Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2015-02-18.
With the onset of the War of 1812, the British immediately seized control of Lake Erie. This seizure allowed them to cut off supply routes to Detroit, which ultimately led to control of the city.
Although the United States had seized and built several vessels at the navy yard in Black Rock, near Buffalo, due to the British held Fort Erie and their batteries that dominated the Niagara River, the gunboats were pinned down, and unable to get into Lake Erie.
After escaping capture in Detroit, merchant mariner Daniel Dobbins traveled to Washington, D.C. to brief the Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton on the strength of the British Navy on Lake Erie. Dobbins recommended that Presque Isle Bay in Erie, Pennsylvania become a ship yard because "no finer oak grew than was to be found there, close to the water's edge."
By the end of March 1813, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry had been appointed to command on Lake Erie. The Commodore amassed several vessels at Presque Isle. By May of that year, the British had abandoned Fort Erie, which allowed several other vessels to safely make their way up the Niagara River and into Lake Erie.
By August of 1813, Commodore Perry had established an anchorage at Put-in-Bay, Ohio, which is near the South Bass Island Lighthouse. For the next five weeks, he proceeded to block all supplies bound for Amherstburg, Ontario. Robert Heriot Barclay, Commander of the British Squadron on Lake Erie had no choice but to face Perry. This would later be known as The Battle of Lake Erie.
On the morning of September 10, 1813, the British Squadron sailed towards the American Fleet. Both squadrons engaged in conflict. After several hours of intense fighting, the Lawrence, was in poor shape, having taken a steady pounding from the British long guns. Perry, removed his flag, disembarked from the vessel, and rowed a half mile through gunfire to the Niagara.
Shortly thereafter, Barclay was wounded and his first lieutenant was killed. Most of the British fleet was disabled or destroyed. The British, having witnessed Perry's transfer to the Niagara expected Perry to retreat, but that did not happen. He regrouped his schooners, and went in for the kill. After taking additional fire, the British had no choice but to surrender.
After the victory, Commodore Perry sent the following message to General William Henry Harrison with the famous words: "We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop."
On September 11, 1813, six officers, three from the U.S. Navy and three from the British Navy, were buried in a common grave on South Bass Island.
After the War of 1812 concluded, many groups of people recommended a monument to Perry's victory be established in the area. Lack or organization led to nothing being done until 1852 when the Sandusky Register proposed the Fourth of July celebration at Put-in-Bay be used as the setting to organize a "Monumental Association" for the construction of a monument on Gibraltar Island.
The enthusiasm dwindled and again, nothing was done. In July 1858, the Sandusky Register again promoted the construction of a monument, which led to the formation of the Perry Monument Association. On September 10, 1859, before an estimated crowd of 15,000 people, a cornerstone laying ceremony took place on Gibraltar Island. Gibraltar Island was sold in 1864 to Jay Cooke, who erected a bronze tablet on the memorial. Nothing else was done in regards to the monument.
In 1868, the Perry Monument Association proposed a monument be built on South Bass Island, near the burial site of the fallen officers. The association suggested "to build a hollow column, something like Bunker Hill Monument, with winding stairs...," however, again, nothing transpired.
After eleven failed bills were put before Congress between 1890 and 1903, the impending approach of the battle's centennial helped move things forward. A proposal was put forth in 1907 at a meeting of the Put-in-Bay Chamber of Commerce calling for a grand centennial celebration to take place, both on land and water. At the center of this celebration was to be a monument to Perry's victory.
A committee was formed in June of 1908 and received funding the following year from Ohio Governor, Andrew L. Harris. Two key people emerged which would ensure the project's success, Webster P. Huntington and John Eisenmann.
Architect John Eisenmann sketched his concept of a memorial design and eventually made it into a large watercolor drawing, which Huntington used to lobby several state legislatures. After several states promised support for the project, Perry's Victory Centennial Commission was able to solicit funding from the federal government. Congress approved, and President William Howard Taft signed them into law on March 3, 1911.
Although Eisenmann's sketch wasn't the design that was chosen, the location he chose, was selected. The winning design was submitted by Joseph H. Freelander and Alexander D. Seymour Jr. of New York City. Bids for its construction were solicited in May of 1912, and the winning bid was selected the following month.
The selected contractor was John C. Robinson and Son General Contractors of New York and Chicago with a winning bid of $329,851, which was later revised and raised to $358, 588. Clearing of the site was handled by a local Sandusky contractor, John H. Feick, who bid the job at $850. He thought the job would take a week to ten days, but it took three months. For his additional work, he was paid $1,808.
October of 1912 saw the establishment of a 600-foot-long dock to unload the 80,000 cubic feet of granite, equipment, and supplies for the construction of the monument. The work would take several years leading to the construction of the world's most massive Doric column. However, funding would run out before the plaza and final landscaping were finished.
The monument finally opening to the public on June 13, 1915. The federal government assumed control of the monument in 1919 and provided additional funding for unfinished items. Over the years, an additional $134,000 was spent, and on July 31, 1931, the completed Perry's Victory Memorial was dedicated.
The memorial was officially established by proclamation no. 2182 as the Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial National Monument on June 2, 1936 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt "for the preservation of the historical associations connected therewith, to inculcate the lessons of international peace by arbitration and disarmament, and for the benefit and enjoyment of the people."
At that same time, its administration was transferred to the National Park Service.
On October 15, 1966, the Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial National Monument was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
A new $2.4 million visitor's center was constructed in 2002. Four years later, a 500-pound piece of granite broke off the southeast face of the observation deck and fell to the ground, leaving a crater in the plaza. After a structural assessment, it was deemed safe and reopened on August 26, 2006.
It closed for renovations on September 30, 2009 and reopened several years later on July 3, 2012.
Directions: While on Route 2 near Danbury, OH, head north on Ohio Route 53 and follow it to the end. It will end at Miller Ferry Lines at Catawba Point. From here you will get onto the boat to take you to South Bass Island.View more Perry's Victory Memorial Lighthouse pictures