The Great Lakes region played a key role in the War of 1812, and you can visit several important sites

Published: Saturday, June 30, 2012, 7:47 AM
John Kuntz, The Plain DealerThe Brig Niagara, a reproduction of the ship Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry used to win the Battle of Lake Erie, sails into Cleveland in 2010. The Niagara, whose home port is in Erie, Pa., has a busy summer ahead, with War of 1812 anniversary events scheduled throughout the Great Lakes.

It’s time to remember the forgotten war.

It won’t be hard this year — with 200th-anniversary events planned throughout Ohio, Michigan, New York and Ontario, all sites of major battles in the War of 1812. Two weeks ago, a re-declaration of war against the British kicked off the commemoration, which will last for several years.

The War of 1812, sandwiched between the Revolutionary and Civil wars, often gets overlooked in history classes and textbooks.

It shouldn’t, especially in Ohio, argues Rick Finch, site manager at Fort Meigs near Toledo, the site of two War of 1812 battles. “It’s hard to think that something so important happened right where we live,” said Finch. “Ohio is the front line, especially northern Ohio.”

Sometimes called America’s second war of independence, the War of 1812 pitted the United States (again) against the British, who allied themselves with a coalition of American Indians led by Shawnee Chief Tecumseh.

At stake: America’s long-term independence from an overreaching Great Britain, not to mention control of the Great Lakes, the Northwest Territory and the future of Canada.

The war is largely considered a draw by historians — the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the war, called for the return of pre-war borders. But that doesn’t mean nothing was gained from the conflict.

Ken Marshall, The Plain Dealer

“We were once at war with Britain and British North America [modern-day Canada] — now they’re our greatest allies,” said Blanca Alvarez Stransky, superintendent of Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial on South Bass Island in Lake Erie. “We don’t even think about it, we just take it for granted. We need to remember it wasn’t always like that. It can be taken away from us rather quickly.”

The war raged from 1812 to ’15, with battles fought across the young United States, from Baltimore to New Orleans. But some of the most contentious fighting occurred on what is now the United States-Canada border, along the Detroit and Niagara rivers, and lakes Erie and Ontario.

You don’t have to travel far to make the conflict comes alive — to northwest Ohio, eastern Michigan, western Pennsylvania and southern Ontario — where forts, ships, monuments and museums bring these critical years to life.

Take a tour of these sites — some original, some re-created — and you’ll come away with a better understanding of the importance of this conflict to the future of the United States. Forgotten no more.

Anniversary events

      Plan your tour of War of 1812 sites around these special events:


      The observation deck atop Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial in Put-in- Bay reopens to the public after years of closure. Information: 14-15:

      The Navy of 1812: Sailors on the Lakes, a naval encampment at Fort George and Navy Hall in Niagara-on-the- Lake, Ontario. Information: 17:

      Capture of Fort Mackinac, 200 years later, a re-enactment with music, musket salutes and more; Mackinac Island, Mich. Information: fort-mackinacJuly 21-22:

      Chillicothe During the War of 1812 at Adena Mansion & Gardens, the home of Ohio Gov. Thomas Worthington. Information:

adenamansion.comAug. 11-12:

      Siege of Fort Erie annual re-enactment of Canada’s bloodiest battlefield. Information: 17-18-19:

      Fort Jennings Bicentennial in Fort Jennings, Ohio, with re-enactors, historic crafts, military vehicle show. Information:

fortjenningspark.comAug. 18-19:

      Celebrate Oliver Hazard Perry’s 227th birthday with a Perry lookalike contest, 19th-century cricket, cooking stations, musket demos and more. Information: 27-Sept. 4:

      Cleveland Navy Week includes ship visits, the Navy Band, submarine tours and more. Information:

navyweek.orgSept. 1-2:

      War of 1812 Encampment at Old Fort Niagara, Youngstown, N.Y. Information:

oldfortniagara.orgSept. 7-8-9:

      The 199th anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie at Perry memorial in Put-in-Bay. Celebration includes a parade, fireworks and a harbor illumination. Information: 13-14:

      The Battle of Queenston Heights; re-enactors from the United States and Canada replay this pivotal battle at Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Information: 1812ontarioJan. 19, 2013:

      The 200th anniversary of the Battle of River Raisin in Monroe, Mich. Information:

riverraisinbattlefield.orgMay 4-5, 2013:

      Fort Meigs commemorates the 200th anniversary of the First Siege. Information:

fortmeigs.orgLate August through Sept. 10, 2013:

      The 200th anniversary of the pivotal Battle of Lake Erie takes center stage in numerous events throughout the region. Information:

battleoflakeerie-bicentennial.comFor information about sites, events and travel

Fort Meigs, Perrysburg

Fort Meigs, just south of Toledo on the Maumee River, was built in early 1813 as a temporary supply depot and staging area for a U.S. invasion into the British colony of Upper Canada (present-day Ontario). It came under attack by British and Indian troops twice, in May and July 1813, both times unsuccessfully, and was dismantled in September that same year.

The Ohio Historical Society rebuilt the fort and opened it to the public in 1974. Today, visitors can walk around the 10-acre site and into several blockhouses to learn about life as a 19th-century soldier. Historical interpreters offer rifle and musket demonstrations; a museum and visitors center put the battles in context with the war and international events.

Hours: 9:30-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: $8; $4, students.

Information: or 1-800-283-8916.

Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, Put-in-Bay

Perry’s memorial, on South Bass Island in Lake Erie, commemorates the pivotal Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813, during which Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry outmaneuvered and outlasted the Royal Navy, guaranteeing U.S. control of the Great Lakes. The victory was considered a turning point in the war. After his success, Perry famously penned these words to Gen. William Henry Harrison: “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.”

The memorial, erected for the 100th anniversary of the battle, towers 352 feet above the village of Put-in-Bay, offering terrific views of Lake Erie, Ohio’s mainland, Michigan and Ontario. The observation deck atop the memorial has been closed for repairs for several years, but is to reopen Tuesday.

Hours: Visitors center is open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily through Sept. 2 (10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 3-Oct. 28); observation deck, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Admission: $3 to ascend the memorial (free, 15 and under).

Information: or 419-285-2184.

Flagship Niagara, Erie, Pa.

The Brig Niagara, a reconstruction of the ship that Perry used in the Battle of Lake Erie, is docked at the Erie Maritime Museum, not far from where the ship was built in 1812. Visitors can tour the ship when it is in town, and take occasional public sails on the lake (reservations required far in advance). The ship has a busy schedule this summer — appearing in several war commemoration events, including a portion of Cleveland Navy Week, Aug. 27-Sept. 4 — so call ahead before heading to Erie.

Museum hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: $8; $5, ages 3-11.

Information: or 814-452-2744.

While in Erie, check out Presque Isle State Park, where Perry assembled his fleet before heading over to Put-in-Bay. A large monument at the park pays tribute to Perry.


Lynn Ischay, The Plain DealerA statue of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who led the United States to victory in the Battle of Lake Erie, stands guard in the visitors center at Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial on South Bass Island. The observation deck atop the 352-foot-tall memorial, closed for three years, reopens Tuesday.

River Raisin National Battlefield Park, Monroe, Mich.

British troops and their Indian allies won a major victory at River Raisin (also known as the Battle of Frenchtown) in present-day Monroe, Mich., in January 1813. The battle was part of a larger American effort to retake Detroit (the city was lost to the British in August 1812). But the plan backfired: Nearly 400 Americans were killed here, making it one of the deadliest battles during the war for the United States. A subsequent massacre of wounded American troops by Indians became known as the River Raisin Massacre and led to the rallying cry “Remember the Raisin!”

The battlefield became a national park in 2010 and tells the story of the war and the struggle for the Northwest Territory.

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

Information:, or 734-243-7136.

Fort Mackinac, Mackinac Island, Mich.

The first land battle of the war took place in July 1812, when British soldiers surprised Americans on Mackinac Island; the Americans didn’t even know the two countries were at war. Two years later, the Americans tried unsuccessfully to take the fort back. The fort, returned to United States after the war, is now owned by the state park service and is a top draw on lovely Mackinac Island, midway between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas in Lake Huron.

Hours: 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m. daily through Aug. 18 (9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Aug. 19-Oct. 7).

Admission: $11; $6.50, ages 5-17.

Information: or 906-847-3328.

Fort Malden National Historic Site, Amherstburg, Ontario

It was here in August 1812 that British Maj. Gen. Isaac Brock, commander-in-chief of forces in Upper Canada, forged an alliance with Shawnee chief Tecumseh, and where the two planned their successful attack on Detroit.

The fort was evacuated by the British after the Battle of Lake Erie; retreating British soldiers fought and lost the nearby Battle of the Thames, where Tecumseh was killed. The post subsequently was returned to the British after the war.

Today, visitors can check out original soldiers barracks and the cookhouse, watch musket firings, and tour a museum and visitors center.

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

Admission: $3.90; $1.90, ages 6-16.

Information: or 519-736-5416.

Fort George National Historic Site, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Fort George, on the Niagara River at the mouth of Lake Ontario, served as the headquarters for the British army during the War of 1812. The fort was captured by Americans in May 1813 in what was the first American victory on the Niagara front, and used as a base to invade the rest of Upper Canada. Fort George was retaken by the British in December. A monument to Isaac Brock, known as “the hero of Upper Canada,” is in nearby Queenston Heights.

Today, the fort offers tours, artillery demonstrations, a fife-and-drum corps and more, in the heart of scenic Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

Admission: $11.70; $5.80, ages 6-16

Information: or 905-468-6614.

Old Fort Niagara, Youngstown, N.Y.

Across the Niagara River, on the American side, is Old Fort Niagara, originally built by the French in the late 1600s to protect the interests of what was known as New France. During the War of 1812, the fort was captured by the British in December 1813, then returned to the United States at the end of the war.

Today, visitors can take a guided or self-guided tour of the 23-acre fort, with access to six buildings as well as terrific views of the lake and river.

Hours: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily in July and August, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. other times of the year.

Admission: $12; $8, ages 6-12.

Information: or 716-745-7611.

Old Fort Erie, Fort Erie, Ontario

Control of Fort Erie, built by the British as a supply depot in 1764, shifted several times during the War of 1812, because of its important location on the Niagara River at Lake Erie (across the river from Buffalo). It was the site of Upper Canada’s bloodiest battle, where 1,000 troops were killed or wounded in August and September 1814, when the British fought unsuccessfully to regain control of the fort. Destroyed by the Americans in late 1814, it was rebuilt in the 1930s and now is owned and operated by the Niagara Parks Commission. Grounds tours include soldiers barracks, officers quarters and more.

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through October.

Admission: $12.25; $7.95, ages 6-12.

Information: or 905-871-0540.

Fort York, Toronto

American soldiers occupied Fort York, in Upper Canada’s capital, for several days in April 1813, during which they burned parliament buildings and looted homes. In retaliation, the British burned the Capitol and White House when they captured Washington, D.C., a year later. Today, Fort York offers Canada’s largest collection of original War of 1812 buildings.

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

Admission: $7.96; $4.87, ages 13-18; $3.75, ages 6-12.

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