bank of Erie, and his sister, Eleanor,
is the wife of Rev. John DeWitt, a professor in the
Theological .Seminary in Princeton, and Miss Julia A.
DeWitt is the author of several works; Kate is the
wife of Mr. George Sterry, of New York. Though
but few of the family remain in Erie, the name is in-
dissolubly connected with the settlement, early strug-
gles and the defense and advancement of Erie.

Jerome Francis Downing, a prominent business
man and representative citizen of Erie, was born in
Hampshire county, Massachusetts, March 24, 1827.
His father, James Downing, was born in Boston in
1775, and his mother, Roxana Forbush, belonged to a
Roxbury family of that name. They settled first in
Roxbury, now a part of Boston, but removed about the
year 1810 to the town of Enfield, in the county above
named, and took up their abode on a farm (still in
possession of one of the children), where they reared
a large family of seven sons and four daughters, Jerome
being the youngest child. Like many young men who
have become useful and influential citizens, young
Downing was accustomed to hard work, either on the
farm or in some one of the factories or machine shops
then established in the neighborhood. In this manner
he obtained the means of securing a better education
than the common school afforded; and in 1848 entered
the freshman class of Amherst College. Two years

later he became the editor of a newspaper in Holyoke,
Mass., which position he soon relinquished for the
chief editorship of the Troy (N. Y.) Daily Post, where
he remained for some time; his next move being in
the direction of the legal profession. Having been
admitted to the bar, Mr. Downing settled in Erie, Pa.,
in the fall of 1855, and in 1863 was elected district at-
torney of the county. The following year a new de-
parture in life was presented to him: The old Insur-
ance Company of North America, of Philadelphia,
then, as now, one of the most prominent fire and
marine insurance companies in the country, was look-
ing about for a suitable person to extend its operations
into the Western States. The choice fell upon Mr.
Downing, notwithstanding the fact that he had
not been brought up to the business of fire in-
surance. With much reluctance and many mis-
givings the position offered, of general agent for the
Western States for the company named, was accepted,
headquarters to be established in Erie for the time
being. This position Mr. Downing has now (1895)
held for over thirty years; an era of remarkable suc-
cess for the company's Western business. Indeed, it
can be said that no one in the same line of effort has
been more successful. Mr. Downing's field of opera-
tions embraces the States of Ohio, West Virginia,
Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois,
Wisconsin, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Iowa,
Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas and Wyoming, and the
Territories of Oklahoma and New Mexico, in which
field over 3,000 agencies have been established. The
headquarters of the department still remain at Erie,
where Mr. Downing occupies one of the finest and
best appointed general insurance offices in the country.
A business of such importance, spread over so large a
field, demands a large force of experienced assistants,
both in the office and in the field, all of whom look to
Mr. Downing for instruction and direction in their
various duties. It is only justice to say that no depart-
ment office of any of our most prominent underwriting
institutions during the last quarter of a century has
been conducted more successfully or more conscienti-
ously, Mr. Downing's business motto being the Golden
Rule. Just and honorable dealing with all the patrons
of the companies represented by Mr. Downing in the
settlement of losses or in other business, has created
an unusually friendly sentiment and led to a patronage
of very large proportions. The writer of a sketch of
Mr. Downing, published in the " History of Erie
County," says: "From the general features of Jerome
F. Downing's business career here outlined, it appears
that the profession of fire underwriting, in the widest
sense of the term, has been his main life-work, and is
likely to so continue for the remainder of his business
career. But it will be a mistake to suppose that Mr.
Downing has confined himself exclusively to the
duties of his profession. " The same writer referred
to above describes Mr. Downing as a citizen in these
words :. " He has not simply been a successful busi-
ness man; he has always taken an active interest in
promoting the growth and prosperity of the city
where his home has been for so many years; has in-
vested liberally in manufacturing enterprises and in
the erection of a large number of fine dwelling houses
for the accommodation of such as do not own their
own homes, as well as other buildings, among which
may be mentioned his new office building:, one of the
finest structures for the purpose designed in the State.



As a school director and a member of the City Coun-
cils he has done his share of public duties, but his in-
fluence and example, whether in or out of office, is
always on the side of progress and improvement.
Possessed of talents which eminently fit him for legis-
lative halls, he has no ambition for office and a
decided aversion to office-seeking. In politics he was
first a Whig and then a Republican, but is not a strong
partisan, holding to no extreme views on any of the
leading political questions of the day. Mr. Downing
has long been a member of the First Presbyterian
Church, and a liberal supporter of that society, as well
as of the charitable and benevolent enterprises con-
nected therewith. The same may be said of his
contributions generally for objects of benevolence and
public welfare— they have been liberal and unostenta-
tious. " In this connection should be mentioned the
fact that the establishment of the new park adjoining
the city on the south, and christened "Glenwood
Park," owes its inception to Mr. Downing, who, so
far, has been its most liberal supporter. Other citi-
zens are entitled to much credit for the success
achieved in the securing of the beautiful grounds com-
prising the park, but it is only fair to say that without
the impetus given to the project by Mr. Downing,
nothing would have been accomplished. In 1892 Mr.
Downing erected the largest and finest business build-
ing in the city, situated on the northeast corner of
State and Ninth streets. The building is eighty-two
and one-half by 165 feet and six stories high, exclusive
of the basement. It is a massive structure, the heavy
brick walls being faced with the finest quality of
pressed brick. A large dry-goods store occupies the
first floors, and the balance of the building is devoted
to offices. Heated by steam and lighted by gas and
electricity, with passenger and freight elevators and
every modern convenience, it is one of the finest busi-
ness buildings in Northwestern Pennsylvania, and the
first large office structure erected in Erie with all the
modern conveniences. But Mr. Downing's enterprise
is not confined to the locality in which he lives. He
has invested largely and successfully in Chicago real
estate, and also in farm property in the Northwest.
He carries on two wheat farms in North Dakota, one
of 2,500 acres and one of 5,000 acres, all under cultiva-
tion. Of course the management of these large farms
has to be confided to experienced and trusty superin-
tendents, who have the immediate direction of affairs,
subject to the general plans adopted by the owner.
The results have fully justified the outlay, demon-
strating the fact that money can be made in judicious
farming. Mr. Downing also carries on a small farm
just outside the city limits of Erie, but in this case
farming is conducted for the pleasure of it rather than
for profit. It affords another illustration of the fact,
often referred to, that a majority of successful men
who spent their boyhood days on a farm are inclined
later in life to indulge in the recreation of owning and
running a farm. Mr. Downing's home is one of the
attractions of Erie; his residence and adjoining
grounds compare favorably with the best in the city.
This home, attractive as it is, owes much of its real
charm to the wife who has for so many years been its
loving center and directing spirit. Although the
devoted mother of seven children, Mrs. Downing,
aside from her domestic obligations, has found time to
administer to the needs of the unfortunate and make
their pathway in life brighter and happier, exempli-

fying the truth that it is our duty to make our lives a
blessing to others as well as to ourselves. Mrs.
Downing's early home was in Western Massachu-
setts, in the town of Worthington, where she was born
in 1830. She is a lady of cultivation, of much natural
artistic talent, a great admirer of the beauties of
nature, and fond of travel, having seen much of the
Old World as well as the New. Their children are
mostly grown up and settled in life, their homes being
near the parental roof. The career of Mr. Downing
is an emphatic illustration of the success which attends
earnest, persistent and well-directed effort in any
chosen field of labor. It presents an example worthy
of emulation by all who, without adventitious sur-
roundings, start on the road to success, firmly resolved
to battle bravely and unceasingly for the achievement
of the grandest and best possibilities of life. In the
words of Mr. Downing, in one of his numerous
addresses to young men: " Let a boy start out with a
right ambition, and no matter what his environments
may be, good habits, industry, patience, perseverance,
fidelity and devotion to duty, coupled with good busi-
ness education, will bring success in due time; though
possibly not wealth, which is not essential to true suc-
cess in life. " In this connection it may not be out of
place to allude to Mr. Downing's usefulness as a pub-
lic speaker, he being frequently called upon to serve
in such capacity on some occasion or other of local in-
terest. He is fluent, versatile, easy in manner,
mature in thought, his language direct and pointed-
qualities hardly to be expected in one who is so
deeply engrossed in business cares and responsi-
bilities. On the occasion of the celebration of " Colum-
bus Day" in Erie, the committee of arrangements
selected Mr. Downing as one of the four speakers to
be invited to deliver brief addresses; the subject
assigned to him being the " Development of Four
Centuries. " The address was earnest and eloquent,
and filled with the wisdom of a practical man.
Equally impressive and valuable was his address as
Erie's Centennial orator on the occasion of the cele-
bration of the 100th anniversary of Erie's existence,
delivered September 11, 1895. As a fitting conclusion
to this brief sketch, the following tribute to Mr. Down-
ing and his life-long companion, from the pen of one
of Erie's most respected and cultured citizens, a com-
peer of a third of a century, is here given: " Coming
from the hills of New England, with a community of
thought, of needs and of hopes, their toils and trials
have been mutual. As the way was opened and their
position in life became secure, each advance found
both equal to all the requisites which their surround-
ings imposed. Whether in church or state, at home
or abroad, in the whirl of society or in the graver exac-
tions of organized effort for the alleviation of misery
or mitigation of distress, their means, their influence,
and their time could be counted as a factor. To all
such calls a deaf ear was never turned. And now in
the serenity of a fully rounded career, each can review
with a complacency unalloyed with selfishness the full
fruition of their early hopes, the complete accomplish-
ment of each one of their noble aspirations. "

The Kelso Family.— There is hardly a name
more intimately associated with the settlement of Erie
city and county from its very first start than that of
the Kelso family. Identified as it is with the landed
interests, the military occupation and protection of



Erie, and the social, political, official and business an-
nals of Erie's first half century, some space is properly
devoted to this old Erie family, especially as the record
of but one other seems to reach so far, or to be so in-
dissolubly linked with Erie's early history. The early
family home on the lake bank, as it is recalled in all its
naturalness and floral grace, illustrates how the love of
flowers and vines came with the first settlers from the
Susquehanna valley to the banks of Lake Erie, and
thus gave the "Gem City" the picturesque beauty for
which it has since become renowned. Gen. John
Kelso, son of William Kelso (who was the son of Jo-
seph and Margaret Kelso, of Scotch descent), was
born in 1766, in Paxton township, Dauphin county.
Pa., the home of the family being at the old Kelso
Ferry House, on the banks of the Susquehanna, where
■William died May 22, 1807. About 1796 the Harris-
burg and Presque Isle Company was formed in that
vicinity by ten persons, each contributing ^^200, for
the purchase of land near Erie. In August, 1796, the
company purchased thirty-seven inlots and outlots at
the public sale at Carlisle, and obtained 430 acres at
the mouth of Walnut creek. John Kelso was reared
on a farm, educated at the common schools of the vi-
cinity, and married Miss Sarah Willis Carson. After
their marriage Gen. and Mrs. Kelso came to Erie
county, settling in what is now Fairview township, and
afterwards removed to the head of the Bay of Presque
Isle, settling on what is still land of the family. Their
coming to the county was about 1797 or 1798, and after
five years' residence in Fairview and Mill Creek they
moved to Erie. They had seven children: Albert J.,
Edwm J., Harry, William, Caroline C, wife of the late
Hon. E. Babbitt, and Adaline, wife of the late Rev.
Dr. James H. Whallon. All are deceased. As an
incident of Gen. Kelso's residence in Mill Creek, it
can be stated that the first schoolhouse in that township
was erected probably during his time, and on the
Kelso land. It was of hewn logs. The whole side
formed the fire-place. It was visible a few years ago,
a quaint ruin at the foot of that high and narrow bluff
known as the " Devil's backbone." Nothing now re-
mains of it more than a broken foundation and black-
ened hearth stones. Gen. Kelso was appointed asso-
ciate judge for Erie county in March, 1800. Court was
held for Erie county at MeadviUe for some time. He
resigned as judge to accept the appointment of pro-
thonotary, register and clerk of courts December, 1804;
was reappointed January 18, 1809; was appointed treas-
urer in 1806; and April 18, 1800, he was made commis-
sioner for the sale of lots, and later brigadier general,
and placed in command of the troops defending Erie.
In 1805 he removed from a dwelling at the mouth of
Garrison run to a new residence owned by Capt. Will-
iam Lee, near the navy yard, in the vicinity of the
spot where the government vessels were constructed.
When the county was opened for settlement the dense
forest abounded in game. Fish were so plentiful that
the settlers with hook and line obtained large quanti-
ties. The following items are from Mrs. James Hos-
kinson's historical notes: In 1804 Mr. Kelso com-
menced to build at the foot of State street; trees were
cut down and converted into logs; a square log house
was put up; later wings were added and the logs
weather-boarded; there were five rooms, two halls,
kitchen and servants' sleeping apartments; the large
grounds fronting the entrance to the house, as the
writer remembers, was a lawn of velvety softness;

trees were planted and roses climbed upon the sides
of the windows, giving it a picturesque effect. Mrs.
Kelso was a woman of cultivated tastes, having re-
ceived many advantages in early life. She was a wor-
shiper at nature's shrine, and her garden was a marvel
of beauty, entered by an arched gateway, which was
covered by that delicate and graceful climber, the
woodbine; in the center was a summer house, divided
into four parts, and at each corner were large apple
trees; their branches were tastefully trained, and,
meeting in the center, formed a dense shade, where a
ray of sunshine could hardly peep, and when in bloom,
the summer house was covered with flowers of rich and
varied hues; it was exquisitely beautiful and of unsur-
passed loveliness; from the arbor diverged four walks,
dividing the garden into squares, surrounded by neat
railings; all varieties of flowers grew here most pro-
fusely; there were several varieties of roses, hyacinths,
tulips, columbines, pinks, sweet williams, chrysanthe-
mums, and a beautiful collection of primroses, not to be
found now; lilacs were abundant and also the beautiful
golden laburnam tree. Mrs. Kelso first brought the
althea and sweet briar to Erie. When Gen. and Mrs.
Kelso came to Erie county slavery still existed in
Pennsylvania. They brought with them Charley Lo-
gan and his wife, Fira (a slave), with her three sons,
who were by law servants until 28 years of age. Mrs.
Kelso, finding it difficult to control so large a family,
agreed to part with her colored boys. George was ex-
changed for 100 barrels of salt to Rufus S. Reed;
Briston to Mr. Brown. After their freedom Briston be-
came the widely-known ice cream caterer, and served
at many fine entertainments. Fira lived to be 101
years old, and grew to be an immense fat negress.
She died at her son George's after the breaking up of
Mrs. Kelso's home. Fira was the wife of Charles
Logan, and to her culinary skill was due the hospita-
ble dinners and open house, and woe to the urchins
who invaded her domicile. So utterly defenseless was
Erie at the outbreak of the war of 1812 that the Brit-
ish could easily have captured it. The only fortifica-
tion was a small block house on the eastern part of the
peninsula, which was without any kind of guns or am-
munition. The most formidable instrument of war
was a small boat howitzer (owned by Gen. Kelso),
which was used to celebrate the Fourth of July and
other great occasions. It was found by Gen. Kelso on
the beach at Mill creek, where it had been left by the
wrecking of an armed French batteau. Subsequently
it was borrowed by a lake captain and reported lost
overboard. In the war of 1812, Erie county militia
formed a part of the western division, which was com-
manded by Brig. Gen. John Kelso. Before the close of
June Gen. Kelso ordered out his brigade for the de-
fense of Erie; August 25th expresses were sent over
the county stating that the enemy's vessels had been
seen and would make a descent upon Erie; Septem-
ber 4th the government directed that the State field
pieces be sent to Erie; September 15th the secretary
of war was notified by the governor that Gen. John
Kelso had transmitted him a communication signed by
respectable gentlemen of Erie, requesting that some
efficient action for the protection of Erie may be
speedily taken; September 16th Gen. Kelso was noti-
fied that one brass piece and four 4-pounders were on
their way to Erie; October 21st Governor Snyder or-
dered Gen. Kelso to employ volunteers, if practicable,
for the defense of Erie. The summer's campaign



along the lakes was disastrous to the Americans, and
it became apparent to those who knew the situation
that without a fleet to co-operate with the western and
New York armies, the cause of our country in this di-
rection was hopeless. So little account of land opera-
tions of the day has been preserved, through loss of
records, that it is briefly stated: It was ordered that
Erie should be a navy yard; in October work was com-
menced on two gunboats; the British menaced the
new station to retard the building of the boats; several
times the enemy's vessels anchored in the roadstead,
and, but for the shallow water, would have entered the
harbor; Mrs. Kelso and other ladies fled to Duncan's
tavern for protection; at another time they sought
safety in Waterford at George W. Reed's tavern; July
19th six of the enemy's vessels were in sight outside
of the harbor, where they lay becalmed for two days;
all this time the meager land force was kept busy
marching upon the bank of the lake to give the enemy
an impression of a much larger force or army being
present; after the burning of the villages of Black

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 92 of 192)