Western New York Heritage

The Perry Centennial: 1913

Oliver Hazard Perry transfers from the stricken Lawrence to the Niagara, during the height of the Battle of Lake Erie, September 1813.  Image Source: Library of Congress

On September 10, 1813, the U.S. naval squadron on Lake Erie, commanded by 28-year-old Oliver Hazard Perry, defeated the British squadron off Put-in-Bay, near Sandusky, OH. The actions of this 9-vessel squadron were instrumental in defeating the British during the War of 1812 by giving control of Lake Erie to the Americans. As a result, Commodore Perry and his relief flagship, the U.S. Brig Niagara, were written into the young history of the United States.

Detail of panoramic photo below of the U.S. Brig Niagara moored beside the Buffalo Yacht Club, September 2, 1913. Photo source: Library of Congress

In 1913, the Niagara was reconstructed with the original keel and a few timbers and towed to larger cities from Chicago to Buffalo.

Buffalo had a Perry Centennial Commission, chaired by William J. Conners, that made extensive plans to celebrate the arrival of the 123-foot-long Niagara on September 2; events were also scheduled for the next 4 days.

Of her arrival, the Buffalo Evening News said, "As the Niagara passed Fort Porter and the Front, a national salute of 13 guns was fired. Thus the voyage continued until an excellent view was had of her by the assembled multitude. The whistles screamed, the bells rang and the populace shouted its welcome, noisy but the genuine American greeting, which only those of the United States seem to know how to give as vent to their patriotic and civic feelings."

The Buffalo Yacht Club was responsible for clearing the waterway and escorting the Niagara to its berth beside the Yacht Club. Over the next several days, thousands of visitors boarded the ship. There was a large military parade, a parade of veteran and volunteer fire companies, a fireworks display at Riverside Park, yacht races and motorboat races off Grand Island. There was even a "hydro-aeroplane" exhibition which towed a woman wearing a parachute over the harbor.

The statue honoring Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, The Front, ca. 1920. Photo source: private collection

The New York State Perry Victory Centennial Committee continued to work for erection of a statue in Buffalo to commemorate the naval hero. It was sculpted by Charles H. Niehaus (who also created the Lincoln statue for the Buffalo Historical Society in 1902) and installed at the Front in 1916.

Buffalo also remembered Perry by naming a boulevard, a street, and a public housing project after him.

The same view in 2006.

Detail of the Perry Statue, Front Park, 2006.

The nine-foot figure reflects Perry's youthful visage at the time of his heroic actions. He reported his victory at the Battle of Lake Erie by penning the immortal lines to General William Henry Harrison, "We have met the enemy and they are ours; two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop."

Oliver Hazard Perry would not live to old age. He died at sea on his birthday in 1819, at age 34, of yellow fever.