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   The Dickson Tavern


Historic Name

The Dickson Tavern


201 French Street


City of Erie

Tax Parcel


Historic District



Class 1 (Definitions of Classes)

State Key Number


Historic Function

Domestic - single dwelling









Barn Type on property


Last Entry Update



The Dickson Tavern is considered the oldest standing structure in the City of Erie. This three-story building is divided into two parts: a north section that was built in 1815, and the south segment that was constructed in 1841. The Dickson Tavern thrived at a time when Erie was the center of shipbuilding and trade in the Great Lakes Region. As people travelled into Erie and the resident population grew, undoubtedly, the services of a tavern were needed.

John Dickson, a native of Baltimore who arrived to Erie in 1808, acquired the land for the construction of the Dickson Tavern in 1814. A year later, the tavern was opened for business. William Himrod, a veteran of the War of 1812, as well as a carpenter, built the structure. Himrod later opened a Sunday school for African American children, which is son, William Himrod Jr., continued to operate after his father’s death in 1873. It is speculated that William Sr. was a station agent in the Underground Railroad. Himrod also embarked in multiple business ventures, most notably the establishment of the manufacturing company Johnson, Himrod, & Co, later renamed Vincent, Himrod, and Co. This company later evolved into the Chicago & Erie Stove Works and the Erie City Iron Works. With such humble beginnings, Himrod became a key figure in the development of Erie’s iron industry. At the same time, John Dickson was a pioneer in the hospitality industry.

The Dickson Tavern was ultimately favored for its size, design, and excellent location near the bay of Lake Erie. Dickson was considered an excellent cook, which helped to establish the tavern’s superior reputation. In 1818, the tavern advertised its menu, which included hot coffee, hot and cold meats, pickled oysters, tripe, tongue and pastry, ice cream, wedding cake, and punch. Alcoholic beverages were certainly available as well. Beyond food and drink, the Dickson Tavern housed a billiard table for customers and thrived on the comradery amongst male patrons. By the 1820s, Dickson sought to appeal to the merchant and business community. He changed the name of his tavern to the Exchange Coffee House to attract these patrons. The name attracted wealthier customers that were intrigued by this unique commercial name, and in turn, Dickson could expand his business. Most notably, the Exchange Coffee House entertained the French American Revolutionary War hero, Marquis De Layfette, with a lavish party, during his visit to Erie in 1825. Dickson developed part of the tavern into a steam boat office, providing carriage and boat rides to travelers. Despite this success, in 1831, Dickson sold the tavern and moved to Pittsburgh, selling the property to his brother-in-law, Daniel Gillespie.

Gillespie operated the tavern until 1834 when it was sold to Josiah Kellogg, a merchant who later became the director of the Erie branch of the United States Bank of Pennsylvania. To relieve himself of all debts when the bank closed, Kellogg sold the tavern to John Rogers, a local man, in 1841. Rogers expanded the structure to use the building as a private residence. The exterior southern section of the building was not well-blended into the original building’s design, but the interior supported a uniform lay-out. The structure was used as a residence or rental housing until 1924, when it was purchased by the City of Erie and renamed Perry Memorial Hall. It was used to house a museum, which ultimately prevented the building from being demolished.

Perry Memorial Hall was named after the Battle of Lake Erie’s most revered hero, Oliver Hazard Perry. The building became a museum dedicated to Perry and his navy. The interior of the museum was remodeled between the 1920s through the 1960s to accommodate exhibits and restrooms. After the museum closed in 2004, the property remained vacant until 2009. In 2009, it was purchased by Kidder Wachter Architecture & Design and was carefully restored and repurposed as office space.




The Dickson Tavern National Register nomination


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Photo courtesy, Erie County Assessment Office



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