John Hill House
The John Hill House (230 West 6th Street) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright &cop; 2009, The Gombach Group
The John Hill House is a transitional building incorporating elements of both Greek Revival and Italian Villa architectural styles. The original frame structure consisted of a two story square building four bays wide with a small one story wing to the rear. The house acquired its present irregular plain and asymmetrical composition in the late 1850s when south and east wings were added. In 1891, the property line was moved twenty feet to the north to provide space for the erection of a brick two-story combination coach house and servants quarters. This building was then connected to the main dwelling by the elevation of the rear wing to two stories. The present house measures ninety-seven feet in length and has a maximum width of forty-eight feet.
The general appearance of the house is "picturesque." Wall surfaces retreat and reappear, modulated by balconies, porches, and window bays. The south wing has a poured concrete facade whose surface has been lightly scored to resemble large square blocks of smooth-faced coursed ashlar. The east wing has a clapboard facade and wood block quoins. However, the same stylistic elements are present in both wings. The dominant features of the front of the house are the roof line and windows. The gable roof is slightly pitched and has wide eaves supported by prominent brackets. Its broken silhouette is accented by a string course and arcaded corbel table. There are three interior brick fireplace chimneys. Windows are round-headed, hooded, and often grouped in twos. There is a one story window bay in the south wing, and a two story window bay in the east wing. Above the south bay is a balustraded balcony whose recessed compound window is framed by Corinthian columns and quatrefoil tracery. The main entrance is enclosed by a three bay screen porch, and consists of a large molded panel and arched fanlight.
The entrance hall is flanked by a formal reception room on the right; and a parlor, small sitting room, and dining room on the left. At the far end is a dog-leg stair with balustraded railing and ornamental bracketing. There are arched marble fireplaces in the reception room and parlor, as well as the bedrooms directly above; and a square wood fireplace in the dining room. The bay windows have elaborate decorative features and trim, as well as recessed shutters, Ceilings in the entrance hall and reception room are panelled with carved light fixture mountings.
The rear wing contains a kitchen and pantry on the first floor and additional service rooms on the second floor. The floor plans lack cohesion, indicating a series of remodelings over the years.
The John Hill House is important architecturally since it represents the best remaining example of the Italian Villa style which was widely adopted in the homes of Erie's wealthy families during the late nineteenth century. It also has some significance historically because of its association with the development of the city's material culture during the same period.
The house was originally built ca. 1836 by William Johns, a former Burgess and prominent physician of the time. In 1840, ownership passed into the hands of Pierre Simon Vincent Hamot, an Erie pioneer who had become a wealthy and successful merchant-banker. Hamot lived in an imposing mansion overlooking the harbor which his heirs later donated for the purpose of establishing a hospital. Hamot presumably bought the Johns property for his daughter, but it is doubtful whether she and her husband, who had interest in Central America, spent much time there.
In 1854, the house was acquired by John Hill. Although a carpenter by trade, there is evidence that Hill soon developed into an accomplished builder and architect. He had been in charge of certain portions of construction in the new Court House. Later he was to design and build a series of Romanesque Revival commercial structures along North Park Row and the west side of State Street. However, it was the "picturesque" additions which Hill made to his own residence which give it the distinct quality deserving of association with his name.
While Hill set the architectural tone for the house, it was left to a later owner — George Selden — to provide the social imprint. Selden was a man of cosmopolitan background who had travelled widely. He had made a considerable fortune in the Erie City Iron Works which produced boilers of international reputation. Selden actually bought the house in 1888 for two nieces and never lived there, but it was the most opulent of the several Selden residences in the immediate neighborhood. As mentioned, the house was extended to the north to accommodate a growing staff of domestics.
The house remained in the Selden family until 1921 continuing to reflect the mood of economic vitality enjoyed by the community in the first two decades of the century. However, since World War II, the tree-lined mansion dotted neighborhood in which it is located has declined. Many of the other fine dwellings have either disappeared, or been converted into college fraternities and apartment buildings. The John Hill House itself had not been kept up by its more recent owners. The present owner has indicated an interest in completely restoring the structure and deeding it to the Erie Philharmonic for use as a musical arts building.
Representing the two opposite but popular styles of the mid-nineteenth century, the John Hill House reflects the prosperity of an emerging industrial and transportation center during the late 1800s.
Spencer, Herbert Reynolds. Erie, A History, (Erie: private printing, 1962).
The First Hundred Years, 1840-1940. (Erie: Erie City Iron Works, n.d.)
History of Erie County Pennsylvania (Chicago: Warner, Beers & Co., 1884, 2 vols.)
Erie Pennsylvania Illustrated, 1888. (Erie: Herald Printing & Publishing Ltd., 1888.