When the French army penetrated
this section in 1753, they were accompanied by several Catholic priests, who
served in the double capacity of chaplains and missionaries. They erected a
small log chapel at Erie, on the right side of
Mill Creek, near its mouth, and another within the walls of Fort Le Boeuf, at Waterford,
in which the solemn rites of the mother church were regularly administered
until the departure of the invading forces in 1759. So far as any record
exists, these were the only religious services held within the bounds of Erie County
previous to the year 1797. It is not known whether the chapels were torn down
when the French left the country, were destroyed by the Indians, or fell into
decay, but no trace of either is mentioned by the early American settlers.
The first Protestant exercises we have any account of took place at Colt's
Station, in Greenfield
Township, where Judah
Colt had established the most important settlement then in the county, on
Sunday, the 2d of July, 1797. About thirty persons assembled in response to a
general invitation. No minister was located within the bounds of the county,
and the services were led by Mr. Colt, who read a sermon from Dr. Blair's
Most of the colonists were Presbyterians from New England and the valley of
the Susquehanna, and it was no more than natural that that denomination
should have been the first to look after the spiritual welfare of the
promising settlement. In 1799, a tour that is somewhat celebrated in the
annals of the church was made through this section by Revs. McCurdy and
Stockton, two missionaries who were sent out by the Ohio and Redstone
Presbyteries. They visited Erie, Waterford and North
East, and preached at each place to the delight of the pious people of the
community, many of whom had not been afforded an opportunity to attend public
worship for a number of years. A period of two years ensued before the
colonists were favored with another ministerial visitation, when Mr. McCurdy
was again sent forth, assisted by Revs. Satterfield, Tate and Boyd, all of
the Presbyteries above named. The first two reached Middlebrook,
Township, in August,
1801, and preached with great acceptance in a chopping that had been prepared
for the purpose on the bank of French Creek. They were accompanied by their
wives, and traveled on horseback. No roads had been opened in that part of
the county and the party had to find their way by marked trees and trails
through the woods. The efforts of the two ministers met with such marked
favor that it was resolved upon the spot that a meeting house should be put
up within the ensuing week. On the next Thursday, the population for miles
around gathered at the site that had been chosen, on a knoll near the first
place of worship, but down the forest trees, hewed them into shape, and at
night had a rough log building under roof, the first house for Protestant
worship erected in Erie
County. This structure
was succeeded by another and better one in 1802, known to every old settler
as the Middlebrook
Church, which stood
until decay compelled it to be taken down some twenty years ago. From Middlebrook, after organizing a congregation of eighteen
members, Messrs. McCurdy and Satterfield continued their journey to Colt's
Station and North East, where they were joined by Messrs. Tate and Boyd. At
the latter place, these four participated in the first sacrament of the
Lord's Supper ever administered in Erie
County, according to
Protestant forms. The scene of this eventful ceremony was at the house of
William Dundas, within the present limits of North
East Borough, and the date was the 27th of September, 1801. An audience of
about 300 had assembled, of whom some forty sat down to the tables. A
congregation with the title of "The Churches of Upper and Lower Greenfield" was organized at the same time.
The Erie Presbytery
The whole of Western Pennsylvania this side of the Allegheny River was at
that time within the jurisdiction of the synod of Virginia. On the 2d of October, 1801, in
response to the petitions of those who foresaw the coming importance of the
field, that synod set off the territory between the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers
and Lake Erie, extending some distance also west of the Ohio line, into a
Presbytery, to which the name of Erie was given. The new Presbytery met at Mt. Pleasant,
Beaver County, on the 13th of April, 1802,
seven ministers only being in attendance. Supplications were filed from Upper
and Lower Greenfield, Middlebrook
and Presque Isle. Revs. McCurdy, Satterfield and McPherrin
were chosen missionaries, and, it is presumed, visited Erie County
during the year, but no evidence of the fact is to be found.
Rev. Robert Patterson, who had accepted a call from "The Churches of
Upper and Lower Greenfield," was
received by the Presbytery on the 30th of September, 1802. He returned to
North East, and entered upon his pastoral work on the 31st of December, but
was not ordained until September 1, 1803. The congregation were still without
a building, and the ordination exercises were held in John McCord's bark
house. Mr. Patterson's contract was to preach two-thirds of his time for the
congregation, and the balance was spent by him in riding the county from
place to place, holding services in the woods, barns, sheds and private
houses. During these trips, he had numerous startling adventures, and
suffered many privations. An effort was made to have him devote one-third of
his time to Erie,
but failed for want of an adequate subscription. A log church was built at
North East in 1804, on the knoll now occupied by the cemetery of that
borough. Mr. Patterson preached at Springfield
during that year, and organized a preaching point there. The first church in
the latter township was built in 1804 on the site of the cemetery at East Springfield. Mr. Patterson was unable to stand the
fatigues of frontier duty, and in April, 1807, applied to the Presbytery for
a release from his charge, which was granted.
Rev. Johnson Eaton
During the year 1805, Rev. Johnson Eaton came on from the southern part of
the State, and preached for some time at the mouth of Walnut
Creek and in Springfield.
In the fall of that year, he went back to his home, returning in 1806 with a
bride, and settling permanently in Fairview
Township. The devotion
of the young wife, and the earnestness of the minister can only be
appreciated when it is remembered that they rode on horseback through the
woods the whole way from the Ohio River to Lake Erie, with nothing but a
trail to guide their course, and with scarcely a house on the route at which
to obtain shelter and refreshments, to take up their abode in what was almost
an unbroken wilderness. Mr. Eaton immediately entered upon his pastoral
duties, having the whole county for his field, but giving special attention
to the people at Fairview and Springfield. In 1807, he succeeded Mr.
Patterson at North East, and he also held occasional services for several
years at Colt's Station, Middlebrook, Waterford and Erie.
He was not ordained, however, till June 30, 1808, the ceremony, for lack of a
church building, taking place in William Sturgeon's barn, in or near the
limits of Fairview Borough. A church was built at the mouth of Walnut Creek in 1810.
During the war with Great
Britain, Mr. Eaton gave his services to
the Government as a Chaplain, besides ministering to his congregation with as
much regularity as the unsettled condition of the time would allow. By 1816,
the population of Erie
had increased sufficiently to enable an arrangement to be made by which he
gave one-third of his time to the congregation there, which had been
organized by him September 15, 1815. He continued as pastor of the Erie congregation until 1823, and of the Fairview Church until his death, on the 17th of
June, 1847. The first year of Mr. Eaton's residence in the county, his salary
was $360 a year, one-half of which was to be taken in produce.
In 1808, supplies were granted by the Presbytery to "Upper Greenfield, Middlebrook, Waterford
and Erietown," and in 1809 it was reported to
that body that none of these places could support a pastor. It must have been
due to the poverty of the people, though, rather than to their want of
religious principle, for we find that in 1808 one Jared Goodrich, of
Greenfield, was fined $4 by Justice Marvin, of the same township, for driving
his ox team to Erie on Sunday. If every offense of a similar nature were
punished now, the offices of Justice and Constable would be more profitable
than that of Sheriff.
The Erie and Other Churches
No regular preaching of any kind was had at Erie until Mr. Eaton was called
to give one-third of his time, as before stated, the people who were piously
inclined being compelled to attend worship at North East and Fairview. A
Faithful few rode their horses to these places every Sabbath when service was
held, regardless of the weather, and for a number of years the churches were
not even warmed in winter. Men, women and children in those primitive days
thought nothing of riding ten to twenty miles over rough forest roads in the
middle of winter to attend Divine worship, which meant a good deal more to
them than an opportunity to show off their fine clothes, or a mere compliance
with the mandates of fashionable society.
The Presbyterian congregation of Waterford was organized in 1809, and that at
Union in 1811, being the first in those places. Rev. John Matthews was
settled as pastor of the Waterford and Gravel Run (Crawford County)
congregations October 17, 1810. The Union congregation did not put up a
building till 1831, and that of Waterford till 1834. In 1817, Rev. Mr. Camp
was employed as a missionary to supply the churches unable to support a
pastor, and served in that capacity for two years. The minutes of the
Presbytery in 1820 show congregations at Springfield, North East, Waterford, Middlebrook, Union, Fairview and Erie.
Methodist Episcopal Church
The Methodists held occasional worship at an early date in various portions
of the county, but principally n the western and southwestern townships. The
first service of which there is any positive knowledge was led by Rev. Joseph
Bowen, a local preacher, at the house Mrs. Mershon,
near West Springfield, in September, 1800. A class was organized near
Lexington, in Conneaut Township, in 1801, and the same year a great revival
was held at Ash's Corners, Washington Township. The first church building was
erected in 1804, about a mile south of West Springfield, and soon after its
dedication was the scene of a famous revival, during which Rev. Andrew
Hemphill was the instrument of converting about 100 souls. The first
quarterly meeting was held in that church in July, 1810. Meetings of the
denomination in Erie were held by circuit preachers, at long intervals,
commencing in 1801. Worship took place in the winter of 1810-11, in a tavern
on the west side of French street, between Sixth and Seventh. A congregation
would seem to have been partially established soon after the beginning of the
century, but was probably unable to support a pastor until 1826, at which
period the First Church of Erie City dates its organization. The earliest of
the other congregations in the county were those at Mill Village, organized
in 1810; North East, in 1812; Fair Haven, Girard Township, 1815; Girard
Borough, 1815; Waterford Borough, 1816; Union City and Fairview, 1817;
Middleboro, 1819; Northville, 1820; Wattsburg,
1827; Wesleyville, 1828.
The following interesting incidents relative to the history of the Methodist
Church in Erie County were contributed by Mr. Frank Henry to the Erie Gazette:
At the annual session of the Pittsburgh Conference of the Methodist Episcopal
Church, held at Uniontown, Fayette County, Penn., in the month of August,
1830, the following resolution was passed, viz.:
Resolved, that a new circuit be formed, and called Erie Circuit. That it shall
comprise that part of North East Circuit lying west of North East, Greenfield
and Venango Townships, and that part of Meadville
Circuit lying north of Waterford and east of Springfield Townships, in Erie
I have the original minutes of
the new circuit up to the time when it was again subdivided and Wesleyville Circuit was formed. Also, the complete
minutes of Wesleyville Circuit to the present time.
Nearly all the preachers who met in conference in Uniontown in 1830 went
there on horseback over mountains and through the wilderness, fording or
swimming over creeks and rivers, and often camping out at night. Some were
too poor to own a horse, and went to conference on foot. They were indeed
heroes and those were "the heroic days of Methodism." What a
wonderful change has been wrought in the half century that has passed away.
There are only a few -- perhaps half a dozen members of the conference in
1830 -- who are now living. Nearly all the persons whose names are recorded
in the minutes have passed "from labor to reward," but their names
are written in the Book of Life. Many readers of the Gazette well
remember these old pioneers, and will be interested to have the work of the
fathers recalled to memory, and will doubtless be pleased to read a few
extracts from the old "log book:"
First quarterly Conference for Erie
Circuit held at Harbor Creek, September 13, 1830. Present, William B. Mack,
Presiding Elder, Joseph A. Barrass and A. Young,
circuit preachers. Roll call, present: Local preachers, N. W. Curtis, Barney Bort, William Stafford; exhorters, Luther Stone, D. D.
Daniels, Y. Wilkins, Joseph S. Buck, Justus Osburn;
class leaders, David Burton, A. Bowers, William Allen, William Campbell,
Edmund Brace; circuit stewards, James Flowers, Sturkely
Stafford, John Wheaton. James McConkey, Recording
Steward. Voted unanimously, that the members of this Quarterly Conference
will do all they can to establish weekly class collections on this circuit.
Signed: W. B. Mack, P. E.; A. Young, Sec'y."
During this conference year, Rev. Mr. Barrass,
preacher in charge, received his salary in full, viz., $167. The salary now
paid the pastor of one of the charges -- in the city of Erie -- would have
endowed a college professorship in those primitive times. This meeting was
held in warm weather and the doors and windows were open. An enterprising and
devout cat persisted in annoying those having charge of the communion basket,
causing merriment among some of the young people present, and disturbing the
meeting. Finally, Brother Barrass took the cat
outside and beat its brains out against the corner of the house. It is said
that that cat was none of the nine-lived species. This act filled the hearts
of some of the "beam in their own eye" ones with holy indignation
and horror. The storm eventually subsided and the good brother was not
"cast out of the synagogue."
On the 26th of December, 1830, at the close of a meeting in the court house,
where the Methodists then worshiped, a subscription paper was circulated to
raise money to pay the preacher. We notice the names of George Moore, Captain
Wright, Albert Kelso, J. Lantz, Pressly Arbuckle, William Himrod and
Thomas Moorhead, Jr., on the paper. At the next meting $4 were raised to pay
for wood and candles.
The second quarterly meeting was held in West Mill Creek in December 1830.
Josiah Flower was one of the exhorters present. John Brace, of Beaver Dam;
Timothy Clark, of North East, and Thomas Stephens, of Erie, were added to the
Board of Stewards.
The third quarterly meeting was held in Harbor Creek, February 19, 1831.
Stephen Stuntz, A. C. Barnes, Watts B. Lloyd and
Josiah Flower were among the exhorters present at this meeting, and James McConkey was Secretary.
The fourth quarterly meeting was held in connection with a camp meeting in a
grove on the farm of Judge Sterrett, in Harbor
Creek, near Wesleyville, June 25, 1831. James
Flower, a Steward, resigned, and John Shadduck was
appointed. The following local preachers were present: Barney Bort, William Stafford, John Keese
Hallock, N. W. Curtis, Philip Osborn, William
Burton, Titus Cook. Josiah Flower joined the Annual Conference. Exhorters
present: Justus Osburn, Luther Stone, D. D.
Daniels, Nehemiah Beers, Stephen Stuntz, David
Burton, John McClune, Joseph S. Buck, Watts B.
Lloyd, Freeman Palmer and Franklin Vandoozer.
The first annual meeting of the Erie District Bible, Tract and Sunday School
Society was held at the brick meeting house, Harbor Creek, July 4, 1836, Rev.
W. B. Mack, Chairman; James McConkey, Secretary;
and John Shadduck, Treasurer. Managers, Stephens Stuntz, John Wheaton, Stukely
Stafford, J. S. Buck, Thomas Adams, Timothy Clark, David D. Daniels, George
Walker, James Flower, E. N. Hulburt, John Richards
and David Sterrett. The meeting adjourned to meet
at Wheaton's meeting house in Mill Creek July 4, 1832. Almond Fuller and
Stewart Chambers were among the subscribers to the funds of the society. All
the members of this society are now dead except Stewart Chambers, of Wesleyville, Penn., and George W. Walker, of Marquette
The first quarterly conference of Erie Circuit ever held in the borough of
Erie, met November 19, 1831, W. B. Mack, Presiding Elder; John P. Kent and A.
Plimpton were circuit preachers. Peter Haldeman acted as Secretary, pro tempore. James Flower,
Peter Haldeman, John Magee, A. Bowers, James Boyle,
and __ Sweetland were the class leaders present.
Watts B. Lloyd was by verbal consent allowed to preach for the time being.
Stephen H. Wilcox was licensed to preach.
The next meeting was held in Wesleyville, and
Ezekiel Chambers was licensed to preach. The fourth quarterly conference was
held at Peter Himebaugh's, in Beaver Dam, July 28,
1832. David Vorse, Asa
White and Edmund Brace were among the exhorters, and William Chambers, James
Bail, William B. Weed, Luther Lewis and B. Deighton,
class leaders. A committee to build a meeting house in McKean
was appointed, viz.: John K. Hallock, Ezra White
and James Bail. The following local preachers' licenses were renewed: Barney Bort, William Stafford, Philip Osborn, Josiah Flower,
Nehemiah Beers, David Vorse and Peter Haldeman. At this meeting Watts B. Lloyd was licensed to
preach, and Capt. Thomas Wilkins was licensed to exhort. At their own
request, the papers of Stephen Stuntz and Justus
Osborn were not renewed.
Second quarterly conference was held in Wesleyville,
February 9, 1833, J. S. Barrass, Presiding Elder;
John Chandler and E. P. Stidman, circuit preachers.
Luther Stone was silenced and expelled from the church. Edmund Brace and F. Vandoozer returned their licenses to exhort. A committee
was appointed to estimate the expense of building a meeting house in Erie,
viz.: J. McConkey, T. Stephens and E. N. Hulburt; Trustees for same, E. N. Hulburt,
J. McConkey, T. Stephens, David Burton and John
The third quarterly meeting was held in Erie April 18, 1833. W. Rogers, J.
Hay and J. McCoy were made an estimating committee to build a meeting house
The fourth quarterly meeting was held on the camp ground in Fairview June 22,
1833. F. Vandoozer was expelled from the church,
after trial by a committee, viz.: W. S. Chambers, N. Beers, William May,
Solomon Riblet, George W. Walker, P. Cauffman, Robert Ferguson and Alva Phelps. An appeal of
Barney Deighton was laid over.
"At a regular meeting of the Stewards of Erie Circuit, held in Erie
September 21, 1833, to take into consideration the proper amount of money to
be collected from each class for the support of the preachers, the following
apportionment was made, viz.:
"Wesleyville, $40; Erie, $55; Haybarger's, $8; Burton's, $10;
Brown's, $10; McKean, $12; Bean's (3), $12; Lake
Pleasant, $10; Adam's, $10; Wheaton's $30; Fairview, $30; Bradish,
$6; H. Clark's, $6; Backus's $12; T. Clark's, $8; Haldeman's,
$8; Rees Hill, $18; Gospel Hill, $18."
Rev. J. Chandler and Samuel Gregg were the "circuit riders," and
the amount estimated for the support of the two men and their families for an
entire year was $343. During the conference year, beginning September, 1879,
and ending September, 1880, the combined salaries of the Methodist Episcopal
preachers within the limits of this same territory, including house rent, was
The second quarterly conference for the year 1833 met at the Wheaton Meeting
House (now Asbury) in West Mill Creek. Rev. Hiram Kinsley was Presiding
Elder. The minutes are in the peculiarly illegible handwriting of Rev. Samuel
Gregg, author of "History of Methodism Within the Bounds of Erie
Conference." James McConkey tendered his
resignation as Steward, and George W. Walker was elected Recording Steward.
The following trustees were "appointed to secure a proper location and
build a meeting house in Fairview Township," viz.: James McClelland, or
Miller, Henry Rogers, John McKee (?), Stephen Stuntz,
The fourth quarterly meeting met in Wesleyville
July 7, 1834, Rev. Hiram Kinsley, Presiding Elder, in the chair. The name of Audley McGill appears on the minutes as class leader.
Also the name of Christian Bort. Local preachers,
Capt. Thomas Wilkins and Philip Osborn, were also present. E. N. Hulbert was
appointed a Steward for Erie, and Henry Rodgers Steward for Fairview. The
decision of the committee in the case of John Dillon was sustained. A
committee was appointed to build a parsonage for the use of the circuit,
viz.: George W. Walker, Thomas Rees and William Chambers. This committee was
authorized to apportion to each class the amount expected from them to pay
for the same. The parsonage was built in Wesleyville,
and has been used for that purpose ever since. Rev. Noble W. Jones and family
are its present occupants.
The preachers were paid in full. The account reads as follows:
"Preachers -- John Chandler, $100; wife, $100; child, $16; total, $216.
Paid. Samuel Gregg, $100. Paid." The Recording Steward very properly
classed Mrs. Chandler and chid as preachers, and
paid them accordingly. There is no class of women on earth more earnestly
devoted and self-sacrificing than the wives of Methodist preachers. Many
successful men owe more to their wives than to their own unaided exertions,
but are not magnanimous enough to admit the fact.
The next quarterly meeting was held in Fairview, Rev. Alfred Brunson,
Presiding Elder; P. D. Horton, circuit preacher; Harry Rogers, Christian Bort, F. Dixon, M. Haybarger,
R. Weeks and J. Bradish were the class leaders
The second quarterly meeting was held in Wesleyville
December 6, 1834, George W. Walker was released from the Parsonage Building
Committee, and Rev. P. D. Horton appointed to fill the vacancy.
The third quarterly conference met at Wheaton's meeting house February 28,
1835. David Chambers appealed from the decision of the committee at Wesleyville, and the committee were not sustained. G. Hawly was chosen Recording Steward, in place of George W.
The fourth quarterly meeting was held in McKean May
23, 1835. U. Gittings, D. Ray, George Deighton, S. Brace, William Kinnear,
Philip Osborn and William Stafford were the local preachers present.
At the session of Pittsburgh Conference, held in the summer of 1834, a new
circuit called Wesleyville Circuit was set off, and
the rest of the old Erie Circuit left to take care of themselves. The minute
book was left for use of the Wesleyville Circuit,
and the last record is in the hand writing of William P. Trimble, Recording
Steward, and bearing the date of January 25, 1862. I believe, however, that Wesleyville Circuit contained for a long time all the
territory of the old Erie Circuit outside the borough of Erie.
A quarterly conference for Wesleyville Circuit was
held at Backus Schoolhouse, in South Harbor Creek, March 12, 1836; Isaac Winans, Presiding Elder; Thomas Graham and P. D. Horton,
A new committee, Stutely Stafford, Ezra White and
James Bayle, was appointed to build a new meeting
house at or near McKean Corners.
The next quarterly conference was held in Wesleyville
June 25, 1836. Philip Osborn and Barney Bort were
recommended to the annual conference for admission to the "traveling conexion." The preachers were paid in full -- $124
each for a year's hard work. Some of the membership charged the preacher's
family with extravagance in using up so large a salary! It was not considered
advisable to pay the preachers much money in those days. It had a tendency to
make them "stuck up and worldly-minded." Any unmarketable produce,
such as rancid butter or lard, moldy hay, or wilted potatoes, etc., was often
taken to the parsonage as "quarterage,"
and the preacher and his wife were expected to receive these tokens of
brotherly thoughtfulness with becoming humility and thankfulness. I called at
the parsonage in Wesleyville many years ago, and
while there a good brother brought in a cheese. He did not inquire whether
the preacher wanted it or not but laid it on the table, with a sanctimonious
grin on his weazened face. At that time good cheese
could be bought for 8 cents per pound. "Brother, how much shall I credit
you for this?" inquired the preacher. "I took it on a debt, and
will not be hard with you. Call it 10 cents per pound," was the prompt
reply. The preacher's son, a promising lad of twelve summers, inspected the
cheese very closely. In a few minutes he came in with a piece of his mother's
new clothes' line in his hand. "Why, my son! what in the world are you
going to do?" his mother inquired. "Going to tie up pa's cheese to
keep it from crawling away." was the laconic reply. The cheese was a
living, loathsome mass of maggots, and the old rascal knew it before going to
the parsonage. The good layman sneaked off, and was that preacher's enemy
ever after. If such fellows succeed in dodging into heaven, then the doctrine
of universal salvation will be "the correct thing."
In 1836, J. Chandler, L. D. Mix and Albina Hall
were the circuit preachers.
At the meeting held in Wesleyville January 21,
1837, David W. Vorse, of McKean,
was licensed to preach. At a meeting held in McKean
July 4, 1837, he was recommended to the annual conference for admission to
the itineracy. David Chambers was made an agent of
the circuit to build the parsonage. This enterprise seemed to move along
slowly . . . A resolution to sustain him unanimously passed.
The next meeting was held at Hoag's Schoolhouse, in South Harbor Creek,
September 30, 1837. A committee on temporal interests was appointed, viz.:
William Campbell, George W. Walker and David Chambers. This committee was
directed to notify subscribers to the parsonage fund that they must pay up or
be dealt with according to discipline. D. Preston and D. Pritchard were the
preachers. March 3, 1838, at a meeting held in Fairview, Peter Haldeman was licensed to preach.
At the meeting held in McKean June 2, 1838, Philip
Osborn was recommended to the annual conference for deacon's orders. All that
part of Wesleyville circuit west of the Waterford
Turnpike was formed into a new circuit, to be called McKean
Circuit. The following is the first official board of McKean
Circuit: Joel Stafford, Recording Steward; Joseph S. Buck, Lewis Calder, John
L. B. _____, Philip Osborn, George Deighton and
At a meeting held in Wesleyville June 15, 1839,
Mathias Himebaugh was licensed to preach. David
Preston and Theodore D. Blinn were the circuit
preachers. The former received a salary of $169.58, and Mr. Blinn received $93.65.
United Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, etc.
Rev. Robert Reid, a minister of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church,
gathered a congregation in Erie in 1811, which was the first regularly
organized religious body in the city. Services were held in a schoolhouse
until 1816, when a church building was erected, eight years in advance of
that of the First Presbyterian congregation. These two were the sole
religious organizations in the city in 1820. A second society was organized
by Mr. Reid at Waterford in 1812, three years after the Presbyterian body of
the same place. The denomination became known as the United Presbyterian
Church in 1858, as will be explained below.
In the year 1815, Rev. Charles Colson, a Lutheran minister from Germany, came
to the Northwest and organized four congregations of that church, one each at
Meadville, French Creek, Conneaut and Erie. The Erie society died out very
soon, and does not appear to have been revived until many years later. The
earliest Lutheran Church in Erie City was built in 1835.
The first knowledge we have of the Episcopalians is through a paper, a copy
of which has been preserved, drawn up in 1803, and signed by fourteen
citizens, agreeing to contribute the sum of $83 annually "to pay
one-third of Rev. Mr. Patterson's time in Erie, until a Church of England
clergyman can be placed." Mr. Patterson, it will be recollected, was the
Presbyterian minister in charge at North East. Among the signatures are the
familiar names of Reed, Rees and Wallace. No organization of the denomination
was effected till March 17, 1827, when a number of persons withdrew from the
Presbyterian Church and became united as St. Paul's Episcopal congregation.
About the same time, Rev. Charles Smith came on from Philadelphia and assumed
charge as rector. Services were held in the court house till a building was
completed in November, 1832. The Waterford society, the second in the county,
was organized the same year as the one at Erie.
The first building of the Christian denomination was erected at East
Springfield in 1826, and the second in Fairview Township in 1835.
Catholics and Other Denominations
The Roman Catholics had no organization in the county until 1833, when a
church was erected in the northern part of McKean
Township, and occupied until the new one was put up i
Middleboro. St. Mary's and St. Patrick's congregations in Erie date from 1833
and 1837 respectively. The Catholics now number more communicants than any
single denomination in the county.
The Lake Erie Universalist Association was
organized in Wellsburg in 1839, where a church had been established the
preceding year. The Erie church was not organized until 1844.
The earliest Baptist congregation was in Harbor Creek Township in 1822. This
was followed by societies at Erie in 1831, and in North East and Waterford
Townships in 1832.
The United Brethren, the Adventists and the other denominations are
comparatively new to this section.
Some of the churches are large, handsome and expensive structures, while
about one-third are plain wooden buildings that cost less and are less
imposing than many of the barns in the county. The most elaborate churches
are in Erie, Corry, North East, Union, Girard, Fairview, Miles Grove, Harbor
Creek, Waterford and Mill Village. The Cathedral church of the Roman
Catholics, at the corner of Tenth and Sassafras streets, in Erie, which has
been building for several years, will, when completed, be the most extensive,
costly and handsome religious edifice in this part of Pennsylvania.
List of Churches
Below is a list of the various congregations in the county in 1880, with the
year each one is supposed to have been organized. Any additions that have
been made since that year will be mentioned in the township sketches:
Presbyterian (19) -- Belle Valley, 1841; Beaver Dam, Wayne Township,
about 1820; Central Church, Erie, 1871; Chestnut street, Erie, 1870; Corry,
1864; East Springfield, 1804; Edinboro, 1829;
Fairview Borough, 1845; First Church, Erie, 1815; Girard Borough, 1835;
Harbor Creek, 1832; Mill Village, 1870; North East Borough, 1801; Park
Church, Erie, 1855; Union City, 1811, Waterford Borough, 1809; Wattsburg, 1826; Westminster, Mill Creek Township,
1806-1852; Wales, Greene Township, 1849.
The Presbyterian Churches of Erie County are within the bounds of the Synod
of Pennsylvania and of the Presbytery of Erie. The Synod was constituted in
1881, and embraces the four old Synods of Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Erie and
Pittsburgh. The Presbytery embraces Erie, Crawford, Warren, Venango and Mercer Counties, and contains sixty-two
churches and about fifty ministers.
United Presbyterian (6) -- Beaver Dam, Wayne Township, 1859; First
Church, Erie, 1811; Five Points, Summit Township, 1842; Mission Church, Erie,
1874; Waterford Borough, 1812; Whiteford's Corners,
Summit Township, 1876.
The name of this denomination in Erie County was originally the Associate
Reformed Presbyterian Church. On the 26th of May, 1858, the Associated Presbyterian
and the Associated Reformed Presbyterian societies of the Northern States
consolidated under the name of the United Presbyterian Church. The churches
of this county are attached to the First Synod of the West and to the Lake
Presbytery. The Synod embraces all of the churches in Pennsylvania west of
the Allegheny and portions of Ohio and Michigan. The Presbytery covers Erie
and Crawford Counties, a portion of Mercer and a small part of Trumbull
Episcopal (8) -- Emanuel, Corry, 1864; Cross and Crown, Erie, 1867;
Miles Grove, 1862; Mission of the Holy Cross, North East, 1872; St. Paul's
Erie, 1827; St. John's, Erie, 1867; Union City, 1875; St. Peter's, Waterford
The churches of Erie County are embraced in the Diocese of Pittsburgh and in
the Erie Deanery. The Diocese includes all of Pennsylvania west of the
Eastern lines of Somerset, Cambria, Clearfield, Elk, Cameron and McKean Counties; the Deanery comprises Erie, Crawford, Venango, Lawrence and Mercer Counties. The Pittsburgh
Diocese was organized November 15, 1865, on which date Rev. John B. Kerfoot was elected Bishop. His consecration took place
on the ensuing 26th of January. He was succeeded by Rev. Dr. Cortland
Whitehead, who was consecrated on January 25, 1882. The Erie Deanery was
erected on the 12of June, 1874. The Deans have been as follows: 1st. Rev. J.
F. Spaulding, Erie; 2d, Rev. W. H. Mills, Erie; 3d, Rev. Henry Purdon,
United Brethren (13) -- Branchville, McKean
Township, about 1866; Corry, 1864; Clark settlement, Harbor Creek Township,
1856; Erie, 1878; Elk Creek and Girard line, 1870; Elk Creek Township, 1853;
Fairview Township, about 1857; Greene and Venango
line, 1871; Macedonia, Venango Township, _____; New
Ireland, Le Boeuf Township, 1876; Shattuck's
Corners, Greenfield Township, about 1874; Union City, 1872; Wayne Valley,
Wayne Township, 1870.
Roman Catholic (16) -- Albion, prior to 1850; St. Mary's, Erie, 1833;
St. Patrick's, Erie, 1837; St. Joseph's, Erie, about 1853; St. John's, Erie,
1869; St. Andrew's, Erie, 1871; St. Thomas, Corry, 1860; St. Elizabeth,
Corry, 1875; St. John's, Girard, 1853; St. Boniface, Greene Township, 1857;
St. Peter's, Greene Township, 1870; St. Matthew's, Summit Township, 1867; St.
Francis Xavier, Middleboro, 1833; St. Gregory's, North East, 1854; St.
Teresa's, Union City, 1857; St. Cyprian's, Waterford Station, 1878.
The Erie Diocese comprises the counties of Erie, Crawford, Mercer, Venango, Forest, Clarion, Jefferson, Clearfield, Cameron,
Elk, McKean, Potter and Warren. It was established
in 1853, Rt. Rev. Michael O'Conner being the first
Bishop. He was transferred from Pittsburgh in 1853, and re-transferred in
1854. His successor, Rt. Rev. J. M. Young, was consecrated April 23, 1854,
and died September 18, 1866. Rt. Rev. T. Mullen, present Bishop, was
consecrated August 2, 1868.
Methodist Episcopal (55) -- Albion, prior to 1850; Ash's Corners,
Washington Township, 1867; Asbury, Mill Creek Township, 1846; Asbury, Union
Township, 1840; Beaver Dam, 1838; Carter Hill, about 1835; Corry, 1862;
Cherry Hill, 1858; concord Township, 1879; Cranesville,
about 1830; Crane road, Franklin Township, 1867; East Springfield, 1825; Edinboro, 1829; Edenville, Le Boeuf Township, 1839; Elgin, 1854; Eureka, 1867; First
Church, Erie, 1826; Fair Haven, Girard Township, 1815; Fairplain,
Girard Township, 1840; Fairview Borough, 1817; Franklin Corners, 1866; Gospel
Hill, Harbor Creek Township, 1816; Greenfield, 1826; Girard Borough, 1815;
Harbor Creek, 1834; Hatch Hollow, Amity township, prior to 1835; Hamlin,
Summit Township, 1837; Keepville, about 1867;
Lowville, 1875; Lockport, 1843; Miles Grove, 1867; McLane,
Washington Township, 1863; Mill Village, prior to 1810; Middleboro, 1819;
Macedonia, Venango Township, _____; North Corry,
1870; North East Borough, 1812; Northville, about 1820; Phillipsville,
prior to 1848; South Harbor Creek, Harbor Creek Township, prior to 1830;
Simpson Church, Erie, 1858; Sterrettania, 1842;
South Hill, McKean Township, about 1860; Sharp's
Corners, Waterford Township, 1838; Sherrod Hill,
_____;; Tower Schoolhouse, Venango Township,
_____;; Tenth Street, Erie, 1867; Union City, 1817; Waterford Borough, 1814;
Wellsburg, 1833; Wattsburg, 1827; West Springfield,
1801; Wales, Greene Township, about 1850; West Greene, 1827; Wesleyville, 1828.
The Methodist Episcopal Churches in Erie County are attached to the Erie
Conference, organized in 1836, the bounds of which extend o the west to the
Ohio State line, on the east to a line running slightly beyond Jamestown, N.
Y., and Ridgway, Penn., and on the south to a line
running east and wet below New Castle, Penn. The Conference is subdivided
into six Presiding Elders' districts, viz.: Erie, Clarion, Franklin,
Jamestown, Meadville and New Castle. The Erie District includes the churches
of Erie, Mill Creek, Fairview, Girard, Greene, Greenfield, Harbor Creek, McKean, North East, Summit, Springfield, Wesleyville and Waterford; the Meadville District those
of Albion, Edinboro, Lockport, Mill Village, Union
and Wattsburg; the Jamestown District those of
Corry. The Presiding Elders of these districts have been as follows:
Erie District -- G. Fillmore, 1821-24; W. Swayze,
1825-27; W. B. Mack, 1828-31; J. S. Barris, 1832;
H. Kinsley, 1833; J. Chandler, 1836-38; J. C. Ayers, 1839-42; T. Goodwin,
1843-44; J. Robinson, 1845-48; B. O. Plimpton,
1849; E. J. L. Baker, 1850-53 and 1865-68; J. Leslie, 1854-57; J. Flower,
1858-61; J. H. Whallon, 1862-64; D. M.Stever, 1869-72; R. M. Warren, 1873-75; W. F. Wilson, 1876-78;
R. W. Scott, 1879-80.
Meadville District -- Z. H. Coston, 1832; A.
Brunson, 1833-34; I. Winans, 1835; J. S. Barris, 1836-37; H. Kinsley, 1838-39, 1843-45 and
1855-58; J. Bain, 1840-42; B. O. Plimpton, 1846-48;
W. Patterson, 1849-52; E. J. Kenney, 1853-54; N. Norton, 1859-62; J. W. Lowe,
1863-66; G. W. Maltby, 1867-70; W. P. Bignell, 1871-74; J. Peate,
1875-78; F. H. Beck, 1879-80.
Jamestown District -- H. Kinsley, 1834-36; R. A. Aylworth,
1837-38; D. Preston, 1839-41; J. J. Steadman,
1842-43; D. Smith, 1844-47; W. H. Hunter, 1848-51; J. H. Whallon,
1852-55; B. S. Hill, 1856-58; J. W. Lowe, 1859-62; G. W. Maltby,
1863-66; J. Leslie, 1867-70; A. Burgess, 1871-72; N. Norton, 1873-75; O. G. McEntire, 1876-79.
Universalist (5) -- Corry, 1877; Erie, 1844;
Girard, about 1850; Wellsburg, 1838; West Springfield, 1848.
Evangelical Association (6) -- Emanuel, Summit Township, about 1838;
Salem, Fairview and Mill Creek line, 1833; Salem, Erie, 1833; Mt. Nabo, Fairview Borough, 1833; North East Borough, 1870; congregation
at Sterrettania, _____.
Lutheran (11) -- St. John's Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed, Erie,
1835; St. Paul's German Evangelical, Erie, 1850; German Evangelical Lutheran
Trinity, Erie, 1881; First English Evangelical Lutheran, Erie, 1861; Evangelical
Lutheran, Girard Borough, 1866; Evangelical Lutheran, Fairview, 1856; St.
Paul's German Lutheran, Mill Creek Township, about 1836; St. Paul's German
Evangelical, North East, 1864; St. Jacob's Evangelical United, Fairview
Township, 1852; Franklin Township Church, 1871; german
(Lutheran), Corry, about 1874.
Baptist (16) -- Corry, 1863; Edinboro, 1838;
Franklin and Elk Creek line, 1866; First Church, Erie, 1831; German Church,
Erie, 1861; Lowrey settlement, Harbor Creek
Township, 1822; McLane, Washington Township, 1838;
North East, 1832; Newman's Bridge, Waterford Township, 1832 or 1833; Pageville, 1839; Second Greenfield Union Free-Will
Baptist, Greenfield Township, 1881; Union City, 1859; Waterford and Amity
line, about 1835; West Springfield, 1826; Wattsburg,
1850; Wellsburg, 1839.
Christian (8) -- Corry, 1864; Draketown,
1877; East Springfield, 1826; Fairview Township, 1835; Girard and Franklin
line, 1872; Hare Creek, Wayne Township, 1877; McLallen's
Corners, 1828; Oak Hill, Waterford Township, 1854.
Disciple (2) -- Albion, 1880; Lockport, 1877.
Congregational -- Corry, 1874.
Hebrew -- Erie, 1858; Corry, about 1873.
Advent -- Edinboro, 1863.
Wesleyan Methodist (3) -- Concord Township, 1840; Erie, 1847; Keepville, 1854.
African Methodist Episcopal -- Erie, re-organized, 1877.
Union -- Manross Church, Le Boeuf Township, erected 1869.
Recapitulation -- Presbyterian, 19; United Presbyterian, 6; Episcopalian, 8;
United Brethren, 13; Roman Catholic, 16; Methodist Episcopal, 55;
Congregational, 1; Advent, 1; African Methodist Episcopal, 1; Universalist 5; Lutheran, 11; Evangelical Association, 6;
Baptist, 16; Christian, 8; Disciple, 2; Hebrew, 2; Wesleyan Methodist, 3;
Union, 1; total, 174.
The first Sunday school in the county was founded by Rev. Mr. Morton and Col.
James Moorhead at Moorheadville, in 1817. In 1818,
Mrs. Judah Colt returned to Erie after a visit to New England, where schools
for the religious instruction of children on the Sabbath had recently been
introduced, and by the aid of Mrs. R. S. Reed and Mrs. Carr established a
class for girls, which met alternately at the houses of the two ladies last
named. After a time the brothers of the girls asked to be admitted, but fears
wee entertained that they would be hard to control, and it was only after
much debate and hesitation that they were allowed to enjoy the benefits of
the class. Col. Thomas Forster became interested in the enterprise, and in
1820 tendered the ladies a room, which was gladly accepted. A public meeting
was held in the court house on the 25th of March, 1821, to consider the
project of regularly organizing "a Sunday School and Moral
Society." Resolutions in favor of the same were drafted and introduced
by R. S. Reed, Thomas H. Sill and George A. Eliot -- one capitalist and two
lawyers -- and solemnly adopted by the audience. A paper for contributions
was passed around, and the munificent sum of $28.50 subscribed to procure
suitable books. This subscription paper is now hanging up in the basement of
the First Presbyterian Church of Erie. The school commenced in May with an
attendance of sixty-four, big and little, who had increased to eighty-one at
the end of six months, of whom twenty-one, or nearly one-fourth, were
colored. Horace Greeley, then an employee in the office of the Erie Gazette,
was one of the scholars in the winter of 1830-31. A second school was started
in September, 1830, by the ladies of St. Paul's Episcopal congregation, and
held its sessions in the court house until their church building was
completed. The first schools had to encounter some opposition, even from
zealous Christian citizens. A Sabbath school is now connected with almost
every church in the county.
Bible Society and Y. M. C. Association
The Erie County Bible Society was established in 1824, and has been in
continuous operation ever since. Its mission is to distribute the Holy Book
free of cost to those who are too poor to buy, and at a moderate price to
persons in better circumstances. The first officers were Rev. Johnston Eaton,
President; Rev. Robert Reid, Vice President; George Selden, Secretary; and E.
D. Gunnison, Treasurer. Its annual meetings are held on the first Wednesday
after the second Tuesday in May.
The only Young Men's Christian Association in the county is in Erie and was
organized in September, 1860. The society owns a fine building at the corner
of Tenth and Peach streets, which is conveniently fitted up for its purpose.
Its library of nearly six thousand volumes is free to all who visit the
reading rooms, and, for a moderate sum per annum, the holders of tickets are
allowed to take books to their homes. Aside from its religious influence, the
association has done a good work among the young men and women of the city by
increasing their literary taste, and giving them the opportunity to read good
books instead of the trashy stuff that floods the land. It also maintains a
Railway Employes' Reading Room in the building on
Peach street, opposite the northern entrance to the Union depot.
Graveyards and Cemeteries
As death and religion are always associated to a certain extent, this seems
to be the proper place to give a brief sketch of some of the old graveyards
in the county, which, thanks to the improved taste, are fast giving way to
neat and ornamental cemeteries. The first burial place of which there is a
record, was established at Colt's Station in Greenfield Township on the 6th
of July, 1801. A party of fifteen met and cleared off an acre for the
interment of the dead, which has remained as a graveyard to this day, though
in a sadly neglected condition. Their example led the people at Middlebrook to follow suit, and a burial place was begun
there in the following month. Most of the bodies in the latter have been
removed within the last thirty years, and the spot is now used for farming
purposes. A graveyard was established at Erie nearly at the same time, on the
bank of the lake, east of Parade street, but was abandoned about 1805. Others
were located at an early day at Waterford, North east, Fairview, Springfield
and elsewhere. In 1805, three lots were set aside for a graveyard at the
southeast corner of French and Eighth streets, Erie, which was used by all
denominations until 1827, when it became the property of the United
Presbyterian Church, whose building adjoined the premises on the east. The
property was sold in 1862, the bodies were removed to the cemetery, and the
site is now covered with dwellings. The Presbyterians purchased four lots at
the southeast corner of Seventh and Myrtle streets, in Erie, in 1826, and
used them for burial purposes for upward of twenty years, when the bodies
were carefully removed to the cemetery and the land was sold to private
The Episcopal Graveyard was also on Seventh street, nearly opposite the gas
house. Besides the above, there was a graveyard on Third street, east of the
Catholic school, on the north side, which was used for burial purposes as
late as 1837. The Catholic burial grounds on Twenty-fourth, between Sassafras
and Chestnut streets, still contain numerous bodies, which will probably be
removed some day to the cemetery west of the city. An unused graveyard is
also attached to St. John's Church in South Erie. The various cemeteries in
present use will be described in connection with the city.
As the county increased in population, graveyards were located in every
section, some of which continue, while the sites of others have almost or
entirely been forgotten. Many families chose burial places on their farms,
and some of these still exist. The old-style graveyards were, and those that
remain are, generally speaking, dismal and forbidding places, the tombstones
dingy and often tottering, the fence sides grown up to brambles, the graves
and walks in a horrible state of neglect, and the whole aspect well calculated
to encourage the belief in ghosts, goblins and demons, which was quite
universal forty years ago.
The establishment of the cemetery at Erie, which was dedicated in May, 1851,
and speedily became one of the tastiest in the Union, has had a gratifying
effect upon the whole county. People of refinement from the neighboring
towns, comparing it with the neglected graveyards at their homes, became
ashamed of the contract, and efforts, some successful and other futile, have
been made to secure creditable places of burial in almost all sections.
Corry, Union City, North East, Waterford, Girard, Fairview, Springfield, Sterrettania and Lowville have cemeteries that speak well
for the taste of their citizens, and at Erie the new Catholic cemetery near
the Head is fast assuming a first rank. The writer hopes to be spared long
enough to see every vestige of the old-style graveyard removed from the face
of the earth, and each town and township in possession of a cemetery that
will be an honor to the living and afford a proper resting-place for the