North East Historic District
The North East Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The North East Historic District in Erie County is an area of mid-nineteenth to early twentieth Century commercial, residential, religious and institutional buildings. The buildings within the district are typically two or two-and-a-half stories, are of brick or frame construction, are moderate in scale and detail, and retain a high degree of integrity.
North East Borough is located approximately 15 miles northeast of the City of Erie in northwestern Pennsylvania. The main north-south road through town is Lake Street and the main east-west road through town is Main Street. Generally, the district includes the commercial buildings on Lake, Main, Gibson, Park and Division Streets. The district also includes the churches along the above-mentioned streets and St. Mary's Seminary at Division and North Lake Streets. There are 114 contributing buildings and 9 non-contributing buildings within the district.
At the center of the district is a landscaped town square located between Lake, Main, Gibson and Park Streets. The square is called "Gibson Park" and has large shade trees, walkways, benches and a war memorial. It is the centerpiece of North East and is situated across Main Street from the concentration of commercial buildings which constitute the central business district.
The central business district of North East is confined to those buildings along the intersection of Lake and Main Streets. The only three story building in the district is the brick commercial building at 2-8 East Main Street. It is situated on a triangular lot at the northeast corner of Lake and Main Streets. It is an Italianate style building with storefronts at the first story, 1/1 sash windows with decorative lintels at the second and third stories, and a large ornamental cornice along the flat roof. The three buildings to the east have experienced extensive and unsympathetic remodeling. Aluminum has been applied to the upper stories above the storefronts of these buildings obscuring any original detail which may have survived. The other commercial building within this block is to the north of 2-8 East Main Street at 14-16 North Lake Street. It is a six-bay brick building which has perma-stone applied to the facade above the storefronts.
The remaining commercial buildings are two stories in height and are of brick construction as regulated by an ordinance passed in 1884 following a fire which destroyed two thirds of the town's commercial buildings. The majority of the commercial buildings were erected within years of the fire, such as those buildings at 1-21 West Main Street. These buildings typify the commercial buildings found in the district. Their style is predominately Italianate with first story storefronts, 1/1 sash windows with decorative window surrounds at the second story, and corbelled brick and bracketed cornices which adorn the flat roof lines. The majority of the commercial storefronts have been remodeled or replaced, but this detracts little from the overall character of the buildings. It should be noted that 1 West Main Street was built to accommodate a triangular shaped lot.
17-21 South Lake Street also occupies a triangular shaped lot and is located south of 1 West Main Street. This is the only stone commercial building in the district and it exemplifies the Neo-Classical style. The commercial buildings to the south of 17-21 South Lake Street include one nine-bay Italianate building with segmentally arched windows at the second story; a Masonic Temple with a projecting center bay with a large arched window opening and a pedimented parapet above; a one story storefront at 31 South Main Street; and a series of modest Italianate buildings between 33 and 41 South Lake Street.
The building at 9-13 East Main Street also occupies a triangular lot and wraps the corner and extends nine additional bays south along South Lake Street. The building is similar to those buildings along West Main Street described above. There are three commercial buildings to the east of 9-13 East Main Street and they include a three-bay Italianate building; a simple Victorian commercial building with its gable end facing Main Street and set back five feet from the neighboring buildings; and a nine-bay Italianate building with tall round arch windows at the second story.
To the south of 9-13 East Main Street, on South Lake Street, are two four-bay buildings and three additional buildings to the south and they include 14 South Lake Street, which is similar to the Masonic Temple across the street; 18-20 South Lake Street, which has paired 1/1 sash at the second story and an elaborate parapet at the roof; and 24 South Lake Street, which is a Queen Anne style commercial building with an ornamental cornice and a turret at its southern corner.
To the south of 24 Lake Street, across Mechanics Street, is an unassuming building which has a rich history as the Concord Hotel. It is a two story, five-bay, brick building with an elaborate porch, keystone style lintels and a simple gable roof. The building has suffered several fires which have altered its original appearance.
There is one additional commercial building at 15-21 Vine Street. It is modest in detail, but is similar to the typical Italianate commercial building in the district. To the south of 15-21 Vine Street is the Crescent Hose Company which occupies the original Town Hall of North East. It is a simple Victorian building with garage openings at the first story along Vine Street, segmentally arched 4/4 sash windows, a "Town Hall" marque in stone at the center bay, an oriel attic window, a gable roof and a cupola with louvered openings.
There are three religious buildings within the district. One of these buildings is the frame Greek Revival Baptist Church at 43 South Lake Street which has had an addition constructed to the rear and to the south. The additions are apparently new and do not detract from the purity of the original building. The Presbyterian Church is located on West Main Street across from Park Street. This is a Gothic Revival style brick church with a large steeple. Finally, the Methodist Church is located at 30 North Lake Street and is a Victorian Gothic style church of brick and stone construction with large stained glass windows dominating its elevations. These churches all remain in excellent condition and retain a high degree of integrity.
Across the street from the Presbyterian Church, on West Main Street, is the McCord Memorial Library Building constructed in 1916. It is an unusual building for this town because its style reflects that of its period's popular Prairie style. This influence may have been a result of its namesake, John C. McCord, having spent most of his life in Chicago.
The buildings of St. Mary's Seminary are situated on a large landscaped 80 acre parcel to the north of West Division Street. The district's boundary follows an alley along the property to include only the two main buildings on the property. The buildings are of stone construction and are of the Victorian Gothic style with monochromatic stone materials. The dominate, sloping hillside with an iron fence surrounding the property presents a dramatic site from West Division Street. The buildings survive in good condition and retain a high degree of integrity.
The Heard Memorial School is a large imposing building in a Neo-Classical style occupying the site at Gibson and North Lake Streets. There are 84 contributing residential buildings in the North East Historic District. These residences are found on South Lake Street between Mechanics and Clay Streets; on North Lake Street between Gibson and Division Streets; on West Division between North Lake and North Pearl Streets; on Park Street between West Main and West Division Streets; on North Pearl between West Main and Gibson Streets; on Gibson Street between North Lake and North Mill Streets; and those residences on West Main Street between Pearl Street and the creek to the west. The homes arc situated on various sized lots with various setbacks along tree-lined streets with ample sidewalks. The majority of the residential buildings are moderate in scale, are two to two-and-a-half stories, and are of brick or frame construction. The typical residential building styles are Victorian, Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Bungalow. The building styles are well defined by the moderate detailing which has remained intact on most of the homes.
The district includes those residential buildings along the west side of South Lake Street, the only street which does not have trees lining the sidewalks. The simple frame Victorian homes at 57 and 59 South Lake Street are setback five feet from the sidewalk and the remaining buildings have a uniform setback of ten feet. The homes at 69, 75, 79 and 85 South Lake Street are of frame construction in the Queen Anne style. The brick homes at 65, 83 and 87 are of the Italianate style with bracketed eaves along their flat roof lines. The building at 61 South Lake Street is a brick Victorian residence and the building at 63 South Lake Street is a frame Second Empire residence. Each home has experienced some degree of remodeling, like additions or replacement windows, however, except for 57 and 59 South Lake Street, they retain their original appearance and detailing.
The homes along North Lake Street have a uniform setback of ten feet except 52 North Lake Street which is set back about thirty feet from the sidewalk. 52 North Lake Street is a fine frame Greek Revival residence. The residences at 55, 56 and 60 North Lake Street are frame Victorian homes with simple detailing. Each has been covered with aluminum siding. The frame residences at 47, 49 and 51 North Lake Street are substantial Queen Anne style buildings which retain much of their original trim and detailing. The home at 59 North Lake Street is of stone and frame construction and is the Dutch Colonial style. The home at 62 North Lake Street is a substantial brick eclectic residence.
The five residential buildings within the district, along the south side of West Division Street have a uniform setback and sit on a small hillside which increases in grade from east to west. The homes at 5, 9, 11 and 15 West Division Street are all modest in scale and are various executions of the Bungalow style.
The homes along Park Street are generally moderate in scale, of frame construction and Victorian in style. The majority of these homes have been covered with aluminum siding such as those at 24, 26 and 33 Park Street. The Victorian home at 36 Park Street lost its original details when a two story enclosed porch was constructed across the facade of the building. The frame Queen Anne residence at 25 Park Street lost its detailing, also, when it was covered with aluminum siding. The brick residence at 7 Park Street features details of the Tudor Revival style. The home at 43 Park Street is a brick Italianate residence with a bracketed cornice along the eaves of the flat roof. The most outstanding residence along Park Street is 45 Park Street which is a frame Italian Villa style building in excellent condition. This home retains all original trim including the narrow clapboard wood siding, porch posts and decorative tracery at the entrance; a bay window with bracketed roof; ornamental window surrounds; decorative gable trim; and a tower with a flat roof and bracketed cornice. The homes at 28 and 11 Park Street are of frame and brick construction, respectfully, and are contemporary colonial homes. These two residences are non-contributing buildings.
There are five residential buildings within the district along North Pearl Street. All five buildings are of frame construction and contribute to the district. The buildings include a Dutch Colonial residence at 8 North Pearl; a Queen Anne residence at 10 North Pearl; and three Italianate residences at 9, 11 and 12 North Pearl.
Gibson Street is a predominate residential street within the North East district having forty residences within the district boundaries. The majority of the homes are moderate frame Victorian buildings like 56, 60 and 69 Gibson Street. Some of these Victorian style buildings have experienced some degree of remodeling, the most common feature being aluminum or asphalt siding such as those residences at 42, 46, 89 and 92 Gibson Street. There are seven moderate Queen Anne homes, three of which are of brick construction. The homes at 30 and 32 Gibson Street are of frame and brick construction, respectfully, and represent the typical Queen Anne buildings found along Gibson Street. 63 Gibson Street is of brick and frame construction and has the massing of a Queen Anne residence, however, its detailing is not typical. 8 Gibson Street is the most predominate Queen Anne style residence in the district. It commands a large site to the west of Heard Memorial School across the street from Gibson Park. It is a substantial two-and-one-half story brick residence with elaborate porch, window and roof detailing. The large home has a hipped roof with multiple gable ends and an eyelid dormer at the facade elevation. There are five frame Italianate residences along Gibson Street at 26, 73, 76, 82 and 91. There are four frame vernacular residences at 43, 45, 83 and 90, all which have been covered with aluminum or shingle siding. Six of the homes are of various materials and styles, including a frame Federal home at 47 Gibson Street; Shingle style homes at 52 and 70 Gibson Street, one brick and one frame Bungalow style home at 48 and 40 Gibson Street, respectfully; and a substantial frame Colonial Revival home at 59 Gibson Street. There are three non-contributing frame ranch homes on Gibson Street at 16, 62 and 78.
There are four residential buildings on West Main Street also included within the district. These homes include a moderate frame Federal style home at 44 West Main Street; a substantial frame Federal style home at 50 West Main Street; a substantial frame Colonial Revival home at 52 West Main Street; and a moderate frame Victorian home at 54 West Main Street. 50 West Main Street is a predominate residential building in North East and features an expansive porch with a balustraded handrail, original multi-upper sash windows, a hipped roof with eyelid vents, and an octagonal room at the west elevation.
The commercial buildings retain their original character despite changes made to their storefronts. The majority of these changes were simple storefront replacements and did not involve major reconstruction of the facades. The residential buildings retain much of their original detailing except where aluminum or shingle siding has been used. Most of these homes have been respectfully maintained as single family dwellings and have not been converted into apartments. All the buildings within the North East Historic District retain a high degree of integrity.
See also: Beginnings: North East Borough
The North East Historic District has local architectural and commercial significance. North East served as a commercial service center for borough residents and area farmers from the mid-nineteenth century through 1939, and many of the buildings that housed businesses remain well preserved in the historic district. North East Historic District also contains the largest and most intact collection of mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century high style architecture in northeastern Erie County.
The appearance of North East's commercial center was drastically altered on August 13, 1884. Around 3:00 AM on the 13th, a fire began in the general vicinity of the Opera House on the corner of Lake and Mechanics Streets. The fire spread to both sides of Lake Street engulfing the east side from Mechanics Street, north to Main Street, and the west side from opposite the Opera House, north to Main Street. It then proceeded to destroy the entire block to the west along West Main Street including the Presbyterian Church to the west of these commercial buildings. Although attempts were made to stop the fire, the Borough's fire fighting equipment was insufficient against the blaze and a crew was summoned from the Erie Fire Department.
The fire destroyed twenty two businesses at a cost estimated at $200,000. There was much activity following the fire including the erection of a temporary frame building in Gibson Park to accommodate the businesses which had been burned out. The Borough Council took action by first prohibiting the construction of permanent frame buildings on Main and Lake Streets for commercial use. The Council also ordered that all the frame buildings constructed since 1878 be demolished. Secondly, the Council limited the height of any new commercial construction to two stories. Although not forbidden by the ordinance, it was noted that "...experience had demonstrated that in a town of this size the third story is of very little use." The reason for this discretion was that the town's fire fighting equipment was unable to get water to the third floor in the event of another fire.
Several buildings did survive the fire. The building at 2-8 East Main Street is the only remaining three story brick building in the district and was built by Archie Duncan c. 1850. The Grand Army of the Republic Veterans occupied the second and third floors of the building for decades and was the birthplace of the local American Legion Post. One of North East's first banks, The People's Savings Institution, occupied the first floor. Other buildings which survived the fire were those buildings to the south of the Masonic Temple and were constructed c. 1870. The buildings at 35-39 South Lake Street have been the home of the North East Breeze since its beginning as the North East Star in 1869. For the next sixty years the paper operated from this one building until, in 1938, the paper purchased 37 South Lake Street and subsequently purchased 39 South Lake Street to accommodate their increasing publication business.
The years following the fire were busy years for the town's brick manufacturer. Dyer Loomis, who supplied the majority of the bricks used in the reconstruction of the commercial buildings along South Lake Street. By 1890, the block of buildings on West Main Street, across the street from Gibson Park, was completed. These buildings were the home to several of the town's original businesses such as Kopcke's Mens Wear and the predecessor to the First National Bank of North East. In 1890, the building at the southeast corner of Lake and Main Streets was constructed by the Haynes family. Since the town's inception, this land had housed an inn or tavern and the Haynes family continued that tradition with their new building known as the "Haynes House." The building at 11 East Main Street was also completed around this time. The building was constructed by John Higgins, and R. B. Southwick operated a shoe store from the facility well into the 1920's.
In 1892, the Masons, having been out of a meeting hall since the fire, purchased a piece of property along South Lake Street from Albert Short and constructed North East's Masonic Temple. The following year, N. J. Bogenschutz constructed two buildings at 18-20 and 24-28 South Lake Street, across the street from the Masonic Temple, for his furniture business which he began in 1879. Originally housed in a building on Clinton Street in North East, Mr. Bogenschutz erected the two most elaborate commercial buildings in the town of North East.
At the turn of the century, the commercial district was complete. The combination Town Hall and Crescent Hose Company had just been constructed on Vine Street and the businesses operating in North East were geared toward servicing the borough and surrounding farms. This role continued even as new industry sprang up after 1900 near the southern edge of Northeast. Industrial plants were erected to process fruit from area orchards and grapes from local vineyards. As industry expanded near the southern edge of North East, businesses in the historic district provided the industrial workers as well as other residents of North East and surrounding farms with goods and services through 1939.
By the turn of the century, the religious component of North East was also well established. The First Baptist Church was organized in 1858 with only twenty members. The following year the congregation constructed the present frame church on South Lake Street at a cost of $2,500. Additions were constructed in 1869, 1930, and a sanctuary was constructed in 1956 to meet the demands of the growing congregation. The original Presbyterian Church of North East was destroyed in the 1884 fire. The church was rebuilt in 1885 and dedicated the same year. The Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1812 and the present brick church on North Lake Street was constructed in 1903.
The population of the Borough in 1850 was only 386 and consisted of the Scotch-Irish from New England and eastern Pennsylvania. By 1860, the population had increased to 952 with the addition of Irish and German immigrants. This increase may be explained by the introduction of the Erie and North East Railroad to North East in 1852.
Early residential development occurred along Lake and Main Streets which continued to be important residential streets into the 1900's. The oldest residence in the district is located at 52 North Lake Street and is a frame Greek Revival building constructed sometime between 1820 and 1840 by the Ross Family. The building remains without alterations and is one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the county. Another early residence is located at 45 Park Street. This home was constructed by R. Graham on the site where the United States Post Office now stands just west of the Presbyterian Church on West Main Street. No information could be located to determine the date that the building was relocated.
The home occupies a spacious lot and is an outstanding example of Italian Villa style architecture in frame construction.
South Lake Street attracted some early residences, although the majority have been replaced. Two of the oldest residents along South Lake Street are numbers 65 and 83. Both are brick Italianate buildings constructed c. 1865. One of the predominant residences on South Lake Street was that of Alfred Short located at the corner of South Lake Street and Mechanics Street. Mr. Short constructed his mansion in the 1870's and lived there until 1894 when personal bankruptcy forced him to sell the property. The home was purchased by Frank L. Bowman who constructed an addition to the north of the residence and converted the residence for use as a hotel. In 1946, a fire destroyed the Short Mansion and left the Bowman addition in poor condition. The addition was restored and refurbished, but it is presently vacant.
Many homes were constructed close to the railroad and the industries to the south of town, but new residences were also being constructed to the north of the central business district along the park and adjoining streets. The majority of the homes to the north of Main Street were constructed by 1890 and featured the Victorian, Italianate and Queen Anne styles and were of frame construction. These homes are typical of similar homes found in similar small towns in Erie County such as Union City and Waterford, although they retain a higher degree of integrity. The town of North East has a solid economic base in its surrounding industries and little attrition of the population has occurred which has created a steady demand for single family residences. The residents have respectfully maintained their homes and few residences have been converted to apartments.
The homes, commercial buildings and churches in the North East Historic District constitute the largest and best preserved concentration of high style, mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century architecture in northeastern Erie County. The borough of North East as a whole includes the largest number of mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century buildings in northeastern Erie County. Within the borough the historic district has the biggest concentration of high-style buildings from this period. Most other buildings in the borough are much more plain, more vernacular edifices than are found in the historic district. Also, other buildings in the borough tend to be more altered or interspersed with noncontributing, post-1939 structures than the buildings in the historic district are.
Major Bibliographical References
Belnap and Co., Directory of North East, North East, 1877.
F. W. Beers, Atlas of Erie County, Pennsylvania, A. D. Ellis, N. Y., 1865.
Everts, Ensign and Everts. Combination Atlas Map of Erie County, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1876.
Gallagher, Marty, North East Past, The North East Breeze Publishing Co., 1985.
Green, Walter R., "North East, Pennsylvania 1850-1890," Mercyhurst College, Erie, 1981.
Loop, A. I., "100 Years of North East." North East Breeze, May 1934 - July 1935.
Miller, John, History of Erie County, Lewis Company, Chicago, 1906.
Warner, Beers & Co., History of Erie County, Chicago, 1884.