History and Memorabilia | Erie Pennsylvania

The History of the City and County of Erie, Pennsylvania.

Electricity Triumphs Over Steam

In Erie, the year 1920, one hundred and fifty prominent railway men and engineers from this country and Canada witness one of the most remarkable and interesting trial tests of locomotives ever conducted in the history of railroading. These tests were made to demonstrate the mastodonic power and efficiency of the new model gearless electric passenger locomotive. Although several other tests were made before this publicized event, the principal event was a test of brute strength between two powerful steam locomotives of the Mallet type, such as those the New York Central Railroad uses to haul its big limited trains, and this new electric giant of the rails, which was built especially to haul trains over the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul’s electrified mountain route in the western part of the United States.

At a given signal the two powerful steam locomotives started pushing the big electric engine ahead of them, the latter having no current on at the start. Then the engineer in the electric locomotive gradually turned on the current and the powerful motors responded nobly. In the meanwhile, the throttles on both steam locomotives were opened up to their full capacity. The two powerful steam locomotives achieved full momentum and finally came to a complete stop, still with their throttles wide open, puffing and chugging as if under an extraordinary strain. Then what appeared to be the impossible happened, and a great cheer went up from the crowd as they saw the steam engines forced backward, first only by inches, but gradually, as the full power of the electric was brought into play, the procession became almost a rout, and when the test ended a few minutes later the steam locomotives were moving steadily backward and the electric locomotive was declared the victor.

Interesting and spectacular as this test was to the laymen present, it was more significant to the engineers of the General Electric Company’s Transportation Division in Erie, who had devoted years to the perfection of this powerful electric locomotive. It was a conclusive test of power between steam and electricity. This new locomotive was one of the most powerful passenger locomotives in the world. It used 3,000 volts direct current and its horsepower was 3,240. There were fourteen axles on which were mounted direct connected motors.

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Fort Presque Isle

In the spring of 1753 French forces departed Montreal, Canada, to establish a chain of forts in the Ohio country. Originally ordered to go to the Chautauqua area, they received new orders changing their destination to Presque Isle Bay. The French force arrived at Presque Isle on May 3, 1753. They began work preparing the site for the fort on a bluff overlooking the peninsula and Lake Erie near what would be today second and Parade streets in Erie. Fort Presque Isle (also Fort de la Presqu'île) was built by Marin and Boishebert in the summer of 1753. It was the first of the French posts built in the Ohio Country, a part of a line that included Fort Le Boeuf, Fort Machault, and Fort Duquesne.

The fort was built as part of the French military occupation of the Ohio Country, which led to the French and Indian War. The fort was built by order of Marquis DuQuesne, Governor of Canada, who sent out three hundred men to establish military posts for the protection of the Ohio valley against the ever encroaching English. The first fortifications built consisted of four rough block houses within a log stockade. The fortification was 120' square with triangular bastions at the points and walls 12-15' high. It’s believed, around 1755, that 356 families resided near the fort, and in 1757 there were 480. These were soldiers, carriers, traders, missionaries, Indians and etc. After the British victory at the Battle of Fort Niagara in 1759, the French burned the fort and retreated from the area on August 13, 1759.

In 1795, prior to the French retreat, Thomas Bull, an Indian who was employed by the English as a spy, described Fort Presque Isle in his journal:

The fort is square with four bastions, square log work; no platform raised yet, so that they can't be used; only a small platform in each bastion tor a sentinel; no guns upon the walk, but four pounders in one of the bastions not mounted on carriages. The wall only single logs; no bank within or ditch without; two gates of one equal size, about ten feet wide; one fronts the lake, about three hundred yards' distance, the other the road to Le Boeuf. The magazine is a stone house covered with shingles, and not sunk in the ground, standing in the right bastion, next the lake, going to Presque Isle from Le Boeuf. The other houses square logs.

After the French retreated from the area, British Major Rodgers rebuilt the fort in July of 1760 on the site of the old French Fort. The British fort had a different configuration consisting of a stockade enclosure with a blockhouse, the second story of which extended all around, located in the northwest corner of the stockade. The new Fort Presque Isle was captured by American Indians during Pontiac's Rebellion. When the Pontiac's Rebellion erupted in spring of 1763 Fort Presque Isle was one of the first posts to fall to Indian attack. On June 19, 1763, the fort was surrounded by about 250 Ottawas, Ojibwas, Wyandots, and Senecas who set fire to the fortifications no less than fifty times succeeded in capturing the fort. After holding out for three days, Ensign Christie and a garrison of approximately sixty men surrendered on the condition that they could return to Fort Pitt. Most were instead killed after emerging from the fort. From then on the region was traversed only by hostile bands of Indians, until Mad Anthony Wayne crushed their spirit of resistance at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794.

General Wayne first arrived in the area of Presque Isle in 1786. The fort was abandoned then and there was no further mention made of it until 1794 when it was replaced by General Wayne. 200 Federal troops from Wayne's army, under the direction of Captain John Grubb, built a blockhouse on Garrison Hill, at Second and Ash streets in present-day Erie. Also named Fort Presque Isle, the blockhouse was used as part of a defense against Native American uprisings.

In 1794 Wayne was appointed Major General of the American army and having been sent on an expedition against the Miami Indians, he used Fort Presque Isle as his headquarters. After forcing the Miami Indians to sue for peace, he made a treaty with them in 1795 at Greenville, Ohio, and in the following year sailed from Detroit for Presque Isle. While on the way he was seized with a severe attack of acute gout and as there were no remedies on ship-board, when he arrived at Fort Presque Isle he was in a dying condition and succumbed to his long-time enemy on December 15th, 1796, at the age of fifty-two years. At his request, his body was buried under the flagpole of the blockhouse.

In the war of 1812 the old block-house was used as a rendezvous camp for the soldiers who were expected to attack the British should Commodore Perry be defeated. It was during this war that James Byrd was shot as a deserter when returning from a visit to his sweetheart, who lived near Dunkirk, New York. Byrd had over-stayed his leave of absence and was hastening back to his ship, which was anchored in the bay near the block-house, when the men who had been sent out to search for him, met him only a few yards from the ship and fired without allowing time for a word of explanation. The blockhouse would be abandoned two years later in 1814. Abandoned, the blockhouse burned in 1852. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in 1880, reconstructed the blockhouse as a memorial to General Wayne. The blockhouse has since been rebuilt several times, the last being 1984.

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