North East Heritage Path
Trail Name: North East Heritage Path
The area in and around North East was used by the Eriez Indians for hunting, transportation and habitation. Because of its proximity to water and game, settlers began moving to the area in 1794. By 1802, the community was incorporated as one of Erie County’s 16 original townships. Respectively known as Lower Greenfield, Burgettstown and Gibsonville, the town was incorporated as North East in 1834.
North East’s location on Lake Erie and 16 Mile Creek made it well suited for manufacturing and industry. At one time, the area boasted such enterprises as a cider mill, paper mill, woolen mill, grist mill, saw mill, tannery and brewery. Nearby Freeport was an active port, a place of employment for ship builders and fishermen. Many of North East’s oldest buildings were destroyed in the fire of 1884; consequently, even though many of the town’s buildings are listed on the National Historic Register, few of the buildings pre-date the 1880’s.
With North East’s unique microclimate, agriculture soon became an important part of the economy - the first commercial vineyard was planted in 1850. The area’s first commercial winery, the South Shore Wine Company, was established in 1864 and operated until the enactment of Prohibition in 1920. It was during Prohibition that North East earned a reputation – and notoriety - among the locals for rum running.
Today, North East’s agricultural heritage continues – the town lies within the largest grape growing region in the eastern United States. It is home to nine wineries, as well as numerous food processors such as Welch’s.
1. Lake Shore Railway Museum (31 Wall Street): Built during the 1850’s, the station - part of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway line - served passengers between Buffalo and Chicago. Now serving as a museum owned and operated by the Lake Shore Railway Historical Society, the museum houses artifacts, cars and locomotives from rail companies that served northern Pennsylvania, including a General Electric locomotive that was commissioned by Joseph Stalin.
2. Corner of Mechanics Alley and S. Lake Street: Head north on Robinson Street, take a right onto Eagle Street and then a left onto South Lake Street. Once you get to the corner of Mechanics Alley and South Lake Street, you’ll see several historic buildings. The turreted building in front of you – the only one like it in town – was built over Baker Creek, making it one of the few buildings in town that comes with an internal moat!
Across the street and just north of you, you will see the columned building that used to house the First National Bank. Built in 1893, it is characterized by a Greek Revival façade, a popular style of architecture in the late nineteenth century, particularly for banks and public institutions. Like many of the buildings on this street, this building was part of the town’s rebuilding process after the Great Fire of 1884, which destroyed two dozen businesses and homes as well as a church.
3. Former Town Hall (25 Vine Street): Follow Mechanics Alley to Vine Street. The building on the south corner of the alley is the former Borough Town Hall. Built in 1880, this building has been home to borough offices, a jail and a fire company. Today it houses both the North East Historical Museum and the North East Arts Council.
4. Maidee Olson House (51 E. Main Street): Make your way north on Vine Street, then turn right onto Main Street. Walk east about a block until you come to the Maidee Olson House at 51 E. Main St. This Federal-style building – along with the one on its east side – was built in 1832. Although it is reputed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad, no supporting evidence has yet been found. There is, however, a chamber beneath the first floor kitchen that was evidently used for storage – whether for foodstuffs or people is unknown. Today it houses a bed and breakfast.
5. Corner of Main and Lake Streets: Cross Main Street and turn around, heading back west. You are now walking through the heart of the downtown business district – although it looks quite a bit different today! The Duncan Building (on the northeast corner of Main and Lake) was built by Archibald Duncan in 1845. Duncan reportedly had this three story structure, the only one of its kind in North East, built so that North East would possess a building taller than anything that Erie could claim – at that time.
The southeast corner of the intersection – directly across from you – has been the site of a saloon ever since 1812. The original Haynes House was built in 1852 and then rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1884.
The Sampson Short Building – on the southwest corner - was one of the first buildings built after the fire for use as a banking house. Later it housed a tobacco, newspaper and candy shop – known as the Corner Store – for over 100 years.
6. First Presbyterian Church (25 W. Main Street): Continue heading west on Main Street until you reach the First Presbyterian Church. First established in North East in 1801, the church was originally housed in a humble building right in the center of Gibson Park. A much grander brick building was built on this present site in 1861 only to be consumed by fire in 1884. The structure you are looking at was built in 1885.
7. Corner of Main and N. Pearl Streets: Continue along Main Street to Pearl Street. Be sure to take a look at the Skelkregg House on the northwest corner of N. Pearl and Main. This lovely home, built in 1870, has over 20 rooms – and a racehorse buried in the yard. As you head north on Pearl Street you will pass by the John Foll House (12 N. Pearl Street) – except that the house was originally located on Park Street and moved here during World War I.
8. Gibson Park: At the corner of Pearl and Gibson, take a right, heading east along Gibson Street towards Gibson Park. Gibson Park originally housed the Presbyterian Church, along with the town’s cattle and pigs – until 1855 when the town mandated that all livestock must be penned – and not in the park! Be sure to spend a few minutes relaxing by the Lady in the Park, as the fountain is affectionately known. Once you’re ready to resume your journey, walk east along the park’s southern sidewalk which runs next to Main Street. Turn left onto N. Lake Street. You are now walking towards Lake Erie, which lies 1.8 miles to the north.
9. Parkside (2 Gibson Street): As you approach the corner of North Lake and Gibson, you will walk by the North East trail marker. Just ahead of you, on the northwest corner of N. Lake and Gibson, sets a Neo-Classical building. Built in 1920, Parkside Senior Living Community once housed the high school that served both the borough and township. It now serves as a retirement community.
10. Heard Park: As you continue along North Lake Street you will walk by Heard Park. This was originally the site of North East’s first public school. Today it serves as a public park and home to youth football games, concerts, festivals and community gatherings.
11. Mercyhurst University, North East Campus (16 W. Division Street): Continue along North Lake Street until you come to Division Street. Proceed through the gated entrance on the northwest corner, following the brick road past Neumann Hall to the top of the knoll. There you will find a gazebo overlooking Our Lady’s Grotto. This beautiful campus was created in 1871. Originally known as the Lake Shore Seminary, the property was later purchased by the Redemptorist Society and became St. Mary’s Seminary. Since 1991, it has been the home of the North East branch of Mercyhurst University.
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