NORTH EAST — A new bed and breakfast in North East is once again the “abode of hospitality” that it was more than 150 years ago.
The Elsie Greer House Bed and Breakfast at 45 Park St., in what is believed to be one of the oldest homes in Erie County, is named for the woman who owned the house after the Civil War.
Elsie Greer’s “abode of hospitality” was where friends and colleagues of her husband, Judge John Greer, gathered. But Elsie Greer was a force in her own right. She was a patron of the arts and education and donated the property for the Methodist Church’s Lake Shore Academy, later St. Mary’s Seminary and Mercyhurst North East.
“It was unusual for a married woman to own property at that time,” bed and breakfast owner Nanci Haibach, originally from Erie, said.
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Previously a traveling nurse and a nurse in UPMC Hamot’s intensive care unit, Haibach dreamed of owning a bed and breakfast. She tried to buy the Spencer House Bed & Breakfast on West Sixth Street in Erie when it was for sale in 2018. She completed a business plan with Gannon University’s Small Business Development Center but was unable to arrange financing to buy the B&B.
“It’s hard to get a loan for a bed and breakfast, and I’d never operated a bed and breakfast before, so that made it even more difficult,” Haibach said.
So she focused instead on buying a stately home that she could convert to a B&B. The Italian-style house near Gibson Park in the North East Historic District fit the bill. Haibach bought the house in May 2021 and opened the bed and breakfast in July 2022.
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The 2,075-square-foot home was built in 1865, according to Erie County property records. Its first floor accommodates a large common living room, or parlor, with a display of North East memorabilia and wares; a dining room; a 21st-century kitchen catering to guests; a shared bath; and an owner’s suite also available for rent as needed.
On the second floor are four guest bedrooms and a large shared bath. New exterior and interior paint, hardwood floors, fireplaces and antiques that Haibach has collected through the years or bought especially for the bed and breakfast give the house a 19th-century feel.
Its one-time owner also fit Haibach’s bill.
“I wanted to name the bed and breakfast for something to do with North East history. As I did a lot of research on the house and learned about Elsie Greer, I knew I wanted to name it for her,” Haibach said.
‘Untiring zeal of Mrs. Greer’
Elsie Greer was born Elsie Custard in 1827 to a family that came to North East from eastern Pennsylvania in 1797. Her husband, originally a blacksmith by trade, according to census records, became “conspicuous” just before the Civil War.
“In the year 1856 an intense political excitement pervaded the whole country, causing a reconstruction of parties. John Greer then became conspicuous in Erie County. As one of the able young men brought to the front by the reorganized, predominant and aggressive party, he was elected associate judge and so continued ten years,” according to the Erie Morning Dispatch, in its “Sketch of the Noble Life of a Widely Known Erie County Lady” published March 27, 1888, three days after Elsie Greer’s death while visiting her daughter in New York City.
“In the prominent position assured and most worthily held by the young judge there were social as well as official incumbent upon him as a representative man. In the new sphere, with all its incidents, he had a most efficient coadjutor in his excellent wife. His home was the abode of hospitality,” said the Dispatch. “The Sanitary Commission and Soldiers Aid Society during the war were special objects with the North East ladies. Many remember their efforts and entertainments in this behalf, and the untiring zeal of Mrs. Greer.”
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Elsie Greer also was active in the Methodist Church “and for music and all that tended to elevate and improve society,” according to the Dispatch.
In August 1884, 13 years after John Greer’s death, Elsie Greer’s home nearly was a victim of North East’s “great fire,” which reduced 29 blocks of property — mostly commercial buildings — to ashes.
“As her beautiful home was on fire, in the effort to save its contents, one of (Elsie Greer’s) limbs was fractured,” according to the Erie Morning Dispatch.
The house survived the fire.
“From what I’ve been told, boys from the seminary,” just across Division Street from the Greer house, “came and put out the fire,” Haibach said.
Greer’s 1888 funeral was held at her North East home, though it’s not known where she is buried. There is no headstone or inscription for Elsie Greer near her husband’s grave in North East Cemetery, though there is a statue of an unnamed woman that Haibach believes represents Elsie Greer.
“I think that she is buried on the property here, but there’s no proof of that,” Haibach said.
Tree festivals, penny press and missing photo
Haibach first opened the Greer House to the public late last year when she hosted a holiday tree festival.
“So many people came and were so welcoming,” Haibach said, adding that one of the guests at the festival was Adah Allen Schriefer, queen of the first North East Firemen’s Cherry Festival in 1946.
Open to the public year-round is the B&B’s penny press machine providing images of North East.
Business since the Elsie Greer House Bed and Breakfast opened has been good, Haibach said, with guests from as far away as Rhode Island and Chicago. The B&B is listed on Tripadvisor and VisitErie.
Haibach’s only disappointment so far is that she has been unable to find a photograph of Elsie Greer.
“Elsie’s daughter, Etta, and Etta’s husband, Aime DePont, were photographers in Manhattan, so you know there must have been photos of her,” Haibach said.
Open to the public in December
The Elsie Greer House Bed and Breakfast will host a second Winter Wonderland of Trees on Thursdays through Sundays, Dec. 10-23 and Dec. 27-31, from 4 to 8 p.m. Admission will be $5 for adults, $3 for children 12 and under.
Contact Valerie Myers at email@example.com.