Erie's History and Memorabilia

History of the City and County of Erie Pennsylvania

Derrick and Felgemaker Pipe Organ Company

The Felgemaker Organ Company was a manufacturer of pipe organs based out of Erie, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The company was first founded at Buffalo, New York, in 1865 by Silas L. Derrick and Augustus B. Felgemaker. Specialties of the company included church organs and portable pipe organs for small churches, schools and residential parlors.

Augustus Barnard Felgemaker was born on July 16, 1836, in Buffalo, New York. He first apprenticed with a piano builder and in 1858 began work with Garret House, a Buffalo organ builder. In 1865, Felgemaker and Silas Derrick became partners, forming the Derrick & Felgemaker Company.

The company relocated to Erie in 1871 and a large building was erected on Twenty-fifth Street near Ash. Their building was a four-story brick structure, 40 feet wide by 200 fee long, built in 1871; with a frame wing, 20 feet wide by 100 feet long, erected in 1872. For the machinery necessary in the business, the steam power was supplied by an engine of 30 horse-power. The factory provided employment for twenty-five practical organ builders.

The initial enterprise fell through and Mr. Felgemaker withdrew from the Twenty-fifth Street location and reorganized the business at 1313 State street. He was successful and soon both the State Street and Twenty-fifth Street venture were prosperous. By 1872 the company was known as the Derrick and Felgemaker Pipe Organ Company. Throughout the 1870s the company grew to employ over 55 workers and had $75,000 worth of capital. The firm produced between 15 to 20 organs per week — 1289 organs were built during the years, 1871-1917. Felgemaker became the sole proprietor of the business in 1876 and by 1878 the company was renamed as the A.B. Felgemaker Company. In 1888 the factory relocated to larger facilities; more room being required, a lot was bought at the corner of Nineteenth and Sassafras streets and a building was erected the same year.

The A. B. Felgemaker Company was incorporated in 1905, that same year Mr. Felgemaker passed away. The Company remained in business until 1917, when the business was purchased by the Tellers-Kent Organ Company. Tellers-Kent assumed all the open contracts and service-agreement work from Felgemaker.

With the declined in the manufacturing of pipe organs, the Teller family’s involvement with the company was continued from their home when they sold the former Felgemaker factory in 1973 to Lawrence Phelps who purchased the factory from what was then the Teller Organ Company. Changing the name to Phelps and Associates, routine maintenance, tuning and complete historic restorations of pipe organs were done at the factory until the demise of the company in 1978.

 Derrick and Felgemaker Pipe Organ at the Central Presbyterian Church in Erie (1908)
Derrick and Felgemaker Pipe Organ at the Central Presbyterian Church in Erie (1908)

Now called the First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, the church is located at 250 West 7th Street.

Organs produced by the Felgemakers company are still in use at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Canton, Ohio; Lawrence University, Appleton Wisconsin; St. John's Lutheran Church, Erie, Pennsylvania; Crawford Memorial United Methodist Church, Bronx, New York; Trinity Episcopal Church, Iowa City, Iowa; St. John's Episcopal Church, Canandaigua, New York; First Congregational Church, St. Johns, Michigan, and First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

A. B. Felgemaker Company Pipe Organ, Opus 165, Manufactured in 1873
A. B. Felgemaker Company Pipe Organ, Opus 165, Manufactured in 1873.

This historic pipe organ [shown above] was built in 1873 for an Ohio church by the A. B. Felgemaker Organ Company in Erie. In 1910 it was purchased and shipped via Lake Erie to Port Clinton, Ohio, and then by wagon to Bellville, Ohio.

Having served the congregation for many years, the time had come for the instrument to have a complete renovation. After several years in setting aside monies from rummage sales, concerts, memorial gifts, and a pledge drive in November of 2001 the $30,000 was raised to complete the project. The James Leek Organ Company in Oberlin, Ohio, was contracted for the restoration.

Work on the organ began in January, 2001. The process involved replacing all worn leather components, thoroughly cleaning the organ, and restoring the hand pump mechanism, which had not worked since 1935 when the electric blower was added. Joyce Fenton, a church member, carefully repainted the highly decorated front pipes. By the first Sunday of June 2002, the organ was fully reassembled and again able to be played.

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The Washington Sentinel

The Washington Sentinel, at the Borough of Waterford, is the the hemlock tree, from which it is reputed that George Washington stood looking into the French fort, “Fort Le Boeuf,” on December 11, 1753. The tree grew on the left bank of LeBoeuf Creek, just up from the lake. Seneca Indians once grew corn, beans, and pumpkins on the flats below her, while they camped and built temporary homes on the high ground near the base. The French had considered cutting the tree to get a better fire pattern, in case of siege — their fort was four hundred feet to the North, on an even higher bank, but they decided against cutting it down.

Robert Dinwiddie, the governor of Virginia, sent the 21-year-old George Washington to Fort Le Boeuf with seven escorts, in order to deliver a message to the French demanding that they leave the Ohio Country. Dinwiddie's initiative was in response to the French building forts in the Ohio Country. Washington took Christopher Gist along as his guide; during the trip, Gist earned his place in history by saving the young Washington's life on two separate occasions. Washington and Gist arrived at Fort Le Boeuf on 11 December 1753. Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, commandant at Fort Le Boeuf, a tough veteran of the west, received Washington politely, but contemptuously rejected his blustering ultimatum. Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre gave Washington three days hospitality at the fort, and then gave Washington a letter for him to deliver to Dinwiddie. The letter ordered the Governor of Virginia to deliver his demand to the Major General of New France in the capital, Quebec City.

The old hemlock saw the coming of the Virginian militiaman, George Washington, as he rode to the gate of the Fort LeBoeuf. The early settlers so revered her for having witnessed and survived so much history, they honored the great hemlock with the name, Sentinel. The Waterford high school yearbook borrowed her name, as did a local newspaper. By 1983, most people had forgotten why she was revered. In that year she fell, old in the fullness of time. At the end of its life it was 17 feet in girth, and according to the State Forest and Water Department it was more than 400 years old. Because it lost it’s top in a bad storm years before, it was capped to keep it from rotting. It fell on June 16, 1983.

Washington Sentinel, Borough of Waterford
Washington Sentinel, Borough of Waterford.

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History of Erie's Frontier Neighborhood

The 150 acres of Frontier Place was owned by William L. Scott (1828-1891) and was called Frontier Farm. As per Scott’s will, the Farm was held after his death by his Trustees until the Erie City limits expanded to include Frontier Farm (April 13, 1920) and then it was subdivided into single family residential lots per his instructions and sold to individual purchasers.

Charles M. Reed (1803-1871), the grandson of Seth Reed who was Erie’s first settler, served a term as mayor of Erie (1872), was a congressman (1843-45), and a general. He was a successful shipping merchant on the great lakes between Buffalo and Chicago.

While a congressman, Reed met Scott while Scott was working as a page in the National House of Representatives. In 1844 Scott (an orphan) moved to Erie at the urging of Reed who employed Scott at the age of 16 as a shipping clerk on his Erie wharves.

Scott’s career as a businessman and politician based in Erie was extraordinarily successful and he had very profitable shipping, coal mining, iron manufacturing, and railroad businesses. He was a popular political figure who served two full terms as mayor of Erie (1866, 1871), was for many years a member of the democratic national committee (1868, 1876, 1880, 1888), and a congressman from Pennsylvania (from the same district represented by C.M. Reed when Scott was a page in the National House) where he served two terms (1876, 1884).

Scott was a prominent figure in the horse racing and breeding circuit, and held the most notable farming enterprise in the history of the Millcreek township for stock, studs, and agriculture. This farming operation included Frontier Farm. There was one residence on Frontier Farm, the farm house (1878), which was moved from the middle of what is now Seminole Drive to its current location at 704 Seminole Drive in the 1920s during the development of the property.

Scott had an enduring love for Erie as his home city and local evidence of his ceaseless activities to create a better Erie were many, imposing, and beautiful, although most have since been demolished. He sought to make it beautiful Erie and his efforts towards Erie’s embellishment included blocks (The Scott Block of 1872), elegant and commodious homes, mansions, churches, parks and avenues, Massassauga Point (a hotel at head of Presque Isle), and a cluster of highly cultivated farms.

At his death in 1891, Scott bequeathed Frontier Farm in trust to his daughters, Mary Scott Townsend and Annie Wainwright Strong, stipulating that it was to remain intact until such time as the plot was annexed by the City of Erie and then it could be laid out as a subdivision for “purchasers who intend to improve the same for the purpose of residence or of such business as will not in any way injure the portions of the said (farm) set apart for residences.”

The executors of the Scott estate managed the property for nearly 30 years, after which time the Frontier Farm was incorporated in the City of Erie and subdivided into lots for residences. The Frontier Place subdivision was laid out by Hill & Hill Engineers in 1922, which included the tree lawns and boulevards that add to the neighborhood’s distinction today.

Frontier Farm was deeded by the trustees of Scott’s estate to the Frontier Company, which was incorporated to sell the lots and develop the subdivision. Sale of lots was delegated to Roy B. Way (President of R.B. Way & Company Real Estate and Insurance), who lived at 618 Seminole Drive.

Throughout the 1920s, 59 homes (27% of the 2008 total) were constructed and mainly reflected the Colonial Revival style. The 1930s and 1940s yielded 43 (20%) more homes constructed. This comparatively slower growth is commonly attributed to the effect of The Great Depression and World War II on the Erie area. The 1950s saw most of the remaining lots in Frontier Place developed with 87 homes built (40%) that generally reflected the single-story Ranch style.

Since 1959, 28 (13%) more homes have been built. In 1951, the City purchased the parcels of hollow from the Frontier Company and subsequently created Frontier Park. The development of a community park so close to the neighborhood helped to further enhance the sense of identity of Frontier Place.

On January 5, 1931, a group of property owners within Frontier Place chartered the Frontier Improvement Association to “provide for the proper care of the streets, avenues and roads, shrubbery, public places … and to promote the common good of the residents and owners of said lots and to improve the use and enjoyment thereof within the subdivision known as the Frontier Place Subdivision”. The Association is still active today and its efforts focus on the ongoing maintenance and improvement of the streets, boulevards, and tree lawns, as well as a variety of community-building activities.

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