Wintergreen Gorge (Four Mile Creek)   Dale J. Luthringer
  Sep 17, 2003 08:07 PDT 

The following is a copy of the article written by my Great Uncle and
family historian Don Albertson concerning Wintergreen Gorge, properly
identified as Four Mile Creek. He had a feature in the Erie Daily Times
that ran for many years known as 'Albertson's Attic'. This particular
article ran in 1988 and was part of 'The Erie Story'. He is now in his
early 80's. This article will help those who are not familiar with the
Lake Erie gorges to get a feel for this largely undocumented big area
and some of its general history. I believe a lot of the history that is
told here concerning Erie, could probably be repeated all up and down
the Lake Erie Coastline from Ohio through Pennsylvania to New York.

"'Four Mile Creek' by Don Albertson:

In my youthful dating days we used to wander Wintergreen Gorge and sit
on the edge of the bridge at the bottom of Cooper Road. Years later our
teenage sons and daughter did the same thing. Perhaps they wondered, as
we did, where Four Mile Creek began, where it ended and what happened
along its banks through the years.

Original Erie started at the mouths of creeks that drained into Lake
Erie. The peninsula-protected Mill Creek in the village of Erie became
the hub of commercial activity but Twelve Mile Creek in North East (in
1806 called "Burgetts-town"), Eight Mile Creek in Harbor Creek and Four
Mile Creek (now Lawrence Park) were also early commercial settlements.

Erie County's fourty-four mile shoreline is marked with these creeks.
Streams flow north or south from a drainage divide which trends
diagonally across the county. North-flowing streams drain into Lake
Erie and, unlike the south-flowing waters, their rapid currents and
cascading waterfalls cut deep channels in their passage from high ground
to lake level. East county creeks run directly north to the lake but
west county streams flow westward and abruptly turn northward to the

The Lake Plain borders the lake and extends southward for a distance of
about two miles in the east county and five miles in the western portion
of the county. The Plain terminates along the lake edge as a cliff
which rises 80 feet or more above the lake level, highest levels being
near North East and northwest of Girard. In the area east of Erie the
cliff face exposes glacial drift and bedrock, especially at its base.

The creeks have dried up and narrowed through natural causes, dams, and
culverts-and only occasionally winter thaws and heavy rains reveal the
tremendous power and energy of the original streams rushing down the
gorges to the lake.


The first sailing vessel built on the south shore of Lake Erie west of
Buffalo, according to historians, was the sloop Washington, a
thirty-five ton vessel built at the mouth of Four Mile Creek by
Eliphpalet Beebe for the Pennsylvania Population Company.

Launched in September, 1798, she was used by the company for twelve
years and removed on rollers across the "Niagara Peninsula" to Lake
Ontario in 1810, where she was lost. Boat building was not practical
along the shore line except in Erie's sheltered bay.

In 1794 two British armed ships lay outside Erie harbor for some time as
a warning to the Americans not to occupy the lake shore region. Later,
during the war year of 1813 when Perry'[s fleet was built in Erie
harbor, ships from the British squadron several times surveyed the
building activity. With the commanding view of the lake, both east and
west, it's not unlikely that first sitings were made from the bluff at
Four Mile.

Wintergreen Gorge

"Four Mile Creek rises in Green Township, runs through the western edge
of Harbor Creek and enters the lake in the northeastern corner of
Millcreek Township, after a course of eight miles," wrote Beers in The
History of Erie County (1884). Now we know these places as Wesleyville
and Lawrence Park.

mcconnells Run crossed Station Road a little south of Gospel Hill and
joined Four Mile near the foot of the "great gully." (behind Penn State
Behrend Campus - emphasis mine). The small creek was named after an
emancipated slave named McConnell who built a cabin along its banks.

The Wintergreen Gorge of Four Mile Creek extends about a half mile south
of Wesleyville, gradually becoming shallower as it proceeds north. Its
length is six miles and varies in depth from 50 to 150 feet. Great
quantities of wintergreen (a small evergreen plant with a cluster of
oval leaves, flowers and red berries) grew all along the great gully and
thus it was named. The Gorge is a delightful place to visit but great
care must be taken getting into and out of it. Quite often through the
years careless hikers fall and suffer serious injury.

From the Gorge, Four Mile flows northward along Station Road, into
Lawrence Park, past the east gate of the General Electric Company, and
through the Lawrence Park Golf Club property to the lake.

Early Industry

In 1798 the third (or fourth) saw mill in the country was built by
Thomas Rees near the mouth of Four Mile on the Crowley farm. It was
established to provide lumber for settlers on the lands of the
Pennsylvania Population Company. John Riblet, Sr., erected his saw mill
in 1802-03 a half mile south of Wesleyville.

The founder of Wesleyville, John Shattuck (or Shadduck), came to Erie
County in 1795 with his parents and bought lakefront land in Harborcreek
Township in 1805. He held most of the land east of the present Gray
Avenue and Station Road to Four Mile Creek. On the west branch of the
creek at Wesleyville he built his grist mill in 1823 and added a saw
mill two years later.

Demand for Lumber

After the end of the War of 1812 there was a desperate need for building
lumber throughout the country and saw mills sprang up everywhere. Every
stream that could provide power was used to drive one to a dozen wheels.

Erie County was still largely covered with forest and the streams
contained high water then. Cutting the timber eventually lowered water
level in the streams and once available forests were stripped, the saw
mills moved elsewhere, were used for other purposes or simply abandoned.

The old Cooper Mill along Four Mile was once a famous landmark at the
north end of Wintergreen Gorge south of Wesleyville. William Saltsman
built a saw mill here in 1815 and a grist mill in 1826. These afterward
became the property of William Cooper, Sr., who rebuilt the mills in
1850 only to have them burn to the ground on August 3, 1883.

The great flood of February, 1883, washed away nearly every mill dam in
Erie County. This, along with shrinking forest, the replacement of
water power with electricity, and easier land transportation probably
accounted for the demise of the mills along Four Mile Creek. But the
names of the early mill owners are perpetuated in road names and
Wesleyville and Harborcreek.

"Waldameer East" (a local amusement park-emphasis mine)

That probably best describes the Four Mile Creek area of the Lake Road
years ago.

The rapid waters of the Creek, essential for the mills, were not
conducive to pleasure boating and the spars lakeside beach did not
invite swimming. As a fishing spot it was heavily used. The impressive
view of the countryside and the unimpeded view of Erie Harbor and the
Peninsula made Four Mile a popular picnic area. When the currents
slowed and the stream mouth was channeled, it became even more popular
as a recreational.

In 1805 the road from Erie to Buffalo (Buffalo Road) was completed.
Through the 1800's as the picnic areas expanded and the number of
pleasure seekers grew, other amusement and recreation facilities were
added and along with them were the game booths, hawkers, medicine shows,
entertainment rides (one who remembers tells about the Figure Eight
there in later years), a dance hall, exhibition hall, hotel, and eating
and drinking halls. Down the road apiece, on Walbridge and Middle Road,
was the Fairgrounds and a large racetrack.

"Whiskey Days"

Let's say a word here about drinking. In the early days whiskey was a
common commodity and its use almost universal. Distilleries were as
common as the grist mills became afterward, and a large share of the
grain was converted into liquor. But a great temperance wave swept the
country in the 1870's and distilleries rapidly disappeared.

Many farmers had their home stills and through the years it was not
uncommon nor inappropriate to offer friends a swig of the homemade stuff
when they visited. or sneak one or two in the barn out of sight of the
temperate farmwife. Many of the cold medicines and other nostrums of
the early century were heavily laced with alcohol.

It is said that around the turn of the century church picnics were
usually held in the groves and parks of the west county since they were
"dry" while those in the east county were "wet." Be that as it may, in
the Prohibition 1920's there was no objection to bringing in our own
drinks to the Four Mile Dance Hall. according to one who did. B.Y.O.B.
even then!

An electrical power station was built a Six Mile and the 1906 expansion
of the suburban and interurban trolley car system drew even larger
crowds to old Four Mile. Old postcards who the Four Mile shoreline and
bluffs, dance hall, picnic areas and Exposition Hall.

Grove House Park & Recreational Expansion

(deals with recreation facilities at the mouth of Four Mile Creek)

Changing World

Now, of course, Four Mile is known as the Lawrence Park Country Club,
Lawrence Park Golf Course, General Electric Picnic Grove, and the
Lawrence Park Fishing Club. The Creek was dammed to make a water hazard
and provide for the water needs of the golf course.

When you leave No. 11 fairway and cross the footbridge to tee off on 12,
you're walking the tracks of trolleys that brought Erie Countians of a
few years ago to old Four Mile Creek which leaves one question:

Is "creek" pronounced "crick" or is it "creak"?"

Uncle Don, it depends on the flow for me. It's a "crick" if it's a
small intermittent stream. A "creek" is a stream that has a substantial
flow to it. Therefore, Four Mile Creek, is definitely a creek.