Erie County, Pennsylvania

History of Erie County, Pennsylvania 1884

by Samuel P. Bates, 

Submitted by Gaylene Kerr Banister


Chapter XIV - Religious Organizations, Churches, Graveyards, etc.

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 collection.

Presbyterian Missionaries
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, in Venango 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.

Permanent Preachers
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 County.

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 County, Wis.

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 Richards.

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 in Fairview.

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 $8,054.

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, James Morton.

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 present.

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. Walker, resigned.

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, circuit preachers.

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 John Palmiter.

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 County, Ohio.

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 Borough, 1827.

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, Titusville.

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.

Sunday Schools
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 purchasers.

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 dead.

Bibliography: Samuel P. Bates, History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, (Warner, Beers & Co.: Chicago, 1884), Part II, Chapter XIV, pp. 245-262.



This page was last updated on  Sunday, October 08, 2000.

Return to Erie County Genealogy Project

2000 Erie County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project

Home Page Erie County Contents Next Chapter