Some of America’s coolest museums are corporate museums that tell the story of iconic brands like Coca-Cola, John Deere and McDonalds.
Erie Insurance joined that list when the Erie Insurance Heritage Center officially opened on June 15. The date was just one day after Cofounder H.O. Hirt’s Flag Day birthday (June 14). It also falls within ERIE’s 90th anniversary year.
The Center is located in the historic C.F. Adams Building—ERIE’s first owned Home Office building.
A brief building history
When ERIE outgrew its original home in downtown Erie in 1938, the company bought the 8,000-square-foot C.F. Adams Building, for $19,000. The building housed the national headquarters of the C.F. Adams Company, a national home furnishings supplier. ERIE’s workforce of 30 Employees moved into the office.
By 1956, the building was busting at the seams with 180 Employees. The company constructed the next Home Office across the street—a 50,000-square-foot, Independence Hall-inspired structure, which was later designated the H.O. Hirt Building.
Before ERIE’s re-purchase of the C.F. Adams building, the structure was home to the Achievement Center, a nonprofit agency which provides rehabilitation and therapeutic services to children with special needs. The center moved to a larger building in 2013.
The building was recently renovated to reflect the time when the building was home to Erie Insurance, from 1938 to 1956. The Center preserves historic details from the structure as well as artifacts from ERIE’s history. Interactive displays guide visitors through the Center.
5 cool facts about the Erie Insurance Hertiage Center
1. It’s a step back in time: When you enter the Heritage Center, listen closely—you can almost hear the clickety clack of 40 typewriters and the ringing of a dozen Western Electric rotary telephones. The straps on H.O. Hirt’s black leather briefcase show wear from decades of use by ERIE’s cofounder from carrying his personal sales manual.
2. There’s a way cool fireplace: The Grueby tile fireplace, clock and millwork dominate the Center’s atrium. The fireplace was built in 1912 and concealed under drywall in the 1950s. It was found largely intact and in relatively good condition during the recent renovation. The tiles were cleaned and conserved.
3. Flagpole-sitting used to be a thing—and you can relive it at the Center: H.O. proudly shared his birthday with Flag Day, June 14. He wrote about the occasion in an weekly newsletter to Erie Insurance Agents. He often drew pictures of himself sitting on a flagpole—a test of endurance that became a fad in the mid-to-late 1920s. Those drawings come to life in one of several displays created for the Heritage Center.
4. Resourcefulness (and grout) save the day: During the building’s renovation, architects were trying to replicate the formula used to make grout for the brick exterior. After numerous tries, the formula still wasn’t close enough. Joe Popp, exhibits & archives specialist, scoured the internet for information on the original brick maker. His research netted a vintage brochure which—voila!— included the original grout formula.
5. It has a sweet (and safe) ride: Inside the Center is a metallic “Silver Sand” 1964 Lincoln Continental. It was the last car owned by H.O. Hirt and a part of ERIE’s 90th anniversary parade. Like most vehicles of the time, the car was not originally equipped with seat belts. ERIE launched a safety campaign in the mid-1960s and H.O. had lap safety belts installed in the front seats of his personal ride. He also stuck a blue and white sticker with ERIE’s then-logo on the center face of the dash board, proclaiming, “THIS CAR HAS SEAT BELTS. Buckle up for Safety.”
The Erie Insurance Heritage Center is not yet open to the public. Stay tuned for announcements about the Center and its hours of operation.