Custom House Opening Anticipated

Museums and Historic Sites presents news and information about the historic sites and museums of PHMC.

When the Custom House of Erie opens this spring, one of the chief goals will be to eventually establish a maritime museum there.

Michael J. Ripton, director of Historic Sites and Properties and acting director of the Bureau of Museums for the Penn­sylvania Historical and Museum Commission, recently in­spected progress at the Custom House. Ripton is enthusiastic about the Custom House, which adjoins the Cashier’s House. The Cashier’s House has already undergone extensive refurbishing during the last few years. Both historic properties are administered by the PHMC. A permanent employee, Becky Brooks, has been employed by the Commission to supervise both the Cashier’s House and the Custom House.

The Erie County Historical Society occupies the Cashier’s House and has its headquarters there. Mrs. C. B. (Helen Rilling) Andrews of 680 West Ninth Street, Erie, and a member of the board of directors of the Erie County Historical Society, has devoted much time to cataloging material for the Cashier’s House and has a fountain of knowledge about the property. A retired Erie Metropolitan librarian, Mrs. Andrews has been assisted in her work by Justina Baron of McKean, former librarian at Edinboro State College, Margie Miller, member of the Erie Society for Genea­logical Research, and Doris Nicholson, board member.

Both the Custom House and the Cashier’s House, located on State Street, are abundant in heritage. The historical society, originating in 1903, has offices, library and museum in the Cashier’s House.

The Custom House was built in 1838-39 as the Erie Branch of the United States Bank of Philadelphia, while the Cashier’s House was built for the chief financial officer of the bank. Architect for both buildings was William Kelly; his name is inscribed high in the rear of the front pillars of the Custom House.

The front portion of the Custom House is of white marble, hauled by ox-teams from Vermont to the Erie Canal, then to Buffalo, and finally, to Erie. According to an article written by Karl E. Morrison, architect, this building was the first in the county to be built of “native marble.” The architectural style of the House is known as Greek Revival, one of the simplest of architectural orders.

The Custom House has been used successively as a United States Bank, post office, custom house, quarters for the Grand Army of the Republic and for county offices. Now it will be utilized for museum purposes as a significant historical building.

The Cashier’s House, designated by Erie architect Robert Krider as “a fine example of a Greek revival townhouse,” was first occupied by Peter Benson, the United States’ Bank’s cashier who came to Erie from Cincinnati. The House has passed through many phases and ownerships. eventually being occupied in 1872 by the family of Samuel E. Woodruff, attorney. The family lived there until 1913. Before the state purchased it seven years ago, it served as a commercial property, owned by the Ashby’s and then as the home of the Erie Drug Company.

The Cashier’s House recently acquired furnishings from the Battles home in Girard through the courtesy of Georgi­anna Reid. The PHMC has also supplied furnishings. But credit really belongs to members of the Erie County His­torical Society for their diligence. An impressive library is available to the visitor or avid history student.

When the PHMC officially opens the Custom House, Erie will have another important historic landmark. In addition to the Cashier’s House, state historical properties include Perry’s Flagship Niagara and the USS Wolverine bowspirit, both on the west side of State Street.

The city owns the historic properties, Perry Memorial House, 201 French Street; and the Land Lighthouse, which overlooks the entrance to the harbor.

The Erie County Historical Society was one of four state historical societies to receive a Certificate of Commendation from the National Awards Committee of the Association for State and Local History. The society’s award was “For con­tributing to historical scholarships by sponsoring the Journals of Erie Studies.” The journal is issued in coopera­tion with the History Department of Mercyhurst College.

Newly elected officers of the Erie society are William Irvin Arbuckle, president; Helen R. Andrews, first vice-pres­ident; Richard Lamborn, second vice-president; Justina Baron, secretary; George Griswold, treasurer; Dale Mackin­tosh, curator.

Active members of the society’s board of directors. in addition to Mrs. Andrews, include Richard Wright, Frank S. Gifford, Richard Lamborn and J. K. Richardson, Erie; Mrs. Gilbert Miller, Herbert Heidt and George Griswold, Millcreek; Dale Mackintosh, Harborcreek, and Harlan Laub, Girard.


Editor’s Note: In the next issue, Robert MacDonald of Erie will review the history of the U.S.S. Niagara.