The Erie Public Museum started collecting items for exhibit. Then in 1903, the Erie County Historical Society (ECHS) was developed and began preserving Erie’s history in a shared space at the Erie Public Library.
The ECHS moved to the Customs House at 4th and State Street. The neighboring Cashiers House provided extra storage space.
The ECHS was housed in the History Center. The center was in the former Heyl Pharmacy building at 419 State Street.
The Erie School District, which owned the Watson-Curtze mansion, converted it into the Erie Public Museum. This was done after the death of previous owner Frederick Curtze in 1941. It was the Curtze family vision that their former home be used for the “promotion for the education of all persons."
An independent entity, the Erie Public Museum, was formed and the school district created a Museum Authority in 1979. The house then became the Erie Historical Museum and Planetarium.
There was a formal merger in 2000 between the Erie Historical Museum and Planetarium and the Erie County Historical Society to become the Erie County Historical Society and Museums.
The ECHS consolidated its operations and created the Hagen History Center campus on West 6th Street and Chestnut. The plan repurposed the mansion into a regional history museum on the second and third floors with 11 thematic galleries and a house museum on the first floor of the mansion. The Planetarium moved to Penn State-Behrend campus and the former carriage house was re-purposed for offices, a gift shop and a research library.
Throughout the year, public operations were curtailed while the facilities were renovated, the new exhibits were installed and the new 10,000 sq. ft. King–Mertens Archives Building was constructed.
After over two years of construction and moving from the old History Center on State St., ECHS acquired the largest privately held collection of Erie-related Civil War artifacts. The exhibit “Erie County and the Civil War” opened and the historic Battles Estate farmhouses opened for Girard’s Dan Rice Days.
A systematic inventory and preservation project began to bring over a century of collections to a modern standard. The Wood-Morrison House, ca. 1858, was purchased by the ECHS as the first step toward a plan for future expansion.
The Wood-Morrison House underwent a 10-month restoration to become the ECHS Education Center. Naval surgeon Dr. William Wood, builder of the house, became the first Surgeon General of the Navy. William Morrison, whose family became the second owners, was the last captain of the USS Wolverine and the first Superintendent of Presque Isle State Park in Erie County. The Erie Extension Canal, built in the 1830s, ran next door. Its barn, which predates the house, was built to keep the mules that pulled barges along the canal. ECHS began an important project to digitally index and modernize its extensive archives, holding over 200 years of Erie history.
The ECHS constructed a new exhibit building on the Hagen History Center Campus behind the Wood-Morrison House. Construction began on exhibits that would fill the 6,000 sq. ft. building’s two floors.
Construction began on new exhibits in the Wood-Morrison House, the Watson-Curtze Mansion, and the new exhibit building, but the process was delayed due to COVID-19.
The Wood-Morrison House feature exhibits on the Erie Extension Canal, the Admiral Thomas Weschler Military Gallery and Erie and the Navy.
The Watson-Curtze Mansion housed a new exhibit with Winifred Watson’s bedroom transformed into a space that kids will love.
The first floor of the new exhibit building features new galleries that showcase the boom years of Erie’s growth from the 1870s through the 1950s including some architectural highlights.
The second floor of the new exhibit building will feature a comprehensive exhibit on the history of Erie County, with galleries Coming to Erie and Erie at Work, opening in 2022.
The campus reopened after COVID, with multiple new exhibits. Most notable, is the addition of Architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s original San Francisco office, earning the campus national recognition. It is in the New Exhibit Building along with the Perry Welcome Gallery.
Newer exhibits in the Watson Curtze Mansion include:
Additions in Wood-Morrison House include:
Uniforms and stories of Navy Nurse Bobbi Hovis, of Edinboro, and Colonel Ross Anthony “Tony” Snow, M.D., of Erie.
Executive Director George Deutsch retired after a 5-year tenure.