Photo taken by Donald K. O'Brien
The Erie Historical Museum's Watson-Curtze mansion and carriage house, located at 356 West Sixth Street in Erie, Pennsylvania, are the most unique examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture in Erie County and, according to Dr. Kenneth Allies of the Winterthur Museum, are important national expressions of the style. Designed by Green and Wicks of Buffalo, New York, decorative elements, ornate stone exterior, elaborate woodwork, canvas wall paintings, stained glass windows and mosaics are presented in remarkably integrated and idiosyncratic ways. The mansion and carriage house are associated with two prominent Erie residents: H. F. Watson, a paper manufacturer, and F. F. Curtze, a banker and philanthropist.
Built in 1891-92, the house exemplifies the elaborate, asymmetrical aesthetic of Richardsonian Romanesque. Green and Wicks whose buildings in Buffalo and Erie represent various styles (Chateau, the Classical Revival of the original Albright-Knox Gallery, works influenced by McKim, Mead and White) here have produced a unique setting for nineteenth century wealth and taste. Dr. Kenneth Allies, Teaching Associate at the Winterthur Museum and Adjunct Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Delaware, in a report to the Museum stated that "the Curtze Mansion is a remarkable and somewhat idiosyncratic example of late nineteenth-century architecture. As far as I can tell, it is not replicated in the immediate area. In fact, the more I looked at the house, the more I am inclined to suspect that it is not replicated anywhere. While the style of the building might loosely be described as Richardsonian Romanesque, the building is personal enough to easily distinguish it from other prominent houses in the style. From the viewpoint of an architectural historian, I would argue that the Curtze Mansion is an important example of style not only locally but nationally." (Page 2, Report to the Erie Historical Museum for National Endowment for the Humanities Self Study Planning Grant.)
Decorative motifs such as cherubs, peacocks, acanthus leaves and shells appear in many forms including wood, stained glass, stone, canvas paintings and lamp globes. The craftsmanship is striking. Woodwork is carved, pierced and hand finished. Mosaics and certain lighting fixtures are definitely the work of Louis C. Tiffany according to Alastair Duncan author of Tiffany Windows. The stained glass windows, friezes and wall coverings are attributed to Louis C. Tiffany artisans.
Harrison F. Watson (1853-1904) was the founder of the Watson Paper Company. He came to Erie in 1874 from Mercer County and lived in several eastside and westside rented houses before achieving the status of a West Sixth Street home owner. The Watson Paper Company made coal tar roofing paper and he had agents in New York, Nashville and other cities. Watson was an amateur entomologist and the specimen drawers in his den use to hold his collection (since destroyed). Mrs. Watson (1852-1923) was active in local and state gardening groups. There is still a Carrie T. Watson Garden Club in Erie. After Mrs. Watson's death in 1923, their daughter Winifred, who had married into another famous manufacturing family, the Griswolds, sold the mansion to Frederick Felix Curtze. Mr. Curtze was a banker and a patron of the arts. His successful career illustrates the upward mobility of second generation German immigrants in late nineteenth century Erie society. After his death in 1941, his widow and two children donated the mansion and the carriage house to the School District to be used for the "promotion of the education of all persons." Since 1942 then the building has been the site of the Erie Historical Museum (formerly the Erie Public Museum founded in 1899 as part of the Erie Library).
The Erie Historical Museum's Watson-Curtze mansion and carriage house remain extraordinary examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. They are vivid displays of the decorative and building arts of the 1890s. Former owners played important roles in the economic and cultural life of the community: Mr. Watson as a manufacturer and one of the charter members of the original Erie Art Club (1900) and Mr. Curtze as a banker and Museum benefactor.
The Erie Historical Museum's Watson-Curtze mansion is a massive, three and one-half stories, two bay brownstone mansion located at 356 West Sixth Street, Erie, Pennsylvania. West Sixth Street was the preferred residential area for Erie's wealthy of the 1880s and 1890s. The mansion is the best preserved example of all the comparable homes on West Sixth Street. The 1891-92 mansion and carriage house were designed by Green and Wicks of Buffalo, New York and feature many elements of the Richardsonian Romanesque style: a short tower, smooth piers with decorated capitals, transomed windows, carved tympanum, deep-set windows and eaves close to the walls. The interior of the mansion is comprised of twenty-four rooms, five bathrooms, seventeen closets, twelve fireplaces, a solarium and an elevator shaft with original car (not currently operable). Some original loft structures remain in the carriage house. Among the original decorative elements of the mansion are: stained glass windows; oak flooring; damask wall coverings; mosaics; ornately carved and pierced woodwork; stenciled, hand-painted and plasterwork ceilings, canvas wall paintings; brass, silver and stained glass light fixtures and marble and tile fireplaces The exterior masonry needs cleaning and repointing. While the overall integrity of the mansion is good, the 1979 installation of a sprinkler-system caused damage to wall paintings and much restoration work is needed to flooring, woodwork, stained glass windows and friezes.
The mansion facade conveys a palatial feeling with solid masonry cut in a rough finish.