Lake Erie

The last lake to be discovered, Lake Erie is the most contentious.

Lake Erie was the last of the Great Lakes discovered by Europeans and it has been the most contested. As the first Lake above Niagara Falls, it was strategically important to controlling access to the rest of the Great Lakes. One of the most important naval battles in U.S. history was the Battle of Lake Erie. At the end of the the War of 1812, the lake was divided with the international border running down the center.

Even though wars with Europe ended in the early 19th century, Lake Erie continued to be a contested territory among smugglers. By the 1920s, smugglers made millions, were involved with mob activities, and killed thousands with poisoned alcohol as Lake Erie became the focal point of the rum wars.

Even today, local, state, and federal authorities maintain watch over this international boundary in an effort to insure both peace and prosperity on the Great Lakes.

Coastline of Lake Erie with a lighthouse in the distance

Lake Erie, the fourth largest of the five Great Lakes in North America, has many interesting facts:

  1. Shallowest of the Great Lakes: Lake Erie has an average depth of only 62 feet (19 meters), making it the shallowest of the Great Lakes. Its maximum depth is 210 feet (64 meters).
  2. Warmest Great Lake: Due to its shallowness, Lake Erie warms up quickly in the summer and cools down rapidly in the winter, making it the warmest of the Great Lakes.
  3. Famous Islands: The lake is home to several islands, including Kelleys Island, South Bass Island, and Pelee Island. South Bass Island hosts the popular tourist destination Put-in-Bay.
  4. Bountiful Fishing: Lake Erie is known for its abundant fish populations, particularly walleye and is often called the “Walleye Capital of the World.”
  5. Historic Shipwrecks: The lake has seen many shipwrecks over the centuries due to its unpredictable weather and shallow waters. Estimates suggest there are around 2,000 shipwrecks that occurred in Lake Erie.
  6. Drinking Water Source: Lake Erie provides drinking water for approximately 11 million people, making it a crucial resource for the surrounding regions.
  7. Ecological Challenges: The lake has faced significant environmental challenges, including pollution and harmful algal blooms. Efforts are ongoing to address these issues and improve water quality.
  8. Erie Canal: The construction of the Erie Canal in the early 19th century connected Lake Erie to the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean, greatly facilitating trade and settlement in the region.
  9. Battle of Lake Erie: During the War of 1812, the Battle of Lake Erie was fought on September 10, 1813. It was a pivotal naval engagement in which the American fleet, led by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, defeated the British.
  10. Unique Natural Phenomena: Lake Erie occasionally experiences “seiches,” which are standing waves that can cause rapid changes in water levels. These phenomena are driven by changes in atmospheric pressure and wind.
  11. Ice Coverage: In the winter, Lake Erie can become almost entirely covered in ice. This ice coverage can impact local weather patterns and create unique winter recreational opportunities, such as ice fishing.
  12. Cultural Significance: The lake has played an important role in the cultural and economic development of the region, from the early Native American settlements to the bustling cities along its shores today.

Additional information

Native Fish: Walleye, white bass, smallmouth bass, emerald shiner, mollusks, and shad
Mammals: Gray wolf, white-tailed deer
Birds: Shorebirds, including the families of plovers and sandpipers
Forests: Mostly deciduous; 80% are sugar maple and beech
Dimensions: 241 miles long x 57 miles wide
Depth: Average 62 feet; max 210 feet
Surface Area: 9,910 sq miles
Volume: 116 cubic miles
Elevation: 570 feet above sea level
Shoreline Length: 871 miles
Outlet: Niagara River and Welland Canal
Retention/Replacement Time: 2.6 years
Population: 10.5 million US/ 1.9 million Canada

Several museums in the United States are located on or near Lake Erie, offering insights into the region’s history, culture, and natural environment. Here are some notable ones:

  1. Erie Maritime Museum (Erie, Pennsylvania):
    • This museum focuses on the maritime history of Lake Erie, featuring exhibits on the War of 1812, including the Battle of Lake Erie. The museum is home to the U.S. Brig Niagara, a replica of the flagship used by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry.
  2. Great Lakes Science Center (Cleveland, Ohio):
    • Located on the shores of Lake Erie, this interactive science museum includes exhibits on the Great Lakes’ environment, maritime history, and technology. The museum also features the historic Steamship William G. Mather.
  3. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Cleveland, Ohio):
    • Situated on the waterfront, this iconic museum celebrates the history and impact of rock and roll music. While not focused on maritime history, its location makes it a notable cultural institution near Lake Erie.
  4. Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, Ohio):
    • This world-renowned museum, located near the western end of Lake Erie, features extensive collections of art from various periods and cultures. The Glass Pavilion showcases the museum’s notable glass collection and glassblowing demonstrations.
  5. Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park (Buffalo, New York):
    • Located on the Buffalo waterfront, this museum features naval vessels, including the USS Little Rock, USS The Sullivans, and USS Croaker. The park also has exhibits on military history and maritime heritage.
  6. Cleveland Museum of Natural History (Cleveland, Ohio):
    • While primarily a natural history museum, it includes exhibits on the geology and ecology of the Great Lakes region, including Lake Erie.
  7. Black River Historical Society and Moore House Museum (Lorain, Ohio):
    • This museum in Lorain focuses on the local history of the area, including maritime and industrial heritage connected to Lake Erie.
  8. Firelands Historical Society Museum (Norwalk, Ohio):
    • This museum, located a bit inland from Lake Erie, covers the history of the Firelands region, including exhibits on early settlers and the impact of Lake Erie on local development.
  9. Maritime Museum of Sandusky (Sandusky, Ohio):
    • This museum offers exhibits on the maritime history of Sandusky and the Lake Erie Islands, including shipwrecks, ice harvesting, and boat building.

These museums provide a diverse range of exhibits and collections that highlight the rich cultural, historical, and natural heritage of the Lake Erie region.