Exploring Erie’s Rich History at the Hagen Museum

The Hagen Museum

Nestled in downtown Erie, the Hagen Museum provides a majestic tribute to Erie’s past. The museum includes three notable buildings: two 19th century mansions and a historic carriage house. The jewel in the museum’s crown is the Watson-Curtze Mansion, a beautiful 19th century brownstone. However, start your museum exploration in the historic carriage house, which doubles as the ticket counter and gift shop.

The museum also boasts an array of fascinating artifacts. You’ll find the sword of War of 1812 hero Admiral Oliver Hazzard Perry as well as items related to General “Mad” Anthony Wayne. You’ll also find Frankl Lloyd Wright’s office.

In fact, one of the museum’s standout attractions is the original office of the famed architect. Museum benefactor Thomas B. Hagen brought this unique exhibit to Erie. You can explore Wright’s office, literally walking in his footsteps.

The Watson-Curtze Mansion

Harrison Watson and later by Frederick Felix Curtze, both significant figures in Erie’s history, owned and lived in the Gilded Era mansion with their families. In 1891, Watson paid $50,000 to build the Romanesque brownstone mansion — about $10 million today. The lavish mansion was but one among many along the historic West 6th Street, but it was the best one. Between 1870s and the 1930s, as Erie’s industrial development peaked, this elegant street, just a block or two from Erie’s downtown, was known as Millionaire’s Row.  

Like other Romanesque buildings, the mansion sports a large, asymmetrical, two- or three-and-a-half story design, with rough-cut stone or brick walls. The mansion also offers some other unique architectural elements. You tour a special room designed for Watson’s butterfly and insect collection. You’ll also see the elevator Watson installed when his health began failing.

Watson, an Erie roofing paper magnate and holder of U.S. Patents on gaskets and tubes, and his wife, Carrie Tracy, an avid gardener, lived in the home with their daughter, Winifred, until Carrie’s death in 1923. Then, Curtze  president of the Erie Trust Company, purchased the home. The Curtze family lived there until his death in 1941. His family then donated the property and it officially became a museum. 

Not going to lie, but I kind of geeked out on the extensive Griswald Cast Iron Cookware exhibit in the mansion’s kitchen.

Hagen Museum’s Other Exhibits

The Wood-Morrison House, which predates the Watson-Curtze Mansion, and a modern exhibit building are adjacent to the Watson-Curtze Mansion, and is part of the Hagen Museum. Exhibits inside the Wood-Morrison House detail Erie’s maritime and wartime heros and history.

The museum also includes “The Story of Us,” which provides an in-depth look into Erie’s history. This exhibit examines thematic areas like “Coming to Erie,” detailing the immigration stories, and “Erie at Work,” illustrating the various industries that fueled Erie’s growth.

After touring the exhibits, we were given the unique opportunity to walk through the 10,000 square foot archive building. I found that as intriguing as the rest of the museum — like looking through grandma’s attic! The archives includes furniture, archival material, diaries, letters, correspondence, books, typescripts, reports, photographs and other historical resources.

Whether you’re a history buff, an architecture enthusiast, or someone interested in the diverse culture of Erie County, the Hagen History Center promises an enriching experience that takes you on a journey through time and Erie’s rich heritage.

Frank Lloyd Wright Office

The Erie museum houses Frank Lloyd Wright’s San Francisco office, thanks to benefactor Thomas B. Hagen. The office was used by Wright from 1951 until his death in 1959 for various projects in northern California, including the Marin County Civic Center.

The office features design elements consistent with Wright’s organic architectural style, including redwood plywood construction, varying ceiling heights, and cantilevers. It also includes a red ceramic tile square, a signature element that Wright used from the beginning of his career. The office space is designed to appear spacious despite its compact size, featuring 120-degree angles, partial walls, and vertical louvers with translucent glass.

The windows recreate the original San Francisco view, and the space includes drafting tables, generous shelving, and artifacts from the time when the office was in use. The design captures the essence of Wright’s style and his attention to detail, providing an intimate space that accommodated his 5’8″ height and incorporated his love for Japanese art.

Know Before You Go

There is ample parking for the museum.

Getting there: 356 W 6th St, Erie, PA
Hours: Tuesdays – Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sundays noon – 5 p.m.; closed Mondays
Website: Hagen Museum

Looking for more to do and see in Erie PA? Check out Visit Erie, as well as the articles below:

One Reply to “Exploring Erie’s Rich History at the Hagen Museum”

  1. Thanks for visiting! It was great to meet you!

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