Northeastern (46th Annual) and North-Central (45th Annual) Joint Meeting (20–22 March 2011)

Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 8:15 AM


HERDENDORF, Charles E., School of Earth Sciences, The Ohio State University, 4921 Detroit Road, Sheffield Village, OH 44054,

Presque Isle is a prominent sand-spit peninsula on the south shore of Lake Erie at Erie, Pennsylvania. Its crescent form extends northeast into the lake for 10.4 km. The spit is recurved toward the mainland at its eastern tip and forms a lagoon known as Presque Isle Bay, which serves as Erie’s harbor. The base of the spit is narrow, 150 m across, while the distal end is about 2.5 km wide. Misery Bay, a circular embayment 650 m in diameter opening onto Presque Isle Bay near the eastern end of the spit, is the site of the Perry Monument erected in 1925 to commemorate the construction of Commodore Perry’s fleet in 1812-1813.

This paper discusses the Pleistocene and Holocene origins of Presque Isle and the geological processes that formed the spit and the barrier bar at the bay’s entrance, as well as the influence of these geomorphic features on the War of 1812. The migration and evolution of the sand spit, which continues today, are illustrated, along with attempts through the years to stabilize the spit.

In the early 1800s a barrier bar existed across the mouth of Presque Isle Bay that limited the draft of vessels that could cross the barrier and enter the harbor. The warships of the British fleet, with their heavy canons, were unable to enter the bay and disrupt construction of the American fleet. During the building of Perry’s fleet, British Captain Barclay kept a watchful eye on the progress and maintained a blockade outside the spit. Perry knew he must cross the bar, but this would have to be done before the heavy armaments were onboard. Once the fleet was completed, Perry waited for his chance. When Barclay crossed the lake to re-provision at Port Dover on July 31, 1813, Perry made his move. Using camels, a device invented by the Dutch for carrying vessels over shallow places, Perry successfully moved his fleet over the bar by noon on August 6, but without the canons on his brigs. That afternoon, Barclay’s sails were spotted on the horizon. Perry was in a predicament, but decided to line his vessels up as if he intended to attack. Amazingly the bluff worked and the British fleet retired to the Long Point on the north shore. Some five weeks later, on September 13, the British and American fleets met in battle near West Sister Island and Perry emerged victorious.