Located along the shores of one the world’s best-protected harbors, Erie, Pennsylvania, takes claim in pivotal maritime history of the Great Lakes. Erie is the city of all transportation; planes, trains and automobiles, boats and even RVs! Since we have this allure to all things maritime, we decided to tour the city of Erie’s waterfront.
Having grown up in the city of Erie and nearby lakeshore town, we used to jokingly chant “dreary Erie, mistake on the lake” because of Lake Erie’s water pollution. It’s a vision I’ll never forget as a child; dead fish, ugly oily foam and murk. In the 1960s and 1970s, it became polluted as a result of the quantity of heavy industry situated in cities on its shores with reports of bacteria-laden beaches and fish contaminated by industrial waste.
However, through years of scientific and biological magic, Lake Erie is clean and thriving! And, the funny thing is, the once-was place I loathed and couldn’t wait to leave as a kid has an allure as an adult.
Now, thirty-some years later, we made our way up to the shores of Lake Erie. We went to visit my brother in Erie and visit my father’s gravesite (also in Erie, Pennsylvania). We got to tour some of the interesting historic places that I took for granted as a kid.
So, let’s take a tour of Lake Erie’s historic Port, Erie.
HISTORIC PORT OF ERIE, PENNSYLVANIA
Because of its’ status as the home port of Oliver Hazard Perry’s flagship U.S. Brig Niagara, Erie, Pennsylvania is known as the Flagship City. The city has also been called the Gem City because of the sparkling Lake Erie (now).
The City of Erie boasts its proud culture, heritage and history as well as recreation. And, all of those are because of the city being situated right on the coast of Lake Erie; halfway between Buffalo, New York to the east and Cleveland, Ohio to the west. Erie is a mecca for maritime commerce. Oftentimes, ships from countries afar make the port of Erie their stop. And, of course, coming from nautical backgrounds, it was a given that we’d visit the Erie and her lake shore.
Dobbin’s Landing and Bicentennial Tower
Back when I was a kid, Erie’s Dobbin’s Landing (formerly called the Public Dock) was just a long concrete pier where visiting ships would temporarily moor. Also, local anglers would sit for hours with their line in the water hoping to take home some fresh catch.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the Public Dock would be bustling with teenagers driving their cars up and down all night. But today, its much different because of it’s reconstruction and design. It’s a short walk that looks across Presque Isle Bay to Presque Isle State Park.
The Bicentennial Tower stands firm during every gale and squall that Mother Nature throws at it. This tower takes you to new heights of Dobbins Landing. The Tower is open to the public, allowing visitors to catch a great view north of the city. On a clear day, you can even see Canada!
The tower stands a total of 187 to the top of the flagpole; height of first observation deck of 17 feet and second higher observation deck of 138 feet. Be aware there are 210 stairs from the first observation deck to the second so your legs are sure to get a little workout.
There is limited free parking at the Dobbins Landing. We suggest visiting the Bicentennial Tower and Public Dock on a weekday to avoid traffic congestion and crowds. Also, Port of Erie’s Bicentennial Tower only opens when weather permits. Under the tower where you pay your admissions, there’s a concessions and gift shop.
U.S. Brig Niagara
This was one of my most remembered tours as a kid. Whenever we had out of town company visit, the Flagship Niagara (replica) was one of the places my mother took them. But it’s different now. As a kid, I remember the old wooden brig literally rotting. I’d flick away paint chips and touch the moldy lines.
U.S.S. Niagara, commonly called the U.S. Brig Niagara or Flagship Niagara, is a wooden-hulled snow-brig that served as the relief flagship for Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.
Today, a replica of the Niagara is majestic under full sail and tells the story of so many years ago of the hardened battle of 1812. She’s home-ported waterside of the Erie Maritime Museum only a stone’s throw from Dobbins Landing and Bicentennial Tower on Front Street.
Erie Maritime Museum
Though the Erie Maritime Museum didn’t even exist before I started my Coast Guard career, it’s now one of Erie’s most prominent must-sees. It houses historical artifacts and interactive hands-on displays illustrating the War of 1812 and Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory over the British during the Battle of Lake Erie.
It also includes an exhibit showing the reconstruction and sailing of today’s U.S.S. Niagara. The U.S. Navy’s first iron-hulled ship, U.S.S. Michigan/Wolverine, is the subject of the museum’s newest exhibit.
The museum is ADA-compliant and offers bus parking (I’m assuming RV’s may be welcome. To be sure, call first.), gift shop, guided tours, handicapped access, and vending machines.
PRESQUE ISLE STATE PARK
According to USA Today, this state park is not only the number one freshwater beach in the country but it’s also been named the top attraction in the state of Pennsylvania. This 3200 acre peninsula offers many recreational activities from boating, swimming and fishing to hiking, beach strolling and bicycling. There are areas where you can surf or scuba dive as well but certifications are a must.
Presque Isle State Park is registered as a National Natural Landmark. It’s a stopping point for many migrating birds. Presque Isle contains several endangered, threatened, and rare species of wildlife and plants.
The park is open every day from sunrise to sunset. Day-use areas close at dusk. The park office is open specific hours. The beaches and other areas are open specific seasons and hours. Contact the park office for facility seasons and hours.
Before driving out to the peninsula, we highly recommend you visit Presque Isle State Park website.
The historic Perry Monument, marking the point leading into Misery Bay, has stood its test of time for as long as I can remember. Located on the southeast side of the Presque Isle peninsula, the 101 foot tall Perry Monument standing next to Misery Bay honors and commemorates Oliver Hazard Perry’s courageous victory from the Battle of Lake Erie during War of 1812. It’s named by the men of Perry’s naval squadron, who wintered here 1813-1814 after the crucial Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813.
We recommend visiting this outdoor monument to get the best views of Erie’s waterfront, Public Dock and Bicentennial Tower.
Presque Isle Light
Presque Isle Lighthouse is located on the north shore of Presque Isle State Park at Lighthouse Beach. It was built in 1872 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Until 1944, it was home to nine U.S. Lighthouse service Keepers and their families. Each night, the Keeper would fuel the lamp to light that reflected through a Fresnel lens. The light was visible 13 nautical miles. Today, the light is automated; meaning it no longer requires a 24-hour Keeper.
To tour Presque Isle Light, be prepared to climb 78 steps inside the tower to get a beautiful view of Lake Erie. You won’t be sorry once you get to the top!
The lighthouse is open for tours 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from Mid May through Labor Day, weather permitting.
Admission to climb the tower is $6 and $3 to visit the house. Walking the grounds and going to the gift shop are free and open to the public. Tickets may be purchased on the day of your climb; advanced tickets are available on the day of your climb.
Tours of the Lighthouse take place every 20 minutes and start at 10 a.m. and end at 4:40 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at the lighthouse on the day of your climb or in advance.
Scallywags Pirate Adventure
If you’ve got the kids with you or you’re a kid at heart, you might want to climb aboard these interactive pirate voyages!
Since 2013, the Scallywags Pirates has been terrorizing Presque Isle Bay in Erie with entertaining and interactive cruises for all ages. Their crew of steadfast pirates are professionally trained and ready to take you on an adventure like no other!
We could only see them from the public dock however, hearing what they were doing on their intercom made us want to check them out next time we visit!
Erie Land Lighthouse
I have distant but fond memories of Erie Land Lighthouse. We used to visit it when I was a little girl. Back then though, it was run down.
Also known as the Old Presque Isle Light, Erie Land Light is a lighthouse on the shore of Lake Erie in Erie, Pennsylvania. It is one of the three lighthouses in Erie, along with North Pier Light and the Presque Isle Light. Overlooking Lake Erie, the lighthouse sits upon bluffs in downtown Erie in Lighthouse Park.
Erie Land Light was one of the first lighthouses built on the Great Lakes 1818. Forty-some years later, the foundations sank requiring to be rebuilt in 1867; remaining in service until 1880. Being reactivated five years later, in 1899, it was decommissioned. The lantern and lenses were both removed. The lighthouse stood darkened and lonely.
But then in the mid 1930’s, Erie Land Lighthouse was sold to the city of Erie. And, it took until 1978 to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, the it’s restored and stands prominent as one of Erie’s three lighthouses in a park for visitors to gaze at.
If you’re looking for more fun places to visit with your family, we highly recommend visiting Visit Erie’s website.
WHERE TO STAY?
We parked our RV only for a few nights at Presque Isle Downs Casino (found on Campendium). (We supported their hospitality by buying meals and playing the ponies). Presque Isle Downs & Casino is located just south of I-90 Exit 27.
However, there are several campgrounds in Erie that may interest you:
And, if you’re not coming by RV but are looking for lodging, check out Visit Erie Pennsylvania Places to Stay
There are many other cool destinations and tours throughout the city of Erie, but these are our favorites located along the waterfront. Visiting them brought back memories of my childhood. Of course, much has changed due to Erie’s commerce and economic growth through the decades since I left. This historic city has a newfound allure to me. No longer is Erie, Pennsylvania anything close to being dreary or a mistake on the lake.