In your backyard: Battle on Lake Erie

Two centuries have passed since Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry led American vessels to victory against the British in the Battle of Lake Erie. And a host of events is planned this summer to mark the anniversary of the battle that took place on the lake a few miles from Put in Bay, Ohio.

“The main celebration will be from Aug. 29 to Sept. 10, and a huge amount of activities are to be held during that time, but this is really an all-summer event throughout our general area,” said Larry Fletcher, executive director of Lake Erie Shores and Islands, which promotes tourism along Ohio’s northern coast.

Put in Bay is located on South Bass Island, a spot of land approximately 4 miles long by 1.5 miles wide, just north of Port Clinton on the Ohio mainland.

The island includes both the Village of Put in Bay on the north shore and the Township of Put in Bay. Most locals simply refer to the entire island as “Putinbay.”

Located on a narrow strip of land at the center of the island is the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, a 27-acre national park that will be a focal point of the Battle of Lake Erie bicentennial.

“When you mention national parks most people think about places like Yellowstone, but there are nearly 400 National Park Service sites across the country, and we’re the only international peace memorial in the U.S.,” said Nicole Fifer, NPS special events coordinator for the park.

The well-groomed grounds surround a 352-foot-high monument built between 1913 and 1915 to honor those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie, during the War of 1812, and to celebrate the long-lasting peace between Britain, Canada and the U.S.

“It’s the third-tallest monument in the U.S., and actually stands higher than the Statue of Liberty in New York,” Fifer said. “And it has the highest open-air observation deck in the country.”

She said visitors ride an elevator to the deck where they can view the location of the battle that took place seven miles out on Lake Erie.

Back down on the park grounds there is plenty of manicured lawn space and shade trees, perfect for a family island picnic, Fifer said.

“We have sea walls on both sides of the park that keep the grounds from becoming a marsh land, and our location at the center of the island provides a view of the lake in both directions,” she said.

Fifer said more than 200,000 visitors pass through the national park each season, which normally lasts from April to October, with the majority of tourists arriving after Memorial Day.

“The park also includes a new visitor’s center with an array of historical artifacts, a short movie about the War of 1812, programs and talks by park rangers, and a variety of activities,” she said. “On weekends through the summer we do a ‘black powder’ musket-firing event with re-enactors in period costume. And this week the Put in Bay Arts Council is providing art classes for kids.”

The park facilities are open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but Fifer said the island has plenty of other attractions for the whole family.

“There’s a state park nearby that has several campsites with electrical hookups, and there are bed and breakfasts and other lodging facilities on the island,” she said. “The island also has caves and a winery, a wildlife center, kayak and boat rentals, and we hear the fishing this year has been really great.”

Many visitors come to the island for one day, but Fifer said there are enough activities and attractions to fill a three-day agenda.

As for the bicentennial celebration later this summer, Fletcher said a huge crowd is expected for the anniversary that will include a full-scale re-enactment of the Battle of Lake Erie with ships manned by more than 500 sailors.

“This has been two to three years in the making and will be a real once-in-a-lifetime event,” he said. “We’re expecting more than 17 tall ships to be part of the celebration. There have been tall ships in this area before, but never this many in one place.”

Fletcher said the battle re-enactment will take place on Sept. 2, followed by eight days of activities culminating on Sept. 10, the actual date of Perry’s victory over the British fleet.