In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there were no roads on Presque Isle State Park. It was not until 1925 that the first road from the bottom of the peninsula hill to the Waterworks Park was built. There were, however, bridle paths allowing some access, other than by boat, to Presque Isle. The bridle paths on the park were narrow and just barely over one lane wide and exceedingly rough. Walkers, if they did not mind the threat of being run over by horseback riders, could walk to some areas of Presque Isle on these paths.
Once Presque Isle became a state park in 1922, improvements were started on many projects, including the Waterworks area, construction of roads, and bathing beach development. All of these required hauling and other forms of heavy labor. It did not take long for the workers on Presque Isle to turn to the reliable draft horse to help them with the various difficult jobs that faced them. The clearing, hauling and grading of road areas became a major use of the horses in the early 1900’s.
A draft horse is a large horse bred for heavy tasks, such as hauling, plowing, and other forms of farm and construction labor. They are strong, reliable, and patient. During the 1800s and early 20th century, they became the backbone of most construction work at that time. Once the peninsula became a state park, and many improvements were made, the State of Pennsylvania and the City of Erie Water Department saw the need to have several draft horses available on the park to handle some of the heavy labor and help clear debris after storm damage.
Once I found out about these facts, something I had discovered some ten years ago on Presque Isle began to make sense. While walking along Ridge Trail, in an area where it nears our current maintenance area and close to where the old sawmill was located, I notice part of an extremely old rail from a split-rail fence growing right through two trees. (see photograph) At some point in the long past, the trees absorbed the rails and made them part of their makeup. Until I began research for on my book, Images of America – Presque Isle State Park, I had not thought much about the draft horses on the park.
Last week while on my long walk on the park, I revisited the split-rail fence. I found a few interesting facts and a bit more fence. From what I can surmise, a split rail corral of sorts must have been built in this area to hold the draft horses that worked around the park and
lighthouse. This seems like a perfect spot for it. First of all, it is close to where most of the needs would have been. The water in Cranberry Pond served to water the horses and was the eastern corral border. At the time, this pond was twice the size it is today. The land is flat where the enclosure would have been located. The park’s sawmill was also near this area, so the horses could easily be used to haul the large logs.
I enjoy researching the past, even if at times it seems an impossible task. You never know what you might find. I wonder what other secrets Presque Isle might share with us in the future. History is important, yet I am afraid that in today’s fast-paced world we do not take the time to record important facts and information that 50 or 100 years from now will be OUR history. If you have any interesting information about Presque Isle, please share it with me. You never know, your input may just appear in a future blog.
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