The Brewerie at Union Station
123 W 14th Street
Erie, PA 16501
Serving locals with transportation and goods to national guests as passengers simply passing through the area, Union Station has always been seen as a monument of Erie’s industrialization and a beacon of hope and future for its’ locals. Even as time drew on and left the building a shell of its’ former self, the grand station still stood tall as an architectural wonder. From its’ peak to its’ decline, the Union Station has always drawn the attention it deserved, even to this day, although the attention has shifted industries. Acting as brewery and restaurant, the Brewery at Union has fit in perfectly and successfully in the town and, possibly has also drawn the attention of those who remain in the old train station even after their worldly demise.
During the mid-1800’s, the railroad expansion in Erie, PA was in an acceleration mode. Four railroad companies converged on Erie simply due to it’s’ location. In the early days of this expansion, the railroads did not completely interact with one another due to different gauges of tracks. This led to the need of a main hub for these trains to converge in to transfer goods and passengers. The Union Depot was constructed in 1865 to serve these needs.
Throughout the years, there have been many reports of deaths occurring in the train station. Most of these occurred when the train industry was top of the economic pyramid and these high-powered companies managed to cover them up, leaving these tragedies written as accidents or missing people reports in the local papers.
However, one well known unfortunate death is that of Clara. While Union Station still operated as Union Depot, young parents and their daughter, Clara, purchased tickets to their train on the main floor. As they ascended the staircase to the second-floor train platform, Clara’s father spun around to check on her. In doing so, he accidentally slammed his luggage into her. Clara tumbled backward, down the staircase to her unfortunate death.
The Union Depot was in operation until 1925 when the tracks and trains in the area became more standardized and the depot itself was outdated. The need for a more sophisticated and appealing train station became more of a necessity for the town of Erie, thus the Union Station was born.
In 1927, the Union Station was built on the same location where the original Union Depot once stood. Seeing the benefit of the location and increase in railroad traffic in the area, the New York central Railroad stepped in to build Erie’s main railway terminal costing $3 million. The 100,000 square foot terminal was an architectural feat at the time and covered a little over 2 city blocks.
The terminal acted as its’ own small city incorporating newsstands, food merchants, barber shops, and even had its’ own postal service within. The Grand Concourse and Rotunda were the two most populated locations where passengers and employees intersected one another and filled the station with a low roar of conversation and the echoing footfalls of traveling businessmen on a daily basis. Underneath the terminal was a fully functional bomb shelter and long stretching tunnel which stemmed across the street and nearly 14 full blocks toward the bay side of Erie. By the late 1930’s, there were 20 trains running regularly every day through the Union Station to popular destinations such as Chicago, New York City, Boston, and Cleveland.
During its’ hay day, the station drew in celebrities and popular figures throughout history, even dating back to the original Union Depot when Abraham Lincoln stopped in the station during the Civil War. During his presidential campaign, Franklin Roosevelt stopped in the station in 1932. Throughout World War II, the Union Station became an important stop transporting troops and high powered military personnel. In 1948, President Harry Truman made an appearance post war. Sporting figures such as Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth made frequent stops in the 1950’s.
The location was not only a railroad destination but also housed other businesses in the upper floors. The local, but well known, Billey Electric Company moved into the 2nd floor of the Union Station. The company produced crystal oscillators which were vital components to radio transmitters. The perfect location, above the rail yard, allowed the electric company to grow to such lengths that it ultimately overtook the 3rd floor as well to keep up with their national growth. With the onset of World War II, the company began a full 24 hour rotation and employed many locals, including women and children.
Following the war, the Billey Electric Company moved out of the station into their own facility. This was only the beginning of the decline of the Union Station. The interstate was completed and fully functional in those years following World War II which brought a more commercialized and affordable way of travel via automobiles. Airlines also began to offer more affordable and convenient travel which was another major blow to passenger train travel. The Union Station’s PA Railroad ended passenger travel in 1948 and decreased the overall daily train count to only five trains in and out. With the continued decline of profit and necessity, railroads began to merge and formed the Penn Central Transportation Company in 1968. This conglomeration continued passenger travel until 1971. By this point, the tracks began to deteriorate and the station as well as the railroads had such a lack of funding that they simply discontinued passenger service in 1973, only utilizing it for freight trains and service crews.
During the winter months in the following years, the once bustling train station became an unofficial homeless shelter. These inhabitants would burn anything they could get their hands on, from doors to desks, just to keep warm. The limited passengers who traveled through the station refused to stick around the waiting areas and service rooms due to the fears of being robbed and the unsightly conditions of these homeless.
It was reported that these homeless derelicts would cause commotion and get into fights regularly. The police were called frequently to break up these minor brawls and remove them from the premises, only to have them return that night. There were even multiple deaths reported during this time, some due to health and the lack of heat, others were based on fights due to these people attempting to steal food and clothing from one another.
By 1976, the station’s main lines claimed bankruptcy and the Union Station was officially shut down. The former glorious landmark of Erie, PA sat empty and neglected until the early 1990’s. A local brewing company called Hoppers moved their small operation into the old train station in 1994 and ran their business out of it until 1999 when they needed further room for expansion. Upon their departure, they changed their name to Erie Brewing Company. From there, Porter’s, a fine dining restaurant moved in and renovated the space until 2006. During its’ tenure, a company known as Logistics Plus added $1.5 million into Union Station in hopes of transforming it into retail spaces, a mall, and a museum. However, this grand scheme never truly came to fruition as Porter’s closed up and Logistics Plus took a major monetary hit.
However, from that transition period, The Brewery took control of the former Porter’s and began to successfully operate a brewery and restaurant. The Brewery was Erie’s first craft beer brewery when it opened its’ doors in 2006.
Over time, the Brewery at Union Station has recorded many different paranormal phenomena. The employees have claimed to hear footsteps and a phantom scream echoing throughout the building, sometimes when they are closing up and all alone. Some employees and patrons alike have seen a young girl standing on the second floor, looking down the stairs as if she is afraid to move.
In the restaurant area, chairs have been said to be pushed to the side as if someone is walking next to them pushing them out of the way. Glasses have been known to crash to the floor and shatter, but when the bartender or waiter/waitress leave to get a broom to clean the mess, there is nothing to be found. Smells of smoke and burning wood have reported occasionally throughout the Brewery’s existence. This is said to be young Clara playing with her guests, while others believe it may be the restless energy from the homeless inhabitants still causing a commotion and lighting their fires inside the old station.
There have been numerous paranormal investigators who have analyzed the location and supplied evidence to support the stories of Clara’s spirit still wondering the building. There have been voices captured as well as full body apparitions photographed in the form of a shadow.
Ghostly train whistles have been heard, almost at an ear-piercing level, echoing inside the building. Some employees have even claimed to see the smoke from a phantom train possibly still making its’ stop at the Union Station.