About Erie County, PA Government
Erie County is governed by a home rule charter, which outlines the duties and responsibilities of the county government. Erie County government is led by a a County Executive and a County Council. Each council member represents a different geographic district in the county. Here are some of the functions and services provided by Erie County government (this list is not comprehensive):
- Public Libraries
- Recycling Program
- Courts: Nine judges serve the Erie County Court of Common Pleas, and fifteen magisterial district judges serve the district courts.
- Adult and Juvenile Probation Offices
- Voter Registration: registers voters and oversees elections in Erie County
- Department of Human services: Provides mental health services, drug and alcohol prevention and treatment programs, and the Office of Children and Youth investigates reports of abuse and neglect
- Public Safety: operates the 911 call center, and the Emergency Management Agency
- Health Department: promotes and protects the health, safety and well being of the people and environment in the County
- Clerk of Records: An elected official; oversees maintaining various records (property, criminal, civil), and also issues marriage licenses
- Assessment Department: establishes fair value of properties in the county for tax purposes
- Sheriff: The Sheriff is an elected official; the sheriff's office provides security for the courthouse and serves warrants in the county
- District Attorney's office: The DA is an elected public official; the DA's office prosecutes court cases for the state in Erie County
- Public Defender's office: provides legal representation for defendants unable to afford legal assistance
- Coroner: The coroner is an elected official; confirms and certifies the death of individuals within the county, and may also investigate violent, sudden or suspicious deaths
- County Prison
- Veterans Affairs: assists veterans with filing claims
- Pleasant Ridge Manor: nursing home
- County Controller: Audit's the county's revenues and accounts, protecting against fraud, waste and misuse in County government
Erie County derives its name from the Eriez Indians, a tribe speaking in an Iroquois language, but not part of the Iroquois Confederacy. About 1652, the Eriez tribe was conquered and destroyed by the Iroquois Confederacy. The earliest evidence of our region appeared in the Mandeville map of 1740, gathered by Chausgros de Lery, engineer of the Longueuil expedition of 1739. Presque Isle Bay does not appear on maps until after 1753, when the French built Fort Presque Isle as the opening wedge of their campaign to seize control of the Ohio Valley. They eventually cut a military road through the woods and swamps to Lake LeBoeuf, where a second fort was built. It was to this fort in December, 1753, that a young Virginian named George Washington, gave notice to the French that they were trespassing on British territory. Those forts were part of the supply route to Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh) during the French and Indian War. The British capture of Fort Duquesne in 1758 and Fort Niagara in 1759 compelled the French burn their forts and abandon their interests in Pennsylvania. Skirmishes between the British expedition and Pontiac Indians in 1763 led to the area remaining a sheer wilderness until American settlement began in 1794. British surveys of the western and northern boundaries of Pennsylvania made between 1785 and 1787 showed that Pennsylvania only had four miles of the Lake Erie shoreline without a harbor. The Pennsylvania border ended at present day Amity Township in the east, and Springfield Township in the west. William Irvine, and other far sighted Pennsylvanians, urged the state government to purchase the triangle of land bounded by Pennsylvania, New York, and the lake. This strip of 202,187 acres was purchased from the United States for $151,640 in 1788. American settlement of the area did not begin in earnest until General Anthony Wayne’s victory over the western Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. The first settlers in Erie County came from eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and New England. Early pioneers were almost all farmers, taking up land and clearing it. Erie’s favorable geographical position helped commerce develop quickly. Salt was brought by boat from western New York to Erie, hauled in wagons to Waterford, then re-shipped down French Creek to Pittsburgh and Louisville, Kentucky. Shipbuilding began with the construction of the sloop Washington in 1798 at the mouth of Four-Mile Creek. The Erie and Waterford Turnpike, the first artificial road in the County, was completed in 1809.
Erie County was part of Allegheny County until March 12, 1800, when the PA assembly passed an Act creating Erie and seven other counties in western Pennsylvania. There were 1,468 inhabitants in the County so organization of the county government was delayed until 1803. Erie, as the County Seat, was incorporated as a borough in 1805. Erie was one of the few American settlements on Lake Erie in 1812 when war broke out with Great Britain and its strategic importance became apparent. To guard against threatened attack and invasion, Erie County citizens organized a company of minute men. Erie citizen, Daniel Dobbins, convinced the Secretary of the Navy to turn Erie’s natural harbor into a shipyard for construction of the American fleet. Dobbins realized that naval control of Lake Erie would determine the fate of the Northwest Territory. In the autumn of 1812, Dobbins began the construction of gunboats at the mouth of Lee’s Run, now the foot of Sassafras Street, in Erie. In the following spring, work began on two brigs, the Lawrence and the Niagara, at the mouth of Cascade Street. On September 10, 1813, Oliver Hazard Perry turned defeat into victory by transferring from the disabled Lawrence to the Niagara, then bringing it in to close action. Perry’s guile forced the British squadron to surrender, leading to his famous message to General Harrison, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”.
Development of the County was rapid after the war, aided by various improvements in transportation. The Federal Government dredged and improved the harbor, and in 1844, the Erie Extension Canal was completed. This inexpensive link to the Pittsburgh region remained in use until 1871, by which time it had been superseded by rail. The building of railroads in Erie County gave rise to the “Railroad or Peanut War”. The Erie and North East Railroad, charted in 1842, adopted a gauge wider than standard for its track. Standardized gauge was utilized when a line was open from Erie to Ashtabula, Ohio, in 1851. This created a forced stop for rail passengers in Erie. When the Erie and North East Railroad was bought by a larger New York company, they began to change the wide gauge track to standard size track. Many in Erie who benefitted from the transfer of freight and passengers bitterly opposed the change. It was said at the time that peanut vendors would suffer from the reduction of passengers in Erie stations. The dispute was carried to the Supreme Court in 1854 before it was finally settled.
Erie County’s place as a transportation hub made it an ideal location for shipping and manufacturing, industries that created the “Made in Erie” brand. An identity which carried it through two world wars and most of the 20th century. Today, Erie County remains a manufacturing hub for General Electric Locomotives and several of the country’s largest plastics operations. The transition from the shop to the office defines our present with the growth of Erie Insurance into one of the nation’s largest insurers. Education and healthcare services are a major export as Erie County is home to four nationally recognized universities, the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, as well as hospitals recognized across the region for their excellence.
Millions of visitors to Presque Isle State Park enjoy its luminous beaches and the postcard sunsets. Players chase jackpots at Presque Downs Casino and sportsmen from around the state chase Trout, Walleye, Perch, Bass and Coho. Take a ride from our sparkling waterfront to our vineyards during the fall harvest and enjoy the smell of grapes hanging in the air like a sweet velvet fog. Ten local wineries produce award winners that will tempt your love of the grape. Welcome to Erie County!
(A majority of information provided above was obtained from Donald H. Kent, Associate State Historian)
Little information is available regarding the original courthouse, other than it was erected in 1808, stood in the west park, and was a plain brick structure two stories high. Regrettably, the building burned on March 23, 1823, and destroyed any drawings and descriptions, as well as all county records that existed.
While a replacement was under construction, the court met in the old Erie Academy, which was located at the corner of Ninth and Peach Streets. In 1825, the second courthouse was opened and closely resembled the first, with its location on approximately the same site, and just south of where the Soldiers and Sailors monument is located today. The Commissioners had decided to relocate the County offices in a separate, two-story building to the west. This building also served as the principal meeting place for the town.
In the summer of 1852, the “old” courthouse, which represents the west wing of the present building, was being constructed. The building cost the County $63,000, and, like its predecessors, was soon outgrown. In 1889, as a result of increased business in the County, the building was expanded north and east, with the prothonotary’s and sheriff’s office added on the first floor and a large courtroom on the second floor.
Throughout the early years of the 20th century, numerous grand juries recommended a further addition to relieve the crowded conditions which hindered effective conduct of the County’s business. Finances however, served to postpone the proposition until late in 1927 when the Commissioners appropriated $250,000.
Walter L. Monahan, Erie architect, was retained and he drew plans. When the specifications were studied, the judges suggested that it would require more than $250,000 to erect a courthouse in keeping with the reputation of Erie County. Another $250,000 was appropriated, and it was decided that a stucco finish on the exterior would be satisfactory; an additional $200,000 was set aside.
The building which represents the east wing was completed in September 1930, and dedicated on the 17th of that month. Monahan had adhered faithfully to the original design by repeating the same façade treatment and portico of the old wing on the new. The harmony of the parts of the building is completed by a balustrade promenade across the open end of the “U” which connects the two porticos.
In 1977 there was construction of a new jail, courtrooms and offices at the rear. In 2007 an ADA Accessible entrance was installed which included a glass complex between the east and west wings.