Erie County, Pennsylvania, is located on the shores of Lake Erie, forming the far northwest corner of the Commonwealth. You may not think of Erie as steeped in history, but once you’ve delved into and visited their museums and historical sites, you realize Erie’s historical significance.
“We have met the enemy and they are ours…” — Admiral Oliver Hazard Perry’s message to General Harrison after his Battle of Lake Erie victory on September 10, 1813. While the U.S. had won its freedom 36 years before, the fight for economic independence spurred the War of 1812. Admiral Perry’s victory in The Battle of Lake Erie pushed the Brits back, secured the Canadian border, allowed for westward expansion, and proved our dominance over the British navy. (For more history on the Battle of Lake Erie, visit this site.)
Erie Maritime Museum and the Admiral Perry’s Flagship the Brig Niagara: Erie’s pride in its part in defending America’s independence is manifested in its waterfront Maritime Museum, home of the Brig Niagara, to which Admiral Perry escaped with his battle flag when the Brig Lawrence was destroyed. I was fascinated by the artifacts, exhibits and videos centering on the Battle of Lake Erie and the history of the war. As a lighthouse aficionado, I also enjoyed the exhibits highlighting Erie’s three lighthouses. The museum also houses he prow of the USS Michigan/Wolverine, the navy’s first iron-hulled warship, launched in 1843. Other exhibits underscore the importance of Erie’s fishing and maritime industries.
When in port, the Niagara is berthed outside the museum and visible from the museum’s bayside window. The Niagara is recognized as the premier sail training ship and the most authentic replica of an early 19th century naval vessel, with original 1813 timbers incorporated into her construction. We toured it on a blustery December afternoon and viewing their cramped quarters, I couldn’t believe that 150 men lived on this ship. It is the official state ship of Pennsylvania and is listed on the National Historic Register. Visit this site for museum location, hours, exhibits and admission.
The Erie Art Museum: Originally built in 1839 as a bank, and later used as a customs house, the Erie Art Museum’s home itself is a treasure, built in the Greek Revival style, with “egg and dart” and anthemion ceilings and a Vermont marble façade carted by oxcart to the Erie Canal,and shipped to Buffalo, and across Lake Erie. Permanent exhibits include The Avalon, Lisa Lichtenfels’ depiction of a scene from the life of the now-defunct, local diner, and “Eternal Vigilance,” local artist John Silk Deckard’s landmark bronze sculpture at the foot of the Museum’s marble steps. Visit this site for information on these exhibits, their history and details. Changing exhibits throughout the year can be tracked by visiting this link, and find future exhibits here.
The Battles Museums of Rural Life consist of 50 acres of farmland, 80 acres of woods and hiking trails and two historic Civil War Era houses — the R. S. Battles Farmhouse and the Charlotte Elizabeth Battles Memorial Museum. Rotating interpretive exhibits highlighting the historical agricultural life in Erie County have been incorporated into the museums. Special events and workshops include demonstrations of butter churning, bread baking, weaving and spinning baskets and yarn, quilting and other farm and household chores and games. Visit this site for location, history, hours and admission.
The Sturgeon House is located in the village of Fairview, once called Sturgeonville. Listed on the National Register of Historical Places, it is run by the Fairview Historical Society which restored it for use as a museum, depository for local historical and genealogical data and Society meeting place. Built in 1838 by the son of Jeremiah Sturgeon who, with his brother William, was among the first settlers in what became Sturgeonville, the house stands on lots purchased by the Sturgeon brothers in 1803. In 1979, a Sturgeon descendant sold the house and grounds to the Society who restored it. Tours, educational programs and seasonal events are listed in their Newsletter here. Their website here provides location, hours and other details.
The Watson-Curtze Mansion on Erie’s “Millionaire’s Row” was built in 1891 at the peak of Erie’s industrial wealth, and provides a peek into the lifestyles of Erie’s 19th century elite. Listed on National Historic Register. See this site for location, hours and admission fees.
Sources: Erie Maritime Museum; Erie County Historical Society; Erie Art Museum; Fairview Historical Society