Put-in-Bay is a village located on South Bass Island in Lake Erie on the north coast of Ohio, a few miles from the Canadian border. The full-time population is between 100 and 150. The village is a popular summer resort and recreational destination with several hotels and many restaurants and bars. Ferry and airline services connect the community with the mainland.
We took the speedy Jet Express catamaran ferry from Sandusky, which made a quick stop at Cedar Point and another at Kelly’s Island, before docking at Put-in-Bay. Our visit capped a summer of exploring some key locations during the War of 1812, which included Fort Meigs, Prophetstown, and related locations in Cincinnati. We didn’t intend to have a theme for our summer travels, it just happened.
The bay played a significant role in the war as the location of the squadron of U.S. naval commander Oliver Hazard Perry, who sailed from the port on September 10, 1813 to engage a British squadron just north of the island in the Battle of Lake Erie.
Nine vessels of the United States Navy defeated and captured six vessels of the British Royal Navy. It is the only time in history, before or since, that an entire squadron of the British navy was completely defeated. This ensured American control of the lake for the rest of the war, which in turn allowed the Americans to recover Detroit, win the Battle of the Thames in Canada, and break the Indian confederation of Tecumseh. It was one of the biggest naval battles of the War of 1812.
Oliver Hazard Perry was one of three national heroes of the war, along with Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison. Most Americans at the time credited these three with saving the country. (Our former home town of Perrysburg OH is named after Perry.) Sadly, Perry died of yellow fever in 1819 while on a naval expedition to negotiate an anti-piracy agreement with Venezuelan President Simón Bolívar. Jackson and Harrison both survived their military service and each in turn went on to be elected President of the United States.
At the 100th anniversary of this pivotal naval victory, the United States began construction of an impressive tower on South Bass Island to commemorate Perry’s victory over Britain and to celebrate America’s long-standing peace since the war with England and their former colony, Canada.
Construction of the monument, officially called Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, was completed in 1915. It is 352 feet tall and made up of 78 layers of pink granite, topped with an eleven ton bronze urn.
There is an elevator and stairway to an observatory at the top of the tower. Its height makes it the highest open-air observatory operated by the U.S. National Park Service. However on the day we visited, the monument and the observatory were closed for renovations.
Fortunately, there is a wonderful visitor’s center in front of the monument which provides a vivid description of the battle with scale models and explains it’s significance to American and Canadian history.
Over 2 million people annually visit the little town of Put-in-Bay. Some come to visit the memorial, but most come to party. Nicknamed the “Key West of the North”, Put-in-Bay offers lots of nightlife with live musical entertainment, strolling barbershop singers, bagpipers, steel drums, and lots of golf carts zipping around town. It actually reminds me more of Catalina Island than Key West. But basically, it’s a great place to have a good time, which we did, while including a bit of history in the process.