Almost Perfect

U.S. Brig Niagara &

The U.S. Brig Niagara served as the relief flagship for Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. One of the last remaining ships from that conflict, Niagara's home is behind the Erie Maritime Museum at Bayfront, but the ship travels the Great Lakes during the summer on goodwill tours. A schedule on the Niagara website outlines dates when day sails from Erie are offered www.flagshipniagara.org/us-brig-niagara/public-day-sails.com

An extensive restoration begun in 1988 preserved as much of the original structure as possible. Niagara was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and designated as the official state ship of Pennsylvania in 1988.

The Flagship City
Also during the War of 1812, the port of Erie and the protected bays of Presque Isle were a major base for the U.S. Navy. As homeport for the U.S. flagship Niagara, Erie became known as the Flagship City, a nickname that survives to this day. (Fun fact: Erie also is known as “Gem City” because of how the water sparkles in the afternoon sunlight).

Commander Oliver Hazard Perry had six warships constructed at Erie, using wood from trees cut on Presque Isle. The fleet was concentrated in the small bay near the tip of the peninsula, now marked by Perry’s Monument. This location was later named Misery Bay in recognition of the hardships suffered by Perry’s men during the harsh winter of 1813–1814, after defeating the British during the Battle of Lake Erie. Many of Perry’s crew contracted smallpox; those who died were buried in what is now known as Graveyard Pond. — C.R.

Marine Facilities

Moorings At Wolverine Park
Located at Bayfront Parkway at State Street and accessed through a channel between the Sheraton Hotel and the adjacent convention center, the Moorings at Wolverine Park is the closest marina to downtown and caters primarily to transient boaters. It offers 40 floating slips with 30/50-amp service and water hookup that accommodate visiting boaters for up to 10 days. Facilities include a pump-out station, laundry, private showers, restrooms, vending machines, ship’s store, and bait. Monitors VHS 16. www.lakeshoretowing.com/wolverine.html; 814-874-0698

Presque Isle Yacht Club
Presque Isle Yacht Club, on West Bayfront adjacent to the Moorings at Wolverine Park, is a private yacht club that accommodates visiting boaters with slips to 40 feet (larger vessels also can be accommodated), 30-amp service, pump-out, Wi-Fi, washrooms, showers, laundry facilities, and a large picnic area with gas grills. www.piyc.com; 814-455-7655

Anchor Marine Ltd.
Located on Bayfront at Dobbins Landing, Anchor Marine is a franchise dealer for MerCruiser, Volvo-Penta and Kohler, and provides service for OMC, Crusader, Chrysler, Marine Power and other brands. They offer a fully stocked ship’s store, as well as storage for vessels up to 55 feet. www.anchormarineltd.com; 814-452-1717

Perry’s Landing Marina
Located on Bayfront West and easily identifiable by its observation tower, Perry’s Landing is a 226-slip marina with floating docks that accommodate vessels to 45 feet. Slips include water and shore power. The facility offers a fuel dock with both gasoline and diesel, a pump-out station and 24-hour security. Clubhouse amenities include snack bar, pool with a sun deck, restrooms, showers and laundry. www.perryslandingmarina.com; 814-455-1313

Bay Harbor Marina
Located off Bayfront Parkway West, Bay Harbor Marina offers floating docks with power and water, a pump-out station, laundry facilities, picnic pavilions, barbecues, showers, washrooms, and vending machines. Transient slips accommodate vessels to more than 50 feet. Service for Yanmar, Mercury and OMC engines is available on site. www.bayharbormarinaerie.com; 814-456-9415

Erie Yacht Club
Located on West Bayfront, the Erie Yacht Club offers reciprocal docking with most yacht clubs. Features include fuel, 440 linear feet of floating guest dock, 378 slips, Wi-Fi, launch ramps, pump-outs, showers, washrooms, and laundry facilities. www.erieyachtclub.org

Presque Isle State Park Marina
Located in Marina Lake on the bay side of Presque Isle State Park, this facility is perhaps a little quieter than marinas along the Bayfront, but more isolated as well. It has nearly 500 slips that can accommodate boats to 42 feet. Open May 1 through October 31, facilities include fuel (gas and diesel) as well as a pump-out station. 814-833-0176

Lampe Marina
Located on the eastern Bayfront just outside of the entrance channel to Presque Isle Bay, Lampe Marina is a 252-slip facility that accommodates vessels to 30 feet. Features include floating docks, shore power, gasoline, pump-out station, restrooms, showers, covered picnic shelters, launch ramps, and 24-hour security. www.porterie.org/lampe-marina; 814-455-7557

Resources

Almost Perfect

by Craig Ritchie
30-Sep-2014
Erie, Pennsylvania and adjacent Presque Isle State Park offer visiting boaters the ideal setting for a year-round getaway.
The term “Presque Isle” is French, meaning “almost an island.” But when we’re talking about the 4.6-mile-long sand spit that fronts the shoreline of Erie, Pennsylvania, the name “Presque Isle” could really mean “almost perfect.”

Created by the westerly currents that flow along Lake Erie’s sandy south shore, the gracefully arcing spit named Presque Isle forms a perfect natural breakwater. Little wonder the sheltered, sparkling bay in its lee has always been a hub of activity and popular destination for those who ply the waves. Today, with its multitude of attractions, excellent restaurants and top-notch marinas, anchorages and launch ramps, there’s never been a better time to visit Erie and discover its many charms.

Location, Location, Location

Realtors always say the value of a home comes down to location, location, location. That also applies to cities. Almost perfectly equidistant between Buffalo, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, Erie and its ideal natural harbor has always been the center of settlement. Its first inhabitants were the Eriez tribe, part of the Iroquois nation (indeed, the name “Erie” is an Iroquois word meaning “raccoon”). They were joined by the French in 1753, then English-speaking settlers shortly afterward. During the War of 1812, Erie was homeport for a large naval fleet commanded by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who led the squadron to success in the historic Battle of Lake Erie. To this day, Erie is still known as the “Flagship City” because of its special status as the home of Perry’s flagship Niagara.

Erie’s harbor teemed with heavy industry through the first half of the 20th century, and you’ll still see the occasional lake freighter visiting town. But the vast majority of watercraft plying the shorelines today are recreational boats, as increasing numbers of Great Lakes cruisers discover the allure of this remarkable boating destination.

Presque Isle State Park

Erie’s largest attraction — both figuratively and literally — is Presque Isle State Park, drawing more than four million visitors each year. With more than 13 miles of roads, 21 miles of recreational trails, 13 beaches and a marina, Presque Isle attracts thousands of swimmers, boaters, hikers, bikers and bird watchers every day of the year. Indeed, the big sand spit is now entirely protected as parkland and draws more visitors annually than Yellowstone.

If you’re arriving by boat, you’ll see the lighthouses long before shoreline visitors will. The Erie Harbor North Pier Light, located at the entrance to Presque Isle Bay on the east end of the peninsula, dates to 1830, although the original wooden structure was replaced by the current steel tower in 1858. The Presque Isle Lighthouse, situated on the north side of the peninsula, joined it in 1872. This light, a full 74 feet tall, is maintained by the United States Coast Guard and flashes a white light to warn passing vessels of the sandy peninsula jutting into Lake Erie.

The Erie Land Light, just east of downtown, was built in 1818. One of the first lighthouses to be built on the Great Lakes, it was restored in 2004 and is open to the public.

Known for its ecological diversity, Presque Isle is home to a number of endangered wildflowers and no less than 300 different species of birds. In order to protect sensitive shoreline habitats, boats with internal combustion engines are prohibited from navigating Presque Isle’s interior lagoons. The sole exception is in the ominously-named cove known as Graveyard Pond, where Presque Isle Canoe and Boat Livery rents powerboats, pontoons, canoes and kayaks. The park also has a 500-slip marina located in Marina Lake, on the bay side of the park (see sidebar).

If you’re arriving by car, you’ll want to stop near the park entrance and explore the Tom Ridge Environmental Center (locally known as the “TREC”), where you can learn more about Presque Isle and the hundreds of plants and animals that call it home. Open year round, the center offers a variety of educational and interactive exhibits, a theater, nature shop, Sunset Café, and an observation tower boasting panoramic views.

For a different kind of thrill, head across the road and spend some time indulging your inner child at Waldameer Park and Water World. At more than 100 years old, Waldameer is one of the country’s oldest family amusement parks, with a 100-foot Ferris wheel and the Ravine Flyer II, an awe-inspiring, classic wooden roller coaster. If the thrill rides don’t take your breath away, the incredible views they offer of Presque Isle surely will. On the way out, stop at Sara’s Diner, located near the park entrance, for the best foot-long hot dog in town and fresh-squeezed lemonade.

Bayfront

Erie is one of those rare cities fortunate enough to have its cake and be able to eat it, too. While Presque Isle offers no end of natural delights, just across the bay on Erie’s waterfront you’ll find delectable attractions of an altogether different kind, including art museums, restaurants and more. It’s also where you’ll find most of the marinas and facilities for visiting boaters.

Erie’s downtown remains easily accessible from the water, and many of the top sights sit on the waterfront or just up the hill from the Bayfront Parkway. The downtown core is laid out in an easily-navigable grid, centered on Perry Square and divided to the east and west by State Street, the main drag.

Known locally as the Bayfront District, Erie’s waterfront has always been the center of activity and remains so today. Start by visiting the Bicentennial Tower, on Dobbins Landing at the foot of State Street, to get your bearings and enjoy panoramic views of Lake Erie and the city core. Elevated 187 feet above town, the tower was built in 1995 as part of Erie’s bicentennial celebrations and now anchors the city’s skyline. From the top, you clearly can see all the major sites, including the nearby Bayfront Convention Center and the Liberty Park/Burger King Amphitheater to the west, which plays host to 8 Great Tuesdays, a regular Tuesday night concert series that runs all summer long. The Blasco Library and Erie Maritime Museum sit just to the east, while Presque Isle Downs and Casino offers big casino excitement just a stone’s throw away. You’ll also see most of the marina facilities along the waterfront.

Located on the water in Presque Isle Bay, you will find Anchor Marine. This complete service, repair and shopping facility is your one-stop source for anything boat-related. Certified and dedicated technicians and craftsmen provide the full range of boatyard services, with an extraordinary level of personal attention. Whatever your needs, they’re there to get you back on the water.

Visit in August and you might be lucky enough to catch the Presque Isle Bay Messabout. Part of the Bayfront Maritime Center’s Small Boat Festival, this annual event showcases a number of traditional, contemporary and antique boats. Founded in 1998, the center is a non-profit organization that works with at-risk youth to develop life skills through boatbuilding. To date, they’ve launched more than 91 craft and helped more than 15,000 people, giving credence to their motto — kids building boats, boats building kids.

Besides being a place to play, Bayfront also is a great place to eat. Visiting boaters will be delighted to learn that there are several restaurants located right on the water or within an easy walk of the docks, including Smuggler’s Wharf, Rum Runners, JR’s on the Bay, the Pufferbelly Restaurant, and the Bayfront Grille, located in the Sheraton Hotel right at Dobbins Landing, and offering perhaps the best waterfront views of all.

While downtown has plenty of restaurants and bars to keep you fed and watered, shoppers generally head for the huge Millcreek Mall, about 3 miles southwest of the downtown core between Peach Street and Interstate 79, for their retail therapy. Spanning more than 1.3 million square feet, Millcreek Mall is itself surrounded by adjacent stores and strip malls representing nearly 200 shops in all. Think of it as Utopia with free parking.

Back in time
Visiting Erie gives one the impression of being able to travel back in time — partially from Presque Isle’s unspoiled natural beauty, and partially from the impeccable heritage buildings that still proudly define Erie’s heart.

At 265 feet, St. Peter’s Cathedral may rank as the tallest structure in town, but it’s the iconic Warner Theatre, located on State Street, that sends most visitors reaching for their cameras. A magnificent example of Art Deco and French Renaissance architecture, the Warner Theatre opened in 1931 and was used as a movie theater until 1976, when it was sold to the City of Erie. In the early 1980s, Erie painstakingly restored the theater to its present glory, and it now serves as a performing arts center. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

The theater features a 65-foot by 28-foot proscenium stage and is complemented by crushed velour, gold and silver leaf, and gold-backed French mirrors. It hosts concerts and Broadway theatre performances and is home to both the Erie Philharmonic and the Lake Erie Ballet. The Philharmonic, in continuous existence since 1913, also has a full chorus and a Junior Philharmonic division that tours the area. The Lake Erie Ballet company performs well-known programs throughout the year, typically to a sold-out house.

While the Warner Theatre may be Erie’s crown jewel, the reality is that lovingly restored buildings featuring grand 19th and 20th century architecture dominate the downtown core. Wander along West 6th Street for a peek at how the other half lived — and still do — on Millionaires Row, a collection of stately 19th century Victorian mansions that harken back to Erie’s first golden age. Beautifully preserved, many of these buildings still serve as residences for Erie’s upper crust. Nearby, the Erie Art Museum, located in the Old Customs house on State Street, maintains a substantial and varied collection, and has become a popular venue for summer blues and jazz concerts, including the “Mid-day Art Break” every Wednesday from 12 to 1 p.m.

See and do
If art museums and high society aren’t quite your cup of tea, then indulge your inner sports fan with an afternoon at the ballpark.

Jerry Uht Field, off 10th Street just east of State, is home to the Erie Seawolves, the AA farm team of the Detroit Tigers. An afternoon at the game is the perfect way to unwind and make the most of a summer’s day. Should you find yourself in town early or late in the season, the newly renovated Erie Insurance Arena, next door to Jerry Uht Field, is home to the Ontario Hockey League Champion Erie Otters hockey team, as well as the Erie BayHawks NBA D-League (affiliate of the Orlando Magic) basketball team.

If you find yourself in town on a Thursday, join the fun at one of Erie’s weekly Thursday Night Downtown Block Parties. It’s exactly as it sounds — the city shuts down a block or so of a different street each week and throws a free party with live entertainment. Schedules posted around town and on the eriedowntown.com website confirm the locations and entertainment each week.

Erie also is host to more than three dozen festivals each summer, many of which reflect its multicultural roots. The Troika Russian Festival, held each May, presents authentic Russian food and entertainment, while the Panegyri Greek Festival celebrates Greek culture in early July. The annual Italian Festival falls on the second weekend in August, and two weeks later, Erie’s Polish community shares its best during the annual Zabawa Summer Festival.

The German Heritage Festival, held right before Labor Day and featuring the “Mad Bavarian,” is followed by the annual Scottish Games and Irish Festival.

With so much to see and do, perhaps the toughest part about any trip to Erie is deciding exactly when to go and what to partake in first. While it’s always fun to explore new ports of call, it’s also rewarding to revisit old favorites, and Erie has a way of quickly becoming one of those comfy, trusted gems. With its natural attractions, great food, exciting events and facilities for boaters, this is one destination that will keep calling you back again and again.

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