732 East Main Street: The Iredell-McGraw-Howe House History

732 E Main Current
732 East Main Street Current (Source: ErieNewsNow)

When the City of Titusville bought the home at 732 East Main Street in June 2018, the controversy was immediate. In a 4-1 vote, the council approved the purchase of the home for $70,000 with plans to demolish it and build a recreational attraction. Regardless of one’s feelings about the purchase of the property or the plans for its future, few likely know the full extent of the home’s history, its previous residents, and its place in Titusville’s past.

The original address of 732 East Main was 360 East Main. Titusville was renumbered between 1915 and 1916, so the home was graced with both addresses at one point or another in the past. The first owners of note were the Iredell family.

Samuel Iredell Quaker Birth Record
Samuel Iredell Quaker Birth Record

Samuel N. Iredell was one of ten children born to Quaker parents on January 27, 1836 in Philadelphia. He operated successful businesses in the suburbs of Philadelphia for decades. Eventually, he was attracted to Northwestern Pennsylvania not by oil, but by the number of hemlock trees growing in the region. Iredell relocated to Titusville in 1882 to take advantage of the hemlock trees. In 1884, he opened the Acme Extract Company on East Spring Street and lived in the home at 360 East Main. His main enterprise was the manufacture of hemlock extract for tanning hides (4/21/1902 TH).

Hemlock Bark
Hemlock Bark (Source: Pinterest)

The Iredell family, both immediate and extended, moved their lives from Philadelphia to Titusville. Margaret Spangler Iredell, Samuel’s wife, Charles F. Iredell, his brother, Frank, George, Harry, Marion, Rebecca, Florence, and Harriet, his children, all resided for some time in the Main Street residence. The family rooted their new lives here, employing more than thirty people in the extract company and taking up jobs for themselves as bookkeepers, clerks, telegraph operators, and in local oil companies.

The house witnessed its fair share of nineteenth century life in the growth of the children and even an accident or two. Right before Christmas in 1895, an accident with a horse and buggy occurred just outside the residence. The women riding in the buggy were thrown out and sustained minor to major injuries. The Iredells helped bring the ladies inside the house and cared for them until the doctor arrived. After being taken away for further treatment, the ladies’ families thanked the Iredells profusely for sheltering them during their time of need (12/21/1895 TH).

After living here seventeen years, Margaret Iredell died on September 29, 1899 in her home from a lung hemorrhage. Funeral services for her were held in the home by Reverend Robert Murrary and she was buried in Woodlawn (9/30/1899 TH)

After the death of his wife, Samuel Iredell retired from the extract business and moved to Bristol, PA. He died on April 17, 1902 from a strangulated hernia. His body was brought back to Titusville where his brother, Charles, laid him to rest in Woodlawn.

Oil Creek early
Oilmen on Oil Creek (Source: Wikipedia)

In 1903, the house saw new life as the dwelling of the McGraw family. Dennis W. “Denny” McGraw moved with his family to Titusville that year after a successful oil career in Corry and Warren. McGraw was born August 22, 1861 in Corry. He started in the oil industry at age seventeen with Clark and Warren Refinery. Six years later he married Mary Ann Hopkins and the couple had ten children (Stella McGraw McIntyre, Florence McGraw Birkmeyer, Dennis W. Jr., Frank J., George P., Joseph, Emmett, James, and two who preceded him in death) (8/29/1929 TH).

At age forty-two, McGraw relocated to Titusville and established the Paraffin Works and Bessemer Refining Company. After selling those two businesses, he co-founded the company he would become most known for: The Oil Creek Refining Company. McGraw served as the president of the company until his death in addition to being a refiner and engineer. He was known for being an extremely hard worker who was devoted to his family. His companies also boasted the reputation of having some of the best-paying jobs in the region (8/29/1929 TH).

St Titus
St. Titus Church (Source: Yelp)

The McGraw family spent a great deal of time in the East Main Street house and Dennis and Mary Ann watched their children grow to adulthood there. The family was Catholic and attended St. Titus regularly. They were also active in the Titusville Council, Knights of Columbus, and Ladies’ Catholic Benevolent Association.

Dennis McGraw died on August 28, 1929 in his East Main Street home of throat and neck inflammation. Less than a year later, on August 19, 1930, Mary Ann McGraw died in her home from a fatal case of diabetes. It was said that she never quite recovered from the loss of her husband.

1930 House Sale Ad 8.28.1930
McGraw Home for Sale (Titusville Herald 8/28/1930)

By the end of August 1930, 732 East Main Street was up for sale. It was quickly purchased by Bertram F. and Florence M. Howe. B.F. Howe was a chiropractor and electro-therapist who operated out of the Commercial Bank Building in Titusville. The couple made their home there, but also converted the house into a transitional home for tourists and workers. The Howe Tourist Home opened the early 1930s with fourteen guest rooms and three bathrooms. After Bertram’s death in 1942 at age 65, Florence continued operating the tourist home on her own.  An accomplished artist, she also opened up a studio in the home where she sold her paintings (2/28/1961 TH).

In 1957, Florence Howe sold her home to Raymond Howe of Hydetown (whose surname was merely a coincidence). She died a few years later in 1961 in Elyria, Ohio.

Howe Fire Headline 1.29.1959
Howe House Fire (Titusville Herald 1/29/1959)

The new Howe owners lived in the home and continued to operate it as a tourist home. Just two years after purchasing the residence, the home was heavily damaged by fire in 1959. On January 28th in the wee hours of the morning, Howe’s baby granddaughter Cindy would not stop crying. After repeated attempts to soothe her, Cindy’s mother Mary rose to get her a bottle. When she opened the door to the hallway, she found the house full of smoke. Mary sounded the alarm and all eleven occupants were herded to the front of the house. The fire department rushed to the scene and fought the fire for four and a half long hours in the negative-four-degree January cold. Though the house was quite damaged by the smoke, fire, and water, it survived its bout with faulty wiring (1/29/1959 TH).

The Howes stewarded the tourist home until 1977 when it became the Beth E’L Tourist Home. In the late 1970s there was an attempt to situate the Oil Creek Valley Ambulance Service at the home that did not come to fruition. In December 1981, Marine Bank bought the property at tax sale and intended to turn it into an apartment building. The bank appealed to the city to rezone the residential area from R-1 (single family) to R-2 (apartments/duplexes), but the city denied their request.

House Listed for Sale after Howe 6.20.1957
Howe Tourist Home For Sale Ad (Titusville Herald 6/20/1957)

The house was vacant and changed ownership a few times before being purchased by Harold Reed in the late 1990s. Other transitional owners graced the city directory year by year until Paul Theuret bought the property in 2003. As is well known now, Theuret owned the home until June 2018 when the city purchased it.

732/360 East Main Street is the number that represents what was once one of the grand old houses of Titusville. Its hewn beams have witnessed immense change in our little valley. It was here when oil was still creating millionaires; it was standing when a great fire and flood wiped out a large part of South Titusville and claimed many lives; it withstood countless storms of rain and wind and fury; it survived a raging fire and protected many people from the elements; it saw children grow and its owners pass away, only to be graced with new life once more.

The rollercoaster ride of life in the Oil Region has permeated the bones of this house, just as it has many other stoic homes in our town. Regardless of what the future holds for 732 East Main Street, it is important to contemplate not just the upheaval created by decisions regarding its ownership, but the opportunity this gives us to reflect upon us the history of our community. Because though we may disagree, ultimately, we all live this life together.

 

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