The Sturgeons & Coming to Fairview


By Sabina Shields Freeman, FAHS Historian

Pioneers began settling this northwestern corner of Pennsylvania about 1796. –

That fall two men, Thomas Forster and Richard Swan, came from Dauphin County near Harrisburg to view the land they had just purchased. Their plan was to build mills using the force of the streams and creeks to power them.  The land they purchased was at the mouth of Walnut Creek. As they stood on a bluff overlooking the stream and valley around it, one exclaimed “This is the fairest view I have seen yet,” or words to that effect and they decided to call the settlement that they hoped would develop there Fairview.  They returned the following spring and built a saw mill, which was only the second in the county.  In the spring of 1798 one of the men returned to build the first grist mill in the county.   Actually, it was the first grist mill between Buffalo and the Ohio Territory.  They laid out a village there they called Fairview and began to sell town lots.

A few miles west and south, at the first ridge out from the lake, where it crossed another stream, Trout Run, two brothers came, also from Dauphin County.  They intended to farm their land.  They were William and Jeremiah Sturgeon. They each paid $200 to the PA Population Company and agreed to build a shelter suitable for occupancy for themselves and a lean-to for their horses, then clear eight acres of land.  If they would work their land for two years they could then pay another $200 and get title to a little more than 400 acres each.  They came in the fall of 1797, stayed the winter and cleared the land.  In the spring they each planted their eight acres and William returned to his wife and children. Jeremiah was unmarried, but we believe he had an understanding with Jane Moorhead that when he returned they would be married.

William brought his family back with him in 1799.  After his return to their new homestead Jeremiah went back to Dauphin County and in February 1800, married Jane Moorhead.  Their first child, Samuel C., was born there in early 1801.  They soon made the trek to their northern home.  The year their second child was born, 1803, Erie County was organized and divided into 16 townships.  The area where the Sturgeons had settled was in Fairview Township, which was named for its largest settlement at that time, the mill town located around the mouth of  Walnut Creek.

Three other areas in the township developed small communities, although none grew to much size.  They were called Avonia, located in the northwest corner at the mouth of Trout Run, Sterrettania, in the southeast corner and Swanville, located along the first ridge just east of Walnut Creek.  But more families came to farm than to open support businesses.

As more and more people settled in Erie County roads were cut through.  The first one in 1805 followed the first ridge near the Sturgeons.  The following year a road was cut through to the mills, although many already were traveling along the wide beach on the south side of the lake to reach those mills.


The first church service was at the Fairview settlement and the first church building in the township was erected there also.  It was called “Lakeside” and became known in the region as the “Mother of Presbyterian Churches.”  This church was begun by a young minister who was officially ordained in William Sturgeon’s barn in 1808.  Two years later William opened a school in a building on his property.  Not long afterward he had a sturdier frame building erected nearby.

Nationally trouble was brewing between England and the United States and in 1812 President Madison asked Congress to declare war.  The lake was an excellent transportation means to fight the British in Canada and soon many men from Fairview Township were in Erie helping to build a fleet to meet the enemy, or to volunteer to serve in the army.   William and his oldest son John both worked as teamsters during this time, taking supplies to the ship builders, etc.  Andrew Sturgeon, a third brother who had settled in New York State in 1805, joined a militia there.  After the war he and his family moved to Girard Township, just west of Fairview.

William and his wife Jane McEwen had 11 children in all, nine living to adulthood.  Jeremiah and his wife Jane Moorhead had six children, all living to adulthood.  Andrew and his wife Jane Finney had seven children, six living to adulthood.

1818 was a cruel year for the Sturgeons.  William’s wife died as did Jeremiah.  She was 51 and was survived by William and nine children, ages, ages 8 to 28.   Jeremiah was 48 and was survived by his widow and six children, ages 1 year to 17.  The oldest, Samuel, was a carpenter and assumed many of his father’s responsibilities.  He stayed in the family homestead with his mother until he built a large home for himself and his bride, Martha Eaton, in 1832.  At the time of his mother’s death in 1864 she was still living with Samuel and Martha.  Her obituary stated, “She was a kind and obliging neighbor, always ready to assist in sickness.”  Then the obituary lamented, “Those remarkable friends are fast passing away who are able to tell us the story of the first settlement of the country, and of the suffering and privation of its early inhabitants.”

As time progressed the Sturgeon land closest to the road,called Ridge Road, was changing from farmland to a cluster of homes and small businesses.  As more and more Sturgeon children and grandchildren were born the little community became known as Sturgeonville.  In 1824 a regular stage line from Erie into Ohio began and William built a stagecoach tavern stop along the way.  Tavern stops were quite common, with one at almost every mile along the route. William sold the building and lot in 1835.

Meanwhile, at the Walnut Creek settlement, about 1829 new owners of the mills changed the name of the village there from Fairview to Manchester.

In 1838 William subdivided some of his land along Water Street into town lots. He died that same year at 70 years of age.  In his will he divided his remaining land equally among his children and also set aside a parcel of land for a church.  His will stipulated that his wife (he had married again) was to be cared for with the earnings from the farm.  At her death those earnings would go to support a Presbyterian minister.  But first a church had to be built on that parcel within three months of her death.  And, a home must be built for that minister within one year.

That same year, 1838, Jeremiah’s son Robert purchased three of the town lots and his brother Samuel built a home for him, placing it in the middle of lots one and two.  It was this home.

The coming of the canal brought cheap coal for energy to the communities along its path.  The route came north from the Pittsburgh area to Girard and turned east, running parallel with the lake, about midway between the Ridge Road and the Lake Road.  For a time folks at the Walnut Creek settlement hoped that area would be the terminus.  Instead, the canal terminated in Erie.  The canal operated from 1844 until 1871.  By then the influence of the railroads was already being felt and when an aqueduct collapsed south of Girard there was no effort to rebuild.

In the 1840s a stirring in the Southern States had caused a rift in many church congregations and about 1842 a New School Presbyterian Church group built a frame building along what is now Avonia Road, south of the Ridge Road.

Three years later in 1845, after William’s widow Margaret died, an Old School Presbyterian group quickly built a frame church next to the New School Presbyterian building on the parcel designated by William for that purpose.  The two churches operated side-by-side until the Presbyterian Church reunited in 1870.  At that time the two congregations built a larger frame church on the corner beside the Old School structure.  In early 1874 two of the buildings burned down and that same year a fine new brick building was erected. Of the three buildings, it was the original New School Church that survived. It went on to host five other congregations and a shirt factory until it was torn down just a few years ago. Today that site is a parking lot for the new Presbyterian Community building.  The  brick church, built in 1874, is still standing and operating.  The street where these churches were located had a variety of names: Church Street, Depot Street and Avonia Road. At times the street was also called South Street.

We do not know how many buildings Samuel built, but about 1850 we know he built a home for William’s son Thomas J. on the southwest corner of what is now Main Street (Route 20) and Franklin Avenue.  It was purported to have a large beehive oven on the first floor and the second story had a spring floor for dancing.  When Thomas was elderly he gave or sold the house to his sons Allen and Henry, with the proviso that he be allowed to remain in it until his death.  Later, Henry made it his home.  (The house was razed in 1990.) Samuel also built a home for another of William’s sons, John, on his share of his father’s estate, south on Franklin Avenue. Another house, presumably built by Samuel for his cousin William R, was built along West Main Street as well as a large barn.  Today that barn serves as headquarters for Fairview’s American Legion.   (Perry was a son of William)

The Civil War took many of Fairview’s young men off to fight.  They joined various regiments that organized in Erie and elsewhere in the county.   Several of William’s grandsons served in this war:  Mason, Allen and Henry C.  Andrew’s grandsons John Calvin, and Sheldon Franklin were both in the Navy.  Another of William’s grandsons, Matthew, died on May 10, 1865, after being wounded in a battle at Louisville, KY.  His stone is next to the chapel at the entry into the Fairview Cemetery.

One of the young men in town – Oliver Hazard Perry Ferguson! – had organized a military company here in the village and when it was absorbed into the PA 111th Vol. Regt., he served with the rank of lieutenant.  By the end of the war he held the rank of Captain.  One of our prize possessions here in the building is the trunk he carried through the war, on display in the “Quilt Room.”  The 111th distinguished itself at Gettysburg where a monument is erected in their honor and memory at Culp’s Hill.

About 1862 a successful tavern and hotel owner from Erie, Samuel Newton McCreary, called Newt by his friends, purchased the old building along the Ridge Road that William had established as a tavern.  Newt had a new, larger building erected on the site and again Samuel Sturgeon is believed to have built it.  It was a graceful two-story frame structure with sweeping verandas on both levels.  At the back was a two-story livery stable with a spring floor on the second floor for dancing.  The village school also used it for school fairs,   basketball games as well as other community events.  (1994)

Newt had a knack for naming his hotels.  This same year, 1862, the USS Monitor battled the Confederates’ Virginia in the Battle of Hampton Roads. It was the first battle between ironclad ships and the Monitor claimed victory.  The name Newt chose was obvious – The Monitor.  The building and livery stable occupied the entire southwestern corner of the main intersection in the village.   About that same time Newt also had a home built for himself near the southwestern corner. It, too, was a large, two-story home with a fine porch, wrapped around two sides.  Samuel Sturgeon is also said to have built that.  Only a small two-story drug store stood between the house and the corner and in a few years it was moved to a location along Depot Street where it remains today as a law office on the first floor and music store on the second.

A two-story frame academy was built in the village in 1861.  Three years later a section of land at the north end of the village area was incorporated as a pubic cemetery.  All the families and churches in the township were encouraged to move their deceased to that location and most did.

Four years after the Civil War ended about one square mile of what had been the Sturgeon brothers’ original farmland was incorporated as a borough with a population of about 400.  By that time it was no longer called Sturgeonville, but generally known as Fairview.  That was the name designated for the borough. Samuel Sturgeon was elected to the first borough council and served as the first mayor.  Businesses in the borough at that time included five blacksmith shops, a clothing store, a hardware store, three general stores, two cabinet shops, a shoe shop, two wagon shops, a drugstore, two millinery shops, Newt McCreary’s hotel, two saloons, a steam planning and saw mill, a brewery, and a steam cider mill.  There were also three churches, a two-story school or academy, a post office in one of the general stores and many dwellings.

These businesses mostly centered along the Ridge Road, called Main Street in the borough. In 1886 a spark from a saw mill on Chestnut Street (one street north and parallel to Main Street) started a flame in Louis Caughey’s livery stable.  From there the fire spread to Weislogel’s meat market on the north side of West Main Street then to other buildings next to it.  Wind fanned the flames and the residents, who were getting buckets of water from Trout Run, were unable to stop those flames from spreading across the street.  After several hours of battling the fire most laid down on the ground, exhausted from their efforts.  In all, 17 structures were damaged, some were completely destroyed.  Rebuilding began within a week.

The drug store building that was moved to North Depot was purchased by two doctors who came to town several years after the Civil War.  Helen Daggett Pollay Weeks was from Girard.  Her first husband was killed in the Civil War.  She later married Welcome J. Weeks and together they studied Homeopathic Medicine in Cleveland.  They opened a practice first in Girard Township, then moved it into Fairview Borough.  Their home was the large brick building on North Depot Street and the drug store was just south of it.  Their carriage step-stone can still be seen in front of their home, which also still stands and today houses an insurance business.  Helen was one of the earliest women doctors in the county and was referred to as “the Mrs. Dr. Weeks.”  Her patients were mostly women and children, and Welcome mostly treated men and older boys.  Usually, if one was out on a house call, the other was tending the drug store.

Another doctor of note who lived in the borough was Francis (Frank) Temple.  In 1891 he purchased the large house on the corner where Newt McCreary once lived.  He died, probably of meningitis, at a young age.  His son George said Frank was “working too hard, driving through storms, performing operations on kitchen tables,” and more.   George was only seven at the time his father died and his mother moved the family back to Mercer to be near her family.  She later moved her family to California.  As a young boy in Fairview one of George’s playmates was Charles Asmus*, whose great-grandfather was Jeremiah Sturgeon.  Charles lived with his parents at that time here in the Sturgeon House.  One day the boys were playing near the rain barrel and George fell in. Charles only barely managed to pull his friend to safety.  Later, when George grew up and married he and his wife had a charming little girl named Shirley, who went on to have quite a career in the movies.

Fire was the demon in a community where most of the buildings were frame.  In 1891 the two-story school building burned down and was rebuilt to the same specifications the same year.  The first county grading system for upper level students began in that building in 1895. That building was used continuously until it was razed about 1960 to make way for a post office.   Another fire, in 1916, destroyed the old Newton McCreary/Dr. Temple home on the southwest corner of the main intersection.  That same fire also destroyed a general store and harness shop further along West Main Street.

The house at that time was owned by T. Wood Sterrett, who was a grandson of Samuel C. Sturgeon.  Samuel had died in 1878 and his home and property had remained intact until 1901 when his descendants sought their share of the estate.


*Sarah Asmus Matlack, who visited this meeting with her genealogy books was Charles’ daughter.

Wood, as he was called, bought Samuel’s house then sold it to Samuel B. Bayle who was a teacher from Waterford.  In

1902 Bayle was elected to be the Erie County Superintendent of Schools and the next year, 1903, he bought Samuel’s big house, which was called a mansion in the deed work.

In 1908 Bayle, who was highly respected in the community, was asked by the Republican Party to run for state assembly.  He won that election and two more, then he wearied of politics and moved to Maryland where he returned to teaching.

At the end of the 19th Century, in 1896, everyone in Fairview Borough and Township, and even throughout the county was talking about the murder of Levi Kreider by his brother-in-law Edwin DeWitt Heidler over money.  Heidler gave himself up, then escaped.  Three years later he was caught and after a lengthy, showy trial he was convicted of murder.  Years later, after all his appeals had failed, Edwin was hung, on February 23, 1911.  While it made great gossip all over the county, here in Fairview Township, nearly everyone was related to the families in one way or another.


At the beginning of the new century progress and change came to Fairview.  Transportation greatly improved with the trolley service from Erie to Conneaut.  It entered into the borough along Water Street and one of the stops was right across the road from the Robert Sturgeon’s old house. The trolley not only carried passengers but freight and whenever it had ice cream for the Weeks’ drug store they would put out a flag in the window.  The Ridge Road was paved in 1920 and auto traffic began to increase.  Two years later the trolley service was discontinued.

Bus service has come and gone several times through Fairview Township.

The main north-south street through the borough had gone by many names until two Fairview men who were highly regarded were honored by the borough council.  The council combined their names, George Garver and T. Wood Sterrett and called the street by one name, Garwood.

For several generations nearly everyone in the Township was related to each other.  But, by the third generation, many of the Sturgeon men as well as others were moving to the far west, the Dakotas, Washington State, etc.  Some Sturgeon daughters remained, but had married and their last names had changed.  Two of those daughters were Robert’s.

Robert had married twice.  From his first marriage he had two children, a son and daughter, to survive to adulthood.  That son, Charles, was a druggist and was one of the young men who moved to North Dakota.  Robert and his second wife had two daughters to survive to adulthood, Sarah and Annabelle.  Robert died in 1883 and four years later Sarah and Annabelle were married to local men in a double ceremony.  Sarah married Charles Asmus, a blacksmith and Annabelle married Lafayette Sturgeon Wheeler, a distant cousin, whose home was about two blocks south.    The Presbyterian Church where the family attended, presented each bride with a silver tea service.  Sarah and her family, which included Robert’s unmarried daughter from his first marriage, lived here in the Robert Sturgeon family homestead.   Although Annabelle and her husband Lafayette remained in Fairview, Sarah and her family moved into Erie in 1899 and rented their house to Etta Struchen and her family.  The earliest photo we have of the Sturgeon House shows Etta on a swing in the side yard of the house in 1905.

Fairview people of note from the 20th Century includes Helen Stone Schluraff who successfully managed her ex-husband’s greenhouse business in Erie and in 1931 was elected as the first woman in the county to serve as a county commissioner. She was very effective in that position and served 18 years in all.  By 1970, years after she had retired, she was still the only woman in the state to serve in that capacity.

Another notable was Frank Hetz whose plan was to sell Christmas Trees.  He moved here from Erie in 1911 and planted vegetables, berries, roses and other perennials to sell until his trees grew large enough.  Today that business, which is family owned, only sells their trees and shrubs wholesale and is known world-wide as the Fairview Evergreen Nurseries, Inc.

Neil McCray was another notable young man from Fairview. He had served in World War I and afterward took a Cadet Pilot Training course.  It wasn’t long before he opened an airport at the western edge of the borough. That was 1927.  His airport was one of the most successful of the four airports in the Erie area at a time when flying was a sport and every young fellow, plus a few young girls wanted to learn how to fly.  There were races, demonstrations, parades, community days, competitions of all sorts and just plain fun out at the airport.  Something was going on all the time.  In good weather there was always at least one plane in the sky overhead. About the same time that Neil opened the airport he also bought the house known as Samuel Sturgeon’s mansion.  The Fairview field was never paved and in early 1940 Neil accepted an offer to manage the Jamestown, New York municipal field, which was paved.  He rented out the Fairview field at that point, but when he left the fun was gone.  Neil also served in World War II and in the Korean Conflict.

The era when Neil opened his airport was a busy time in Fairview. In 1927 the township and borough school boards joined together to build a high school in the borough on Chestnut Street.  The following year the Fair View Garden Club organized and continues to this day.  A water system was introduced into the borough in 1930 and the following year the Fairview Firemen organized.  Other utilities such as electric, natural gas and the telephone soon followed.

Many Fairview men served in World War I and returned to town to make a difference.  During World War II several of those earlier veterans organized an American Legion and named it for the first casualty, Orville H. Frank.  As I mentioned earlier, for their headquarters they bought and remodeled the barn that was part of the William R. Sturgeon farmland.

Garson Fall and his wife Beth would have to be considered notable people, although neither was born in Fairview.  Garson was hired to supervise the B’nai B’rith Home for Children and his wife was a trained nurse.  The orphanage had first come to Fairview in 1912 and stayed in temporary quarters near Avonia while the first dormitory was being constructed.  The campus was located on the north side of the Ridge Road, across from Neil McCray’s airport.  Garson Fall was the longest serving administrator of the orphanage, arriving in 1924 and remaining until it closed about 1952.

Fairview had its own William Randolph Hearst story.  The man was Albert F. Dobler who built a huge mansion, with many acres,   just west of the borough.  He and his family lived in the mansion for less than 20 years.  The house became embroiled in a legal suit between his new, young wife and his daughter.  Eventually the matter was resolved and the county purchased the estate and erected a building to serve as the Erie County Poor House.  It later became the Geriatric Center and today is a nursing home called Pleasant Ridge West.

Samuel Sturgeon’s home, one of the largest in the borough, was transformed into a funeral home after World War II and remained so for many years, from 1956 to 2001 when the Fairview Evergreen Nurseries purchased it for their headquarters.

The greatest visual change to the borough can be seen at the main intersection.  At the beginning of the 20th Century each corner was graced with a fine old frame building.  The Monitor/Hotel was on the southeast corner.  It was razed in 1994 to make way for a Country Fair/Citgo Station.  The Newt McCreary home on the southwest corner burned down in 1916 and was replaced by a fine brick home.  It came down to make way for a Burger King in 1999.  On the northwest corner was the I.O.O.F building.  Late one night In May 1944 two trucks collided in the intersection and one was thrown into the old building.  The truck burst into flames that threw sparks everywhere, but thanks to the supreme efforts of the firemen, only that building was destroyed.  One truck driver did not survive.  The building was replaced by a cement block structure, which housed several businesses.  When the intersection was widened a few years ago the corner was cleared and a small park was established there.  The two-story Richley house, complete with cupola was on the northeast corner and it, too, came down to make way for a gas station.  Since 1976 several stations have occupied the corner.

The borough had a marvelous centennial celebration in 1968 and in 1976 the township celebrated the nation’s bicentennial.  The folks in charge of that year-long activity had such a good time they organized the historical society and in 1979 purchased Robert Sturgeon’s old house.  The following year the house was accepted for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

All the one- and two-room schools out in the township were closed in the 1950s and since 1996 all the Fairview School buildings are on one campus. Thanks in part to the excellence of the schools Fairview Township has many subdivisions, making us more of a “bedroom community” and less rural.

Today a good bit of our land use is in recreation.  We have three golf courses and a township-owned park with walking trails, ball fields and a pavilion.  In the Walnut Creek mill area, the Pennsylvania Fish Commission owns and operates a marina.  We also have two growing industrial parks just off Interstate 90.

In 1998 at the urging of the state government, the two entities, Fairview Township and Fairview Borough joined together to become Fairview Township as we were originally.  ##