The first users of the inland waters of the peninsula were the Eriez Nation. The group, also known as the “Cat Nation,” inhabited the Lake Erie shoreline and their name eventually became the name for both the lake and the city, though the Eriez were defeated by the Iroquois in 1654.
The Legend of the Sheltering Arm of the Great Spirit tells the story of how the Eriez settled on the peninsula. According to the legend, the Great Spirit led the tribe to the peninsula because of the abundance of game, the pure water, and the cool, health-giving breezes “coming from the land of snow and ice.”
Misery Bay and the Perry Monument
Misery Bay was the temporary home of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s fleet during the War of 1812.
Six of his nine vessels, including two brigs – the Niagara and the Lawrence – were constructed in Presque Isle Bay using trees from the local vicinity, most likely from the peninsula. The shores and waters of Presque Isle protected Perry’s fleet during construction. Perry and his men engaged the British in battle on September 10, 1813 at Put-in-Bay near Sandusky, Ohio.
After the battle, Perry and his men returned to Erie because of threats of another British uprising. During the winter of 1813-1814, many of Perry’s men suffered from smallpox and were quarantined in Misery Bay, which received its name because of the hardships of that winter. Many of Perry’s men died from the disease and were buried in the adjacent pond, now known as Graveyard Pond.
The hulls of the Lawrence and the Niagara were sunk in Misery Bay to preserve and protect them from the weather. They were later raised, and the Niagara has been rebuilt and is docked at the foot of Holland Street.
The Perry Monument on Crystal Point was built in 1926 to commemorate this significant battle during the War of 1812.
Waterworks Park was developed by the city of Erie in the early 20th century in search of a cleaner water source.
In 1908, workers began placing a pipe from the lake to the settling basins. The pumphouse, containing a steam boiler and engine, was built in 1917. Water was drawn from the lake to the first settling basin, then pumped to the second settling basin and across the bay to the city.
The pumphouse and water supply system operated from 1917 until 1949.
The pumphouse is currently used as a zebra mussel control facility for Erie’s water supply.
Presque Isle Lighthouse
The Presque Isle Lighthouse was built in 1872 and first lit on July 12, 1873. It is the second American lighthouse built on Lake Erie — the first, the Pierhead Light, was built in 1818.
The 74-foot tower has a red brick dwelling at the base and is currently used as a park residence. It flashes a white light still maintained by the US Coast Guard.
Presque Isle: A Migrating Peninsula
Presque Isle is a recurving sand spit. Geologists believe it formed more than 11,000 years ago. Over time the coastline “floated” as the forces of wind and water carried sand from the neck of the peninsula eastward, depositing it at Gull Point, causing that area to grow. This growth and migration of the peninsula occurred rapidly, at least in geologic time. Scientists believe that the peninsula has moved eastward one-half mile per century, although they see smaller changes every year. These changes created an extremely diverse and fragile environment. Because of its diversity, Presque Isle is a natural laboratory for viewing the geologic past and watching geologic forces in motion.
Presque Isle’s location relates to a moraine — a ridge of sediment left behind by glaciers — that crosses Lake Erie. The glacier that formed the moraine across Lake Erie was a late, minor advance of the last major ice sheet that covered much of northern Pennsylvania about 13,000 to 14,000 years ago. The moraine marks the location where the glacier stopped, and clay, sands and gravel were left behind as the ice melted away.
Although the French name Presque Isle means “almost an island,” the area has actually been a real island several times. Storm waves have broken through the neck to isolate the main section of the spit at least four times since 1819. One gap remained open for 32 years.
As westerly waves wash upon the beaches in a diagonal direction, sand and pebbles carried with them are left on the shore as the waves recede. Upon each wave’s rush, they are deposited a little farther east, adding to Presque Isle’s eastward growth. Gull Point has been growing for most of the 1900s and continues to do so today.