(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Erie Post Office (Postcard Series)

Postcard; post marked 1914; collection of the author.

Postcard; post marked 1914; collection of the author.

This beauty was demolished in 1937, and replaced with the U.S. District Courthouse that now sits on South Park Row at the corner of State Street. Built in 1887 under the direction of renowned American architect Mifflin Elmen Bell, it opened in 1888, and functioned as both a post office and federal courthouse.[1]

For more information on the construction of the building, see Debbi Lyon’s post, “Old Federal Courthouse Was Majestic,” over at Old Time Erie.

Wordless Wednesday is a weekly blogging prompt sponsored by Geneabloggers.


[1] Erie Federal Courthouse, “History of the Federal Judiciary,” Federal Judicial Center (http://www.fjc.gov : accessed February 2016).

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Erie County Courthouse (Postcard Series)

Postcard; postmarked Erie, 1947; collection of the author.

Postcard; postmarked Erie, 1947; collection of the author.

Erie’s County Courthouse, located at 140 West Sixth Street, was erected and opened for business in May 1855.

Erie County was established 12 March 1800, but for its first three years, it was attached to Crawford County. The very first Erie court was held in 1803, at Goerge Buehler’s hotel at the corner of French and Third Streets. The first official courthouse was erected on the West Park, north of the soldier’s monument, in 1808. That building, and its entire contents, burned 23 March 1823. A new building, built on the footprint of the first, took two years to complete, and served as the county seat for thirty years.[1]

Wordless Wednesday is a weekly blogging prompt sponsored by Geneabloggers.

[1] Samuel P. Bates, History of Erie County… (Chicago: Warner & Beers, 1884), 512-514.

Erie County History


I stopped by the Hagen History Center the other day and had a nice chat with Annita, who, if you don’t know her, is the historical society’s archivist, having served as such long enough to be the go-to person for everything that’s happened in the County for the last two hundred years, give or take… 🙂

The Reading Room, aside from being gorgeous, smells of cherry wood and old books, and, as befitting a library of history, gives one a sense of being in the presence of greatness, as if perhaps Erie’s pioneers and early industrialists are looking over our shoulders, guiding us through the sea of their business and personal papers, helping us to reconstruct Erie County’s formative years and unveil the part they played in making it was it is today.

The staff at the history center has been hard at work filling the rooms of the Watson-Curtze Mansion with exhibits of all sorts. I believe there are eleven. Particularly delightful is the collection of vintage postcards. The Herculean task of moving the archives into the new storage space at the back of the Carriage House is on a brief hold until the supports for the mezzanine that will hold the 3-D collections and the movable shelving for everything else, arrive. The archives’ holdings are in storage at the old site and are difficult to access. I’d recommend checking with Annita ahead of a research visit, if you need something during the transition.

Thomas B. Hagen History Center

The Erie Society for Genealogical Research has moved its office to the newly opened Thomas B. Hagen History Center, in the Carriage House of the Watson-Curtze Mansion at 356 West Sixth Street.

new reading room

The grand opening gala was held on August 29th. It was a lovely evening. The renovated Carriage House is beautiful, although I was sad to see that it appears the research space in the new reading room is quite a bit smaller than the old space on State Street. As a volunteer in the Archives, and a member of the ESGR, I recall many times when the old reading room was filled to capacity, so I do wonder if we’ll end up fighting each other for a chair when the new space is open for researchers, Thursdays through Saturdays, 11am to 5pm. Note that hours have changed and researchers no longer have access to the library on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so plan accordingly! Also, if you need to research in the library’s microfilm collection, you may want to hold off for a bit, or at least call before stopping by, as they hadn’t moved the microfilm readers as of yesterday.

The ESGR’s office space is, as I understand it, located on the second floor of the Carriage House, which I did not have a chance to see the evening of the Gala. I believe there may also be a larger room of the size needed to hold our monthly membership meetings; however, I’m not sure the second floor can accommodate visitors who have trouble with stairs, as, unlike the old history center, there is no elevator. [Is it just me, or is this a strange and rather major oversight?] The first floor reading room doesn’t appear large enough for our meetings, particularly those featuring a guest speaker, but I could be entirely wrong on this point as I’d had at least a glass and a half of champagne before I took the tour 🙂 At any rate, the staff at the historical society has done a remarkable job with this move, although I fear they may be too exhausted at this point to enjoy the results of their preternatural efforts. It’s a gorgeous space, and will be a joy to work in. And, no small matter, parking is ample and free!

The Erie news did a nice story on the new space: http://www.goerie.com/gala-celebrates-hagen-history-center-renovations#

While a volunteer of both the ECHS and the ESGR, I speak for neither of those organizations, and the opinions and observations expressed here are entirely my own.

Migration Paths Which Led Our Ancestors to Western Pennsylvania

Our ancestors led lives as complex as ours are today. They celebrated milestones and events just like we do; they weathered hardships similar to ours; and, their actions were driven by the same hopes and fears that we face today. We tend to think that in the ‘good ole days’ back when life was simple, our ancestors lived their entire lives in one place. Family and community were everything. Travel was always difficult and often dangerous. Wagons and saddle bags were the only means for moving belongings. But, colonists and immigrants were a hardy bunch. They’d already survived a trip across the Atlantic and they were adventurers at heart. As the land of the eastern part of our country filled up, our ancestors looked westward. The earliest among them were attracted to a frontier of abundant, virgin land. Later, the draw was industry and opportunity. Some received bounty land for military service, many moved for economic or politic reasons, others followed religious leaders. They migrated with extended family and friends and tended to follow established routes, many of which were laid out by Native Americans long before the colonists arrived. Studying the routes and learning about the push and pull factors of any given time period can help us better understand our forebears and provide clues to the origins of ancestors who seemingly appeared out of thin air.

Erie, Pennsylvania, is an ethnic melting pot. Early settlers were looking for land. Later, waves of immigrants from all over Europe and Asia were attracted by opportunities which arose as industry developed along the Great Lakes. Periods of heavy migration, particular to our region, stemmed from:

1. Seventeenth century New Englanders enticed by open land
2. Post American Revolution, military bounty land.
3. Early 1800s, development of industry along canals and railroads

The first two were primarily rural to rural. The last was usually rural to urban. If you have a general idea when your ancestor arrived in Erie, study the U.S. history of that period. Was there a war? Was there crop failure or economic crisis? What were the predominant roadways and water systems in place at the time. Using historical context, you may be able to trace your ancestor’s elusive origins, by working backwards. Study maps of the time period. Your ancestor may not have made the trip west all at once. It was much more common for migrants to stop along the way for months or even years at a time, while they earned the money needed to continue on their journey. There are two excellent resources for learning more about the specific trails and routes which impacted Erie:

Eldridge, Carrie. An Atlas of Appalachian Trails to the Ohio River. Huntington, WV: CDM Printing, 1998.Eldridge, Carrie. An Atlas of Northern Trails Westward from New England. Huntington, WV: CDM Printing, 2000.

In modern times, when migration was motivated by industry, ancestors can be followed through census records. But moves west before the 1850s are harder to trace. Erie’s population grew from migration along several well–known routes.

The primary early route west from New England was the Mohawk Trail, which followed the Mohawk River. Massachusetts colonists often took a military road known as the “Old Connecticut Path,” westward from Boston to Albany, across the Berkshires, where it joined with the Mohawk Trail. This route crossed the Hudson River and then took a northerly route through the Appalachian Mountains. Loyalists took these trails into Canada, during and immediately after the American Revolution. It was along this route that the Erie Canal and railroads were built, and later the Massachusetts and New York Thruways.

If your ancestors arrived in the mid to late 1800s, especially single young men, they may have come with the canal or railroad. Look along the New York Thruway to find towns where he might have stopped for a period of time.

Braddock’s Road was a southerly route west across the Appalachian Mountains. Developed as a military road during the French and Indian Wars, this route led from the southern colonies to the Pittsburgh area. It was a route taken by many Scotch–Irish, and it was also popular among trappers and traders, heading toward trading settlements in Ohio and Michigan. If your ancestors only stopped in Erie briefly, they could have been on their way farther west.

Forbes’ Road, also military in its origins, led from Philadelphia and Harrisburg, crossing the middle of Pennsylvania to arrive at Pittsburgh.


Reference material for this article was found in Beverly Whitaker’s United States Migration Patterns, National Institute for Genealogical Studies, Toronto. Also, Ray Allen Billington’s Westward Expansion: a History of the American Frontier. 5th Ed. New York: Macmillan, 1982.

Value of a 1940 Dollar in Today’s World

It took a while, but I was finally able to locate my 6 month old father on the 1940 census. He, his older brother, and my grandparents were NOT living on the street where I’d expected to find them, so it took a lot of page by page searching to locate them. Their entry on the schedule for Attleboro, Massachusetts, reveals a lot about my father’s family at that point in time and provides additional clues about my grandparents’ lives in the early years of their marriage. My grandfather only completed 6 grades of public education before entering the working world. In 1940 he was working 60 hours a week at a box factory and had worked 52 weeks the previous year, earning $1,650, more than double what his neighbors had earned at various fabric and textile mills around the area. It was also more than a neighbor employed as a policeman had earned. In fact, except for the superintendent of the local shoelace factory, my grandfather had earned more than everyone else enumerated on the same page, although a lot of his neighbors hadn’t been fortunate enough to work as consistently as he had that year.

The US Dept. of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics website offers a Consumer Price Index (CPI) calculator which tells us that $1 in 1940 equates to $16.39 today, and one dollar in 1939 had the same buying power as $16.50 in today’s economy.  Using that same calculator, I was able to determine that my grandfather’s 1939 income of $1,650 had the power to purchase $27,225 (in today’s dollar) of the things he and his family needed to live, such as housing, food, and clothing.

When the census was taken, my grandparents were living in a rented home, but a couple months later, my grandparents would purchase a home and 32 acres of land for $1200, of which he’d mortgage half, suggesting they’d managed to save $600 – pretty good for a machinest at a box company, with a 6th grade education!