Mercyhurst University

You are here

Project illustrates rich cultural history of east Erie

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

In contrast to perceptions of a troubled community long past its prime, a newly released project of the Mercyhurst University Public History Program and the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network, tells a different story. “You are Here, We are Here: A Portrait of Erie’s Historic Eastside Multicultural Community” illustrates a landscape of deeply rooted and vibrant businesses, architecturally beguiling streetscapes, and ethnically rich and strong neighborhoods filled with long-time residents and newcomers committed to their city and to one another. Portrait of Erie’s Historic Eastside Multicultural Community

“You are Here, We are Here,” a 64-page walking-tour guidebook, explores and honors the history, culture and architecture of an area extending from East 16th Street to East 26th and French Street to East Avenue.

“Inspired by the community development work of the Sisters of St. Joseph in this section of Erie, our two-year project has sought to capture the people and places of the neighborhoods of the eastside in ways that can help complement and support ongoing community revitalization efforts,” said Mercyhurst History Professor Chris Magoc. Magoc and assistant professor Benjamin Scharff supervised the project undertaken by Mercyhurst students: Alexandra Biehls, Ian Hausner, Victoria Kreysar, Megan Letrick, Taylor Rollins, Rebekah Seesan, Allison Stacy and Shannon Abernathy. They were also supported by Colin Hurley of the Mercyhurst Office of Community Engagement and funded through a grant from Erie Arts & Culture.

The 64-page resource features historical and contemporary research, maps, photography and oral histories with longtime residents, who shared their stories and sentiments:

“People want to classify this as the ghetto. I call it my home.”

~ Francine Moore

“The Polish back then had their pride. They are a prideful people . . . that's my goal here: to at least maintain [that] legacy."

~Bernie Slomski

"We started a long time ago and these people, my dad included, there are so many people that are gone. But there are so many second generation that are still here. . . . People come here for something special."

~Andy Urbaniak

"I believe I'm a lucky person, blessed, but I also help the neighborhood. If they need a repair and have no money, I do the repairs sometimes and send them on their way."

~ Saad Albidhawi

The project also includes two wayside interpretive markers, which organizers hope to make a permanent feature of the Eastside Opportunity Corridor trail spearheaded by Erie County Councilman Jay Breneman and City Councilman Dave Brennan. The wayside markers draw attention to the Pennsylvania and Nickel Plate Railroad and to the 1853 "Erie Gauge War.”

The markers and guidebook will be shared with the community at a special event of the Eastside Multicultural Community on Saturday, May 21, at 1900 Parade St. (next to Erie Batteries, Alternators & Starters). The event will address proposed improvements to the neighborhood and will start with a clean-up from 9 to 11 a.m. followed by lunch, raffles and entertainment by Breeze Band from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Topics for discussion include:

  • Introduction of the SSJ Neighborhood Network free educational programs;

  • Introduction of the “Light Up EMC” campaign to bring more light to the neighborhood at night;

  • Introduction of proposal for the “Eastside Opportunity Corridor,” a walking and biking trail from French Street to East Avenue;

  • Information about Parade Street Commons affordable housing;

  • Presentation by Mercyhurst University of “You Are Here, We Are Here: An Illustrated Walking Tour of Erie’s Historic East Side."