Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial | MEMORIAL COLUMN

Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial

Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial

Visitors to Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial can take an elevator to the observation deck near the top of the 352-foot memorial tower (the deck is 317 feet up). Fee-based tickets are required, and these are on sale inside the Visitor Center on a first come, first served basis. On a busy weekend, they are typically gone by 2 PM. Tickets are for a specific time, so visitors no longer have to stand in line for hours at the tower waiting to go up.

Get observation deck tickets at the Visitor Center for Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial

Get observation deck tickets at the Visitor Center for Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial

At the time of this writing, tickets are $10 for those 16 or older and free for everyone under the age of 16 as long as they are with an adult. Various National Park annual passes are also good for entry, plus there is an option to purchase an annual pass specifically for the Perry Memorial. Cash is no longer accepted—credit or debit cards only. See the National Park Service’s official Fees and Passes web page for the current ticket prices.

The observation deck is open seasonally. Hours are typically 10 AM to 6 PM daily from mid-May until the end of September (closes at 5 PM starting mid-September). From October 1st until Columbus Day it is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays only, 10 AM to 5 PM. The entire park is closed at all other times of the year. For the exact times and dates, visit the National Park Service’s official Operating Hours and Seasons web page for the park.

The observation deck will close for lightning strikes within an eight mile radius of the tower or high winds. Keep in mind the even when the wind is within the tolerable limit, it is still strong at the top. I don’t advise wearing a hat or anything else that can blow away easily, though a lot of people do.

While an elevator does take people to the top of the tower, there are 37 steps on a narrow and winding staircase (like those in a lighthouse) to tackle before getting to the elevator, so the observation deck is not assessable to those in wheelchairs or who have major mobility problems. On top of that, the memorial tower is a .15-mile walk from the back of the Visitor Center along a level, paved path, but there is a staircase with seven steps at the end of the path that lead up to the plaza, plus another twelve steps from the bottom to the top of the plaza.

Path from the Visitor Center to the Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial tower

Path from the Visitor Center to the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial tower

Elevator inside Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial

Elevator inside Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial

The rotunda of the memorial is open to everyone—no ticket is required. Engraved into the walls are the names of the American ships that were used in the Battle of Lake Erie and the names of all Americans who died in the battle. Underneath the floor is a crypt where six officers who were killed in the battle were reinterred—three Americans and three Brits. These men were originally buried on South Bass Island near the shore of Lake Erie at what is now DeRivera Park. The reinterment took place on September 11, 1913, during the construction of the monument. The marble floor above it was installed in 1918.

Rotunda of Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial

Rotunda of Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial

Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial is the tallest tower in the National Park System with an open-air observation deck (3rd tallest overall behind the Gateway Arch and the Washington Monument). It is also the world’s largest Greek Doric column. Needless to say, once at the top you can see in all directions. If it is a clear day, it is possible see Cleveland sixty miles away. Binoculars are available at the top.

Visitors to Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial take in the views from the observation deck

Visitors to Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial take in the views from the observation deck

View of Put-In-Bay harbor from the observation deck at Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial

View of Put-In-Bay harbor from the observation deck at Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial

View of the park Visitor Center from the observation deck at Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial

View of the park Visitor Center from the observation deck at Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial

There are also wayside exhibits around the observation deck that provide information about the memorial, the Battle of Lake Erie, and the surrounding area. On top of that, there are park Rangers at all four corners (the tower is round but the deck is square) who can answer questions, but they are really there to make sure nobody jumps. I’ve never seen so many Rangers at a park this small. There are six just at the tower: one taking tickets, one running the elevator, and the four at the top on suicide watch. At least that many, if not more, are in the Visitor Center and out walking the grounds. There are National Park properties that can’t even operate properly due to a lack of staff, and here Rangers are coming out of the woodwork.

Wayside exhibit at the observation deck of Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial

Wayside exhibit at the observation deck of Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial

The elevator to the top departs every fifteen minutes. Once at the observation deck, I can’t see spending more than ten minutes unless you strike up a conversation with a Ranger or another visitor. Overall, from the time I got to the tower to the time I was back down on the plaza was 20 minutes. Figure a half hour at the most for your trip to the top.

MEMORIAL HISTORY

The idea of a memorial for Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory over the British at the Battle of Lake Erie was first hatched in 1852. At this time the idea was strictly to honor Perry and the Americans who died in the battle. There were no “peace” intentions. In fact, the people behind the idea were happy to gloat about America’s victory over the British fleet. Afterall, there were still survivors of the battle who were alive at the time.

Middle Bass Island, South Bass Island, and Gibraltar Island were all considered for the location of the monument. Gibraltar was chosen since the owner pledged free land, and the cornerstone for the monument was laid in September 1859. Fifteen thousand people attended the ceremony. However, the cornerstone was all that ever came out of the Gibraltar Perry Monument.

After the Civil War a new Perry Monumental Association was formed (1867). This time the location focus was on South Bass Island because it figured more importantly in the battle. Put-In-Bay was where Perry’s fleet was headquartered at the start of the battle, and afterwards the six deceased officers were buried on the island. The burial was attended by both American and British soldiers. Enlisted men who were killed were buried at sea, or at lake in this case.

The Perry Monumental Association began raising money for a monument in 1869 and continued to do so for many years, but there simply was not enough interest, and thus not enough money. In 1890, an Ohio congressman introduced a bill to fund a Perry monument, but this effort failed. Bills were introduced and failed eleven more times, with the last attempt coming in November 1903.

In 1908, with the Battle of Lake Erie centennial anniversary coming up in 1913, the Ohio state legislature voted to create a Centennial Commission to prepare for what was called Perry’s Victory and Peace Centennial to be held in Put-In-Bay, which by this time had become a major tourist destination. One of five men appointed to the commission by the governor was journalist Webster P. Huntington, a man who would go on to serve on just about every commission formed for the purpose of creating a Perry Memorial.

The first recommendation made by the Centennial Commission was that if a memorial to Perry was ever built, that it be located on Put-In-Bay Island (as South Bass Island was commonly called). Furthermore, instead of spending a lot of money on temporary buildings for the anniversary celebration, why not use this money for a permanent building dedicated to the event. Huntington was thinking of something like a memorial chapel. And then he met an architect named John Eisenmann.

Eisenmann had come up with the idea of a tower-like monument of grand proportions. The Centennial Commission liked it so much that he was asked to turn his sketch into a watercolor painting. The painting was given a full page in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in May 1910, an this got the public once again interested in a Perry memorial.

John Eisenmann's proposed design for the Perry Victory Memorial

John Eisenmann’s proposed design for the Perry Victory Memorial

The problem was that Eisenmann’s memorial would cost roughly $600,000. This amount of money would require multi-state involvement, and eventually, in addition to Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, New York, Rhode Island, Kentucky, and Massachusetts all agreed to appropriate money for the project. On September 10, 1910, the Inter-State Board of the Perry’s Victory Centennial Commission was formed.

Even with nine states there still was not enough money to fund the Eisenmann-designed memorial. State congressman began lobbying for the federal government to get involved, and in March 1911, the U. S. Congress agreed to pitch in $250,000 for the project with the caveat that three federal commissioners be appointed to the Inter-State Board and that any design be approved by the federal Commission of Fine Arts. Since there was no way to fund the project without the federal money, the states agreed. They also wanted the federal government to take over the entire memorial after it was completed, effectively shifting the expense of maintaining and operating it from the nine states to the entire American public.

Up to this point it was assumed that Eisenmann’s design was a done deal. However, the Commission of Fine Arts insisted that there be a design competition. The competition was announced on October 16, 1911, and specifically stated in the rules was that the “Memorial will commemorate not only the victory but the subject of one hundred years of peace between the United States and Great Britain.” The memorial itself had a budget of $600,000, and $100,000 was set aside for preparing the site (grading, landscaping, etc.). In addition to a tower of some sort, the design was required to have a museum.

Eighty-two architects were admitted into the competition, and fifty-four proposals were submitted. Some architects refused to participate, citing an allegiance to Eisenmann for the time he had put into the project. In January 1912, Joseph H. Freelander and Alexander D. Seymour Jr., both from New York, were chosen the winner. The design consisted of a memorial column that would function as a lighthouse and a separate museum building and colonnade all located on an elevated plaza.

Original Perry Victory Memorial design

Original Perry Victory Memorial design

Erecting the column was the first order of business. Four construction companies summitted bids; J. C. Robinson and Sons out of New York City, which bid $330,000, was chosen as the contractor. With the cost of consultants, architects, and work to prepare the grounds, the total cost of the column alone was estimated to be around $375,000. This did not include electricity, installation of the light on top of the column, or construction of the plaza and landscaping.

The federal government agreed to release its $250,000 only after the states had the money in hand to cover the cost difference of the finished project, though what entailed “finished” still had to be determined. Based on the money that could definitely be appropriated, it was decided that the column would be the only aspect of the memorial that would be completed for the time being. The museum and colonnade would be added later if and when funding became available.

Contracts were signed with J. C. Robinson and Sons in September 1912, and work began in October. It was hoped that the memorial would be ready by September 10, 1913, for the anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie, but that was no longer realistic. It took a few months to prepare the grounds, and nothing much could be done in the winter.

Work on the actual tower began in June 1913 with the pouring of the concrete foundation. Very little was done that summer due to a cornerstone laying ceremony on July 4th and the actual summer-long centennial celebration being held in downtown Put-In-Pay where the memorial was located. Notable work that was completed was the September 11th reinterment of the six officers buried on the lake shore (only a few bones were actually found).

Construction continued on the memorial throughout the year. By July 1914, the granite stones of the column walls had all been put in place, but there was plenty of work still ahead. The tower had to be capped, the observation deck built, and the decorative lantern, interior stairs, and elevator installed. The plaza construction and landscaping wouldn’t even start until the fall, and by then there was not enough money to finish it. The plaza was not completed until 1926 when the federal government appropriated the required funds. Work on the seawall around the park continued into the 1930s. Ultimately the tower and plaza were the only aspects of Freelander and Seymour’s design that were ever built.

Upper plaza of Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial

Upper plaza of Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial

The Perry monument was substantially completed by May 1915, and it was opened to the public on June 13th. Between then and September 16th when the park closed, twenty-two thousand people paid to take the elevator to the observation deck.

Formal dedication of the memorial was on July 31, 1931. At this time four bronze tablets were installed at the entrances to the rotunda: two with words from presidents Woodrow Wilson and Howard Taft; one with words from Kentucky congressman Henry Watterson; and one with the text of the Rush-Bagot Agreement of 1818 that disarmed the border between the United States and Canada. Tablets with words from John Kennedy and Lester Pearson, former prime minster of Canada, were added in the 1960s.

It was always the intention of the states that the memorial become federal property. The National Park Service took over the park on June 2, 1936, when Proclamation 2182 was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt. The name of the monument was changed from Perry’s Victory Memorial to Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial National Monument. The National Monument part of the name was dropped in 1972.

The Perry memorial has been renovated multiple times, the last coming in 2009-12 after a 500-pound piece of granite fell from the observation deck and knocked a hole in the plaza. Luckily no one was killed or injured. The 1932 Otis elevator and the overall plaza were also renovated during this time.

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Last updated on May 18, 2024
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