The Downing-Galbraith House was built in 1892 on the site of the old
West Ward School. As Erie was not yet a city, the Borough of Erie
divided the town into two wards: the East and West. In 1848, the East
Ward and West Ward Schools were built, both large brick structures that
employed five teachers each. The West Ward School was built on this
site, while the East Ward School was built at 7th and Holland Streets.
Both wards erected other schools at various locations in Erie as the
population grew, especially after Erie was incorporated as a city in
1851. The West Ward School at this site was demolished in 1890 when
Judge William Galbraith purchased the lot for $5,000.
Judge Galbraith was a lawyer and President Judge in Erie. His son,
Davenport Galbraith, a Yale University and University of Pennsylvania
graduate, as well as a lawyer and the Vice President of the Erie Trust
Company, received this land from his father. Davenport Galbraith’s
father-in-law, Judge J.F. Downing, commissioned the construction of a
Richardsonian Romanesque mansion on this lot in 1890. The structure was
complete in 1892, designed by prominent Buffalo firm, Green & Wicks,
and constructed by local company Constable Brothers Building Firm. The
property was adjacent to Judge Downing’s home, which is currently the
site of the First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant. The 18-room, 4-
story home features ornate ceilings, wooden window seats, hand-carved
bookcases, marble floor-to-ceiling fireplaces, and opulent interior
After Davenport Galbraith’s death in 1914, his wife, Winifred Downing
Galbraith, remained in the home until 1921 when the Woman’s Club of
Erie purchased the property. Mrs. Galbraith was a member of the club at
the time of purchase. In 2016, the Woman’s Club still owns the
property, and has renovated the interior of the home; however, the
exterior remains predominately undisturbed.
Sources: Northwest Institute of Research, Historic Survey 1982; Frew, David, et al. Journey Through Time: Erie’s Best Downtown Walking Guide. Erie, PA: Erie County Historical Society, 2006.;
Miller, John. A Twentieth Century History of Erie County, Pennsylvania. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1909.