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Union City in Erie County, Pennsylvania — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
 

French Creek — Power, Destruction and Beauty

 
 
French Creek — Power, Destruction and Beauty Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Cosmos Mariner, June 13, 2021
1. French Creek — Power, Destruction and Beauty Marker
Inscription.  The South Branch of French Creek — also known as "Little French Creek" — powered Union City's earliest economy, contributed to the community's worst flood, and most recently has become appreciated as part of one of the most biologically diverse waterways in the United States.

The creek was initially harnessed by community founder William Miles in 1801 to power Miles Mill, a combination grist and sawmill near this location. More streamside mills followed, carved out of the wilderness eastward between what are now Main and Bridge streets. They typically operated by damming the stream, cutting a millrace to divert water, and harnessing the current to power saw or milling equipment.

The community by 1870 boasted 21 "manufactories," 10 of them powered by water and five by steam. Five of the water-powered mills sat along French Creek.

In addition, a lake known as "Clark's Pond" was formed in the late 1800s by damming French Creek just above Bridge Street. From 1905 to 1908, a summer resort known as Maplewood Park operated on the lake's far-eastern bank, which could be reached by a steam-powered excursion boat — the "Lone Star" — that embarked

Marker detail: Union Milling, circa 1865 image. Click for full size.
2. Marker detail: Union Milling, circa 1865
"Union Milling," seen here c. 1865, was located to the left of where you're currently standing, on the southeast corner of Main and Crooked (now Market) streets. The mill was powered by French Creek waters diverted into a pond that was located behind the buildings to your left, where a municipal parking lot stands today. The community was called "Union Mills" at the time, changing to "Union City" in 1871.
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from the park.

Several smaller dams dotted Little French Creek between Main and Bridge streets by Saturday and Sunday, June 4-5, 1892, when a series of storms struck Union City. Two of the upstream dams broke under the pressure, and a wall of logs, lumber and debris formed a dam against the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad's new iron bridge, diverting the raging stream down Willow and Crooked (now Market) streets and into the downtown. The Main Street bridge survived but was seriously weakened, while the High Street Bridge was hurled a thousand feet downstream.

There was no loss of life, but several Main Street businesses were destroyed. The Union City Times pronounced the disaster "a serious blow to our thriving town which has been prospering so nicely for the past few years and has justly earned the reputation for being the busiest and pleasantest and most hospitable little city to be found in this great Commonwealth."

The estimated $105,000 in public and private damage from the flood is equivalent to more than $3 million in today’s dollars.

The flood provoked a reassessment of the use of Little French Creek for water power, including a campaign to outlaw dams along the waterway.

The Great Flood — June 4-5, 1892
[photo captions]
• Union City citizens survey flood damage at the Pennsylvania Railroad Depot on Crooked
Marker detail: Little French Creek image. Click for full size.
3. Marker detail: Little French Creek
Dams, diversions and raceways were built on "Little French Creek" upstream from what is now Main Street, to power a variety of mills. Note the stacked lumber on the left. This postcard is c. 1900.
(now Market) Street. Damage to the railroad and telegraph lines left Union City temporarily cut off from the outside world.
• Residents survey the Main Street damage following torrential rain and dam wash-outs.
• The floodwaters of 1892 damaged buildings, streets and this alley off Main Street.
• The flood washed out streets and foundations from under Main Street Businesses.
• The flood spread to East High Street, where residents watched from upstairs windows.
 
Erected by Union City Pride; Union City Historical Society; Erie Community Foundation; and Union City Community Foundation.
 
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Bridges & ViaductsDisastersIndustry & CommerceWaterways & Vessels. A significant historical date for this entry is June 4, 1892.
 
Location. 41° 53.891′ N, 79° 50.735′ W. Marker is in Union City, Pennsylvania, in Erie County. Marker is at the intersection of North Main Street (U.S. 6) and Hogan Street, on the right when traveling north on North Main Street. Marker is located beside the sidewalk on the north side of French Creek. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 5 North Main Street, Union City PA 16438, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 8 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Furniture Manufacturing (within shouting distance of this marker); "Union City Seats the World"
Marker detail: French Creek Bridges, circa 1900 image. Click for full size.
4. Marker detail: French Creek Bridges, circa 1900
Downstream from Main Street, these bridges carried West High Street and railroad tracks over French Creek in the very early 1900s. Note the "J.C. Humes Livery" building on the right, where a municipal parking lot is located today.
(within shouting distance of this marker); Union City's Early Historic Architecture (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Union City Historic District (about 300 feet away); Drake Well Park (approx. 0.6 miles away); Old State Line (approx. 7.2 miles away); Fort Le Boeuf (approx. 7.6 miles away); George Washington (approx. 7.6 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Union City.
 
Marker detail: Clark’s Mill image. Click for full size.
5. Marker detail: Clark’s Mill
Located upstream on Bridge Street, the 5-story "Clark's Mill" gristmill used French Creek's power to produce the all-important staple of flour for the region.
French Creek — Power, Destruction and Beauty Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Cosmos Mariner, June 13, 2021
6. French Creek — Power, Destruction and Beauty Marker
(looking south along Main Street, across the French Creek bridge)
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 19, 2021. It was originally submitted on June 18, 2021, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page has been viewed 53 times since then and 12 times this year. Photos:   1. submitted on June 18, 2021, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.   2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on June 19, 2021, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.   6. submitted on June 18, 2021, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.

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Mar. 25, 2023