Known as Perry Square, the park is located in the heart of downtown Erie. It is bounded by French Street to the east, Peach Street to the west, North Park Row to the north, and South Park Row to the south. In addition, it is bisected by State Street, which separates the city (and the park) into its east and west sections.
The park was originally part of the plan for the City of Erie, which Andrew Ellicott laid out in 1795. Ellicott is a famed surveyor who helped map many territories on the west of the Appalachian Mountains, surveyed the District of Columbia boundaries, and took over the plan for completing Washington DC.
The area that the park occupies used to be forest wilderness and a ravine ran through it from south to north. In 1808, the first section of the park was cleared of trees. The large trees that currently adorn the park were planted in 1846.
The park was named “Perry Square” in 1846 to honor Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry for his role in the battle of Lake Erie. On June 19, 1887, it was formally named “Central Park” by the City of Erie. In 1911, the name of the park was formally changed back to Perry Square, which remains to this day. This was done on the eve of the centennial celebration of Perry’s victory in the battle of Lake Erie in 1813.
In 1808, the first courthouse of Erie County was built in the west park. A fire destroyed it, along with all of its contents, in 1823. A market house was also built on the west park in 1814, but this was replaced with another market house at the same location in the 1830s. Both markets were erected next to the courthouse, also facing the State Street. In 1866, the second market was torn down but not replaced. During the first half of the 19th century, several small buildings were also erected in the west park. These include housing as well as city and county offices. The park sections were enclosed by a low white picket fence in 1866. That fence was taken down in 1881, the same year when the walkways were paved with asphalt. In 1873, an ornate band pavilion was built in the center of the west side of the park. This was removed in 1886.
In 1868, park fountains costing $3,237.98 were erected in the east and west sections of the park. A new fountain was built in the east park in 1913, but it was soon moved to replace the original fountain in the west park. The Edison Electric fountain then replaced the east park fountain in 1929. The Edison Fountain’s unique feature was the colored light illumination of the fountain’s spray. Major changes were made to this fountain in the 1980s when the entire park was renovated.
The fountain in the east park of Perry Square was dedicated with a huge celebration on October 22, 1929, when the Chamber of Commerce presented the structure to the City of Erie, PA. The ceremony kicked off with a military parade led by the 112th Regimental Band, followed by the Academy High School Marching Band, the Erie Drum and Bugle Corps, the American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The parade started on 18th and State and ended at Perry Square. The fountain was dedicated to Thomas Edison in honor of Light's Golden Jubilee, a week-long celebration of the invention of the electric light. The Edison Electric Fountain was constructed by General Electric for $16,500 and was the pride of Erie when it was finished. The City of Erie paid $5,000 and the remainder of the money was raised by private citizens through popular subscription. "Said to surpass even the Atlantic City fountain, there will be eight changes in water effects, the entire light cycle requiring 10 minutes for completion. For each water effect there will be 12 changes in lighting effects, or a total of 96 combinations to each cycle." -Erie Dispatch Herald, October 22, 1929.
In honor of the Erie County residents who gave their lives to preserve the Union, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument was erected in 1872. Originally located in the west park facing the State Street, this monument was moved to its present location facing where the West Sixth Street intersects with Peach Street. A statue of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry stands in the east park. It was built as a dedication on the bicentennial of Commodore Perry’s birth, which was August 23, 1985. The statue faces east, where East Sixth Street intersects with French Street. Other statues in the park were built to honor veterans from various wars. There are also numerous monuments to commemorate police officers and firemen who died in the line of duty.