Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial - War and Peace and Two Memorable Phrases

Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial. NPS photo.

The world’s most massive Doric column is located in this park. NPS photo.

On a clear day, you can't see forever from the top of Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial …but you can spot Detroit, Toledo and Cleveland, and enjoy learning about a key event in our nation's history.

Rising 352 feet above western Lake Erie, the world’s most massive Doric column is described as the dominant feature of the Lake Erie Islands. As the name suggests, this is a park with a dual purpose: 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.

Construction on the monument began in October 1912, funded with donations from nine states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Kentucky) and the Federal Government. It opened to the public on June 13, 1915, and was initially established as a National Monument on June 2, 1936. It was redesignated under its current name on October 26, 1972.

What's the story behind this impressive monument? The people of the U.S.A. probably thought they were finished fighting with the British after George Washington took care of business at Yorktown in 1781, but war between the two nations was declared again on June 18, 1812.

You may not recall the details of the important naval battle that was fought the following year near this island, but you'll likely recognize a pair of phrases connected with that event. The following adaptation of a park publication summarizes the story:

At dawn on the morning of September 10, 1813, a lookout spotted six vessels to the northwest past Rattlesnake Island. Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry made immediate preparations to sail forth to engage the British. Just before the engagement opened, Perry hoisted his battle flag to the flagship's main truck. The large navy blue banner was emblazoned with the crudely inscribed words, "DONT GIVE UP THE SHIP".

The words “Don't give up the ship” didn't originate with Perry; they were the dying utterance of U.S. Captain James Lawrence. Lawrence, a good friend of Perry, was killed while commanding the U.S.S. Chesapeake in an action with the British ship H.M.S. Shannon on June 1, 1813.

Commodore Perry faced seemingly impossible odds against a superior British force, but prevailed and captured an entire British squadron. The victory enabled him to report, "Dear General (Harrison): We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop. Yours with great respect and esteem, O.H. Perry".

If you'd like a detailed account of the day's events, you can read "The Battle of Lake Erie."

The battle secured control of Lake Erie for the United States and enabled General William Henry Harrison to invade Canada and subsequently defeat the British and their Indian allies. The dual victories by Perry and Harrison were instrumental in negotiating the Treaty of Ghent, which was signed on Christmas Eve, 1814, ending the War of 1812. In 1817, the Rush-Bagot Agreement with Great Britain resulted in peaceful relations between the United States and Canada that continue to the present time.

A visit to the park is an easy way to brush up on your history, or you can just enjoy the scenery. From mid-June through late August, rangers offer interpretive talks about the Battle of Lake Erie, the War of 1812, construction of the monument, and other topics. On weekends, they offer living history demonstrations. Dressed in period military and civilian attire, rangers present talks about both the battle and the War, concluding with a firing demonstration of reproduction flintlock muskets. Some weekends also feature firing demonstrations of a reproduction 32-pounder carronade.

You'll want to plan ahead for a visit to this park, which is located on South Bass Island within the Village of Put-in-Bay. The island is accessible by ferry, other types of boats and airplane. The park website has details on transportation to and on the island.

Operating hours at the park vary based on the time of year. From late October to late April, the site is "open by prior appointment," an indication of the realities of winter weather on the Great Lakes!

Perhaps those harsh winters contributed to a recent challenge for the park staff. On the evening of June 22, 2006, a piece of granite facing stone weighing about 500 pounds fell from the observation deck at the 317-foot level of the monument. It landed on the upper plaza of the Memorial, shattering the plaza floor. Proving that timing is everything, what could have been a disaster occurred after the structure had closed for the day, and no one was injured.

The monument remained closed until detailed inspections were completed and essential repairs had been made. It reopened for most of 2008, and is scheduled to do so for the start of the 2009 season, but it is currently scheduled to close again for major repairs beginning August 1, 2009. That work is expected to take about a year. The visitor center and other areas of the park will remain open, but it would be prudent to check first before making a visit next year. The park website includes contact information.

If you'd like to enjoy that dramatic view from the monument, you only have to climb 37 steps to the lower landing, where an elevator takes visitors to an open air observation deck 317 feet above Lake Erie. Anyone unable to climb the steps may experience the view from the 340 foot level, in each of the 4 directions, on the real-time monitor in the visitor center.

A park publication points out that the Battle of Lake Erie proved to be one of the most resounding triumphs of the War of 1812, and during the subsequent peace talks helped insure that the states of Ohio and Michigan would remain the sovereign territory of the United States of America. Thanks in part to Commodore Perry and his brave men, that monumental view of Detroit, Toledo and Cleveland doesn't include part of Canada.


I've been to South Bass Island twice and up the monument once and looked at it across the bay throughout most of the summers of my childhood. A couple years ago, I was on South Bass Island with a different purpose in mind - to visit Gibraltar Island and see Jay Cooke's old stomping grounds (Gibraltar Island is right off of South Bass Island). Cooke had a lot to do with the founding of Yellowstone, and I wrote about it in: Lake Erie, mayflies, and Jay Cooke: A Yellowstone connection in Ohio (a small picture from my cell phone of the monument also in the article).

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World