Erie Pennsylvania's first recorded Haunted House

The first colonists to Erie Pennsylvania arrived in the mid 18thCentury, building a small town adjacent to the newly constructed French Fort Presque Isle. With wars and migrations soon to follow, English settlers would also arrive in the area by the end of that century and build a permanent settlement.

Since the time of those first settlers Erie’s history has been awash with folklore tales of mysterious places where the paranormal seems to manifest itself quite frequently.
Be it cursed Indian burial grounds or old dwellings where spectral apparitions of the past startle the present owners; Erie has a rich history of unexplained phenomena.

However, it was not until the late 19thcentury did one of these locations rise to prominence in the imagination of the local populace to a point where it would become infamous. It was in name if not in fact Erie’s first haunted house. And few today have ever heard of it, since it was long ago lost to popular memory for those who encountered its horrors have long turned to dust. This lost Erie legend is the old Crowley Mansion of Harborcreek.

The house was located on the west side of Walbridge Road, less than a hundred yards south of East Lake Road. It was built by a member of East Erie’s first pioneer families, the Crowleys. Thomas Crowley, b. 1789, came to Erie in 1821 or 1822, as did his younger brother Michael. Thomas and his wife Ellen Ahern had several children in Ireland and several more in Pennsylvania, as late at 1836. Michael married a girl from a family from New York State and Canada. Michael's son Thomas was Erie police chief in the 1860s and 70s. The Crowley family very were wealthy and owned considerable property and built the brick mansion as their family homestead. Thomas's eldest son Bartholomew, 1813(4)-1897, lived with his growing family on the property. Beautifully manicured, the grounds of the mansion boasted a diverse orchard and lush gardens.

Tragedy struck 80 year old Bartholomew and his daughter in 1893 when a team of burglars broke in and pulled off a home invasion, pouring oil over him and lighting him afire and threatening to cut the rings off his daughter's fingers. The original report can be viewed in this copy of the November 3rd 1893 Buffalo Express.

As time marched on and the Crowley family grew, the pioneers’ children moved on and the estate was purchased by another family. The ancient legend told by local residents was that not long after moving into the mansion the husband and wife began to fight often and began to despise one another. When typhoid fever began to break out in the community, the husband was gravely stricken. A skilled local doctor attended the man and soon he was on his way to a healthy recovery. One of the instructions given the wife was that the man was not to be fed any salty foods, for they could not only halt the recovery process, but they could actually prove to be fatal to her husband.

The story goes that this advice by the doctor gave the wife a ghoulish idea. She would rid herself of her loathsome husband by feeding him rich meals that contained large quantities of salt. Her unsuspecting husband ate the heavily seasoned meals with gusto every day. After one excessively salty dinner of corned beef the husband died just before midnight that very evening. From that day forward the ghost of the husband was said to manifest itself in the house just as the clock stuck midnight. Some of these were said to be extremely violent, one night a china cabinet in the main dining room where the husband often dined shook so violently that all the dishes inside were smashed to pieces. Oddly enough the glass housing of the cabinet was untouched. It was not long after this that the wife moved out of the house never to return.

Others lived in the house afterwards, but none of them stayed very long. Whether it was because of paranormal activity or just the ominous story itself that made the mansion abhorred none can say. But soon none wanted to live in the haunted house on Walbridge Road.

For over fifty years the mansion remained unoccupied and soon time took its toll on the building and it went into disrepair and eventual ruin. The beautiful orchards soon became overgrown with weeds and the trees withered and died. The once elegant mansion became an ominous and foreboding presence of desolation which lived up to its disturbing reputation.
Children shunned the house and passersby would claim to see ethereal figures staring out at them from the mansions broken windows.

John G. Carney in his 1958 book “Tales of Old Erie” tells that in the years before the mansion was torn down the legends began to flourish once more. A new generation had used the building as a place to prove their bravery by trespassing its grounds and playing practical jokes on one another.

The land on which the mansion once stood is now an abandoned field, given over to weeds and wild overgrowth. There still is a sense of desolation and sadness to the area that one cannot quite explain. You can sense a sadness, a dreadful emptiness there that is somewhat otherworldly. Perhaps the long betrayed spirit of the murdered husband still abides there, mourning his betrayal at the hands of one who promised to love him forever.