Travel: Postcard from Erie

The U.S. Brig Niagara at the Erie Maritime Museum in Erie, Pennsylvania. |

One of the best-kept secrets anywhere in the Great Lakes region is in Pennsylvania.

And yes, Pennsylvania is a coastal state. The Keystone State has 77 miles of shoreline along Lake Erie, one of the five Great Lakes. (The other lakes are Ontario, Huron, Michigan and Superior.)

Anchoring the coast is the aptly named city of Erie.

The Rust Belt city has capitalized on arguably its best asset better than other ports across the region. Part of this has involved revitalization projects, including the adaptation of a more than hundred-year-old former industrial building to house the Erie Maritime Museum.

While the museum tells the whole story of Erie’s maritime history, a central focus is the War of 1812.

The largely forgotten war between Britain and the United States, which lasted for less than three years and partially overlapped with the better-known Napoleonic Wars in Europe, is generally likened to a second war for American independence. For the United States, it cemented the relatively young republic’s existence and cleared the way for westward expansion across the continent.

Just beyond the walls of the museum is the U.S. Brig Niagara.

Erie 2
Inside the Erie Maritime Museum. |

The vessel that exists is a recreation of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s replacement flagship, though docents told me a small amount of the wood can probably be dated to the period.

The original Niagara forever earned a place in the annals of U.S. history when Perry defeated a superior Royal Navy squadron during a battle on Lake Erie in 1813 that ended up being the pivotal naval battle of the war.

With peacetime eliminating the need for warships in the Great Lakes, she was scuttled in 1820 in the bay that forms the natural harbor in front of present-day downtown Erie. It wasn’t until 1913 and the centennial of Perry’s victory that whatever remained was raised as part of the commemorations.  

Three rebuildings later, the Niagara started sailing again in 1990 under the care of the Flagship Niagara League. Admittedly, the ship that visitors get to tour and occasionally sail on today has some differences from its historical namesake.  

Presumably, the changes had to be made to accommodate all the things required of a modern vessel to be seaworthy. Even still, what you see is an incredibly accurate representation of what the Niagara or similar ships from that era would have looked like.

If you go

The best opportunity to see the Niagara is during Tall Ships Erie 2022. She will be joined by six other ships in the family friendly festival, which runs Aug. 25-28. Tickets range from $10 for a day pass to $199 for a VIP pass.

The Flagship Niagara League offers day and sunset sails on another historic ship, the Lettie G. Howard, on select days through October.

The drive to Erie is about two hours from Pittsburgh, six hours from Washington and seven hours from Indianapolis. By plane, Erie’s airport has a limited number of flights on American and United.

I stayed at a newish Holiday Inn on the outskirts of Erie. While its location is a short drive from downtown, the hotel is considerably improved from the Holiday Inn of yore. I have no problems recommending it. For something downtown, consider the waterfront Sheraton or the nearby Hampton Inn with a rooftop restaurant — and yes, it’s probably the only Hampton Inn with a rooftop restaurant.

Eat dinner at the Cork 1794, Oliver’s Rooftop atop the Hampton Inn, and Bay House Oyster Bar & Restaurant.

Dennis Lennox writes a travel column for The Christian Post.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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