Cashier’s House History
Strong trade routes on Lake Erie made Erie a town bustling with activity. Though Erie began on the lake front, the business center shifted to State Street during the first half of the 19th Century. This shift made 4th and State Streets the prime location for the Bank of the United States, Erie Branch, as well as for the home of the bank’s cashier.
The Cashier’s House was designed and erected 1837-1839, by a Philadelphia architect, William Kelly. It was built as the home for the chief executive officer of the Bank of the United States, Erie Branch, which was located directly beside the home. (The old Branch Bank is referred to as the Custom’s House since it was used in that capacity for many years. The building currently houses the Erie Art Museum.) Masons William and James Hoskinson of Erie were responsible for constructing the Branch Bank, the Cashier’s House, and the Coach House on East 4th Street. The exterior of the Cashier’s House appears as a simple three-story brick townhouse covered in tan painted stucco. The doorway and cornice are Greek Revival style. This simple design masks the beauty of the interior.
Peter Benson, originally from Cincinnati, was selected in 1836 as the cashier for the new branch bank to be built in Erie. Benson, his wife Elizabeth, and their five sons were the first occupants of the house. Though the bank faltered in 1841, Peter Benson lived in the Cashier’s House until his death in 1843. Unfortunately, little else is known about the Benson family.
Subsequent to the Benson family’s occupancy, the house had many owners. During the 1840′s Louisa and Callista Ingersoll used the building as a select school for young ladies. In 1850, the Cashier’s House was sold by the trustees of the bank for $4,000, only half of its original cost. From 1853 to 1857, it was the headquarters for the Erie City Bank. This bank also failed. Samuel Goodwin, a bookkeeper, then purchased the building and occupied it for eleven years. The house was used as a boarding home periodically during his occupancy.
Eventually, the building was purchased by Samuel Woodruff, a prominent lawyer in Erie County. The Woodruff family, which included Mrs. Eliza Sterrett Woodruff and three children, Thomas, Mary, and Sarah, occupied the home from 1872 to 1913. Thomas became an attorney, Mary married Joseph Johnson, and Sarah became an accomplished artist. Many of her paintings can be found in the archives of the Erie County Historical Society. Because the Woodruff family occupied the Cashier’s House for a number of years, for many years it was referred to as the Woodruff Residence.
In 1913, the Ashby’s acquired the Cashier’s House, and from this point until 1963, the building was used as commercial property. The State of Pennsylvania purchased the house on July 17, 1963 for $30,800. Both the Cashier’s House and the Custom House underwent extensive repairs and restoration in 1969-70 and 1973-74. The building was used to house the Erie County Historical Society staff offices until 1992, when the Erie History Center was finished in the former Heyl Drug Store. In 1999-2001 the Cashier’s House exterior and interior were renovated and restored to its original beauty and luster.
The contrast between the simple exterior and the handsome interior is apparent upon entering the home. The entrance hall is 9 feet wide, with ceilings of 14.5 feet. The entire house is 30 feet wide and 125 feet deep. The keyhole shaped doorways and window frames with crown-head scrolls and Greek key design, coffer ceiling, and egg and dart design molding are noteworthy features. Visitors are sure to notice the hand grained door in the front hallway. Paint analysis has shown that all of the doors and woodwork in the building would have been hand grained. The use of symmetry is also easily identified. Doors placed along the north wall have been paired with doors along the south wall, however, the doors along the south wall would have opened to brick walls only. These doors were installed purely for balance and decoration.
The furnishings viewable today are of two different styles. The first floor is decorated with Federal pieces as it would have been in the early days of the house. The second floor is late Victorian, the style of the Woodruff family.
For even MORE information, join us for a tour of the Cashier’s House.