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MYSTERIES OF PRESQUE ISLE - - Facts, legends, and historical tidbits about Presque Isle

Erie Times-News 7/16/2019 By Eugene H. Ware, Erie Times-News
a close up of a map: Drawing of one of the times Presque Isle became and Island © E. Ware collection/Erie Times-News/TNS Drawing of one of the times Presque Isle became and Island

Mysteries of Presque Isle

It was in 1921 that Presque Isle became a State Park. The cost to the citizens of Erie for Presque Isle to become a State Park was $ 75,000.and was only in cash as at that time pledges of payment were not permitted. In today's dollars, that would be nearly $ 950,000. At one time wildflowers were so plentiful and varied on the park that back in the early 1900s, a tradition was born where many people would travel across the bay on Memorial Day each year to gather them. In May of 1926, the Commonwealth's Governor and the Park and Harbor Commission outlawed the tradition of gathering wildflowers on the park due to the damage that was being done on the park. If you ever hear of someone talking about SCAT, they are politely discussing animal excrement. The Park has 13 miles of roads and over 21 miles of recreational trails which are paved and natural. Since the park is unique in that it contains many different and distinctive habitats in one 3,200-acre location, a large number of Pennsylvania's endangered threatened and rare species of plants grow on the park. In 1833, a massive storm opened major break from the mainland which in less than two years expanded to over a mile wide making Presque Isle a true island. Presque Isle remained an island for 32 years until 1864 when the natural sand flow down Lake Erie closed the gap. When you are on the park and see signs that say HABITAT RESTORATION AREA, it means this is where park staff and volunteers are fighting invasive plant species. 10. The houseboats that today are moored in Horseshoe pond are limited to only 24. At one time due to new rules enacted the houseboats could be found moored only in Misery Bay. Before that many houseboats could be found moored all along the city and Presque Isle shoreline. Over the early years, the houseboats became popular among new immigrants to the USA. This was because most people living on them did so to avoid paying what they considered high real estate taxes to the City of Erie and besides at the time, there were no rules on how they were built.

a vintage photo of a large body of water: Life-Saving Station late 1800s © E. Ware Collection/Erie Times-News/TNS Life-Saving Station late 1800s

11. At one point in history, for about six months after a boating accident, the North Pier Lighthouse consisted of a HANGING GALLOWS with two whale oil burning lanterns hanging on it.

a vintage photo of a boat: The Head and its Steamboat Landing © Erie Times News/Erie Times-News/TNS The Head and its Steamboat Landing

12. Many of the species of birds that rest and nest at Gull Point on the park are never seen anywhere else in Pennsylvania.

13. Thirteen types of amphibians and 19 reptile species live on Presque Isle.

14. The areas first navigation air, a simple pierhead light, was installed on a pier on the north side of the harbor channel in 1819.

15. The dredging of the Erie Harbor and the necessary survey of the area, after the War of 1812 and Admiral Perry's victory over the British, was approved by Congress as the very first project of the Amy Corps of Engineers under the Rivers and Harbor Act of 1824.

16. The Presque Isle Marina is the home of over 500 pleasure boats.

17. In 1926, the Perry Monument was erected on a small spit of land that was then known as Crystal Point.

18. The Presque Isle Lagoons was created by dredging together nine small interior ponds into a single unified body of water. This was originally done to form what was to be the "World's Largest Fish Hatchery." The State ran into legal and money problems with the project, and it was never fully completed.

19. The small bay on the inland side of Perry Monument is known as Misery Bay. It was at one time known as Little Bay. It was named Misery Bay because of the two awful winters Perry and his men spent there. During this period, there were many deaths and much sickness among the crews and workers at the site.

20. Presque Isle's reclusive hermit, Joe Root, lived on the park for many years, yet in truth only lived there about 8 eight to nine months. When winter began to blow down Lake Erie, Joe would check-into the County Home which was located just off Pittsburgh Ave, where American Sterilizer had their headquarters. Joe got three meals a day, a bed, heat, and joined a few old friends at the County Home.

a vintage photo of a truck: Early Police on Presque Isle © E. Ware collection/Erie Times-News/TNS Early Police on Presque Isle

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©2019 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.)

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