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History Meets High-Tech in Collaboration Among Gannon, Kidder Jefferys Construction, Thomas Hagen and Historic Erie Preservation Trust

Published: 12/13/2022

A team of students and employees are working together in I-HACK's Maker Lab using a 3D laser scanner and 3D printers to replicate 130-year-old staircase balusters for a historic Erie home.

A team of students and employees are working together in I-HACK's Maker Lab using a 3D laser scanner and 3D printers to replicate 130-year-old staircase balusters for a historic Erie home.

“What’s the 100-year-old answer?” is a phrase often uttered during the decision-making process between Thomas B. Hagen, Founder & Chairman of Historic Erie Preservation Trust, and the Historic Erie Restoration team as they determine how to best restore and preserve the history of the homes within Erie’s West Sixth Street Historic District neighborhood.

Recently, Mike Jefferys, President of Kidder Jefferys Construction, and his crew needed a solution as they worked to restore a nearly 130-year-old staircase in the 1895 Germer • Walker House located at 538 W. Sixth Street as several wooden balusters were damaged or missing and needed to be replaced to complete the home’s grand entrance aesthetic.

After endless hours of searching for craftsmen and millwork firms who could replicate the damaged balusters’ intricate, original spiral design in a cost-efficient and timely manner, Jefferys was connected to a more modern approach to repair the staircase.

The skilled students and employees and technology within Gannon University’s Institute for Health and Cyber Knowledge were the perfect solution for this unique challenge.

 

Using a 3D laser scanner to create a digital replica in real-time, a team of Gannon students and staff led by Design and Fabrication Engineer, Nick Devine, designed an exact model that is being 3D-printed within the I-HACK’s Maker Lab. Approximately one dozen balusters, with the original, intricate spiral design, are being 3D printed, fitted with a metal rod to ensure safety and adhered to the necessary attachments for the Kidder Jefferys Construction team to seamlessly install the new 3D-printed balusters alongside the original woodwork of the home’s staircase.

View more about this collaborative partnership and how this high-tech solution is helping to preserve the historic details of Erie’s Germer • Walker House.

This project is the first of potentially many like this as Gannon University collaborates on the preservation of Erie’s historic community. Additional partnering projects include the restoration of two homes in the 200 block of W. Sixth Street and the restoration and moving of another that was announced last April

About the Germer • Walker House:

This Colonial Revival style house was built in 1895 by Constable Bros. for Otto J. Germer (1870-1911), known as Otto Germer, Jr. Born in Pleasantville, Pennsylvania, he was secretary of the Erie-based Germer Stove Company organized in 1902, and successor to Black & Germer Stoves of which his father, Otto M. Germer (1833-1902), was a founder in 1878. 

An accomplished athlete, Otto Germer, Jr. played half-back for Cleveland Athletic Club football team and was dubbed “the human eel” for his “wriggles and twists through the line…” in an 1891 victory over University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In 1896, he organized and was President of the Erie Athletic Club football team. Referred to in the press as a “millionaire,” he was active in the energy business as President of Triple State Natural Gas & Oil Co. and Kentucky Coke Co. He was also active politically with 1896 Democratic Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925), “the great commoner,” who was an overnight house guest at the residence on Aug. 26, 1896.

Soon after Otto Germer, Jr. died in 1911 at age 40 in Oxford, Ohio, the house was sold for $26,000 to Benjamin J. “B. J.” Walker (1856-1915) and his wife Sarah Elizabeth Kies Walker (1861-1943), a native of Worcester, Massachusetts. “One of Erie's leading citizens,” B. J. Walker came to Erie from Dayton, Ohio and was a founder in 1880 and Vice-President of Erie Malleable Iron Co. He was also a board member of Peoples Bank and a longtime member of the Erie School Board. The Walker's son, Edward E. Walker, who lived across the street at 555 W. Sixth St., was President & CEO of Erie Malleable Iron Co. and later Erie Wheel Corp. For 27 years after B. J. Walker’s death, his widow continued to live at the residence and held many social events. In 1942, the house was sold to become apartments.

In 2020, the house was acquired by Erie businessman Thomas B. Hagen, Founder & Chairman of Historic Erie Preservation Trust, with the purpose of preserving it as a place of historic and architectural interest for the benefit of the community.

All media inquiries can be made by contacting Doug Oathout, Chief of Staff and Director of Marketing and Communications, at 814-871-7470 or oathout002@gannon.edu.