The Great Lakes are rich with history, and nothing brings this history to life better than visiting historical sites and monuments. Each of the five lakes is peppered with such historical sites that’ll have you feeling like a history buff in no time.
It’s a veritable smorgasbord of cultural delights. Let’s take a look together.
Monuments & Markers
Let’s first start with historical monuments along the shores of the Great Lakes. Starting with Lake Erie, you’ll find a lovely monument called Perry’s Victory. This International Peace Memorial was established to honor those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie which took place during the War of 1812.
The memorial is meant to celebrate the long-running peace between Great Britain, Canada and the United States. Perry’s Victory towers as a Doric column, rising 352 feet over Lake Erie. It’s also only situated five miles away from the longest undefended border in the world. This impressive monument will be sure to take your breath away with its impressive height and symbolism of longstanding peace between nations. This year marks the 105th anniversary of Perry’s Victory Memorial opening to the public.
Another historic marker you won’t want to miss is located on the shores of Superior near Knife River in Duluth, Minn. The Buchanan Historic Marker serves as a classic example of a masonry roadside structure. The Department of Highways constructed the marker in the 1930’s and it was likely built as part of a roadside development in conjunction with the National Park Service.
The Buchanan Historic Marker sports an overlook wall, two benches, and a historic plaque, which marks the location of the town of Buchanan. This town has a peculiar history as an early land office that only lasted for several years before melting away into the creases of history. Now the only indication that this northeastern Minnesota town existed rests with this marker.
Such a place would be perfect for a picnic so that you could overlook Lake Superior while pondering on all the other towns and people lost to the tides of time.
Then if you’re interested in historic forts, you’re not going to want to miss Fort Mississauga on Lake Ontario. This fort is nestled in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
Fort Mississauga was first declared as a national historic site because it functions as an important example of military construction within a military complex. It was completed after the War of 1812 and its central tower is situated in a strategic position at the mouth of the Niagara River. It was meant to protect the British/Canadian side of the frontier while also serving as a counterpoise to Fort Niagara on the American side.
Part of this fort’s historical significance is that it is the only remaining example in Canada of this particular type of fortification since its design consists of a square tower within star-shaped earthwork. The tower and earthwork and the only things to survive of the barracks, guardroom and cells.
The fort was built from 1814 to 1816 and garrisoned up until 1826. Later, Fort Mississauga was repaired and rearmed after the Rebellion of 1837. Soldiers continued to maintain the fort until 1854 as a result of border disputes with the United States. It was also utilized during the American Civil War and the Fenian Scare of 1866, but it then lost its military value by 1870.
If you move to the Erie side of the Niagara River, you’ll find another historic fort that was significant in the War of 1812. Sitting right on the edge of the river, Fort Erie allows visitors to experience the sights and sounds of a fort under siege.
This fort is a War of 1812 National Historic Site that gives tours on the grounds so visitors can learn more about Niagara’s pivotal role in the War of 1812. At Fort Erie, you can relive history with the British, First Nations and American soldiers. It even comes complete with musket demonstrations. This historical site gives you a chance to join in the experience with live reenactments.
If you’ve ever been curious about life during another time period, you can sate your curiosity by visiting a historical town like the Historic White Pine Village on Lake Michigan. This little village gives you a chance to experience living-history with a family-friendly tour of a late nineteenth century/early twentieth century pioneer village.
Historic White Pine village offers fun for the whole family, boasting 30 historic exhibit buildings. All of the buildings hold countless authentic artifacts and archives detailing the rich history of the area. One of the buildings is the original 1849 Mason County Courthouse, which is on the State Register of Historic Places. Then you’ll also be able to see an authentic turn-of-the-century steam locomotive with a tender care and flat car loaded with logs that is headed to the village’s functional sawmill.
You can also come face-to-face with early settlers—actors with carefully prepared scripts from historians and staff members which allow them to interact and improvise with guests. These actors put on the personas of historical characters who actually lived in Mason County at the turn of the century.
Another place you can go to get a taste of history is the Les Cheneaux area at the northern tip of Lake Huron. Cradled on the south shore of Michigan’s eastern Upper Peninsula, this area was once a strategic international northern outpost that functioned as a center of early exploration.
Now located in modern-day Cedarville, Mich., the Les Cheneaux area holds a historical museum and maritime museum which both illuminate the area’s rich history. Here you will learn it wasn’t until the early 1880’s that permanent homesteaders came to inhabit the area in earnest.
Paying a visit will allow you to discover the delights of the Les Cheneaux area and learn its distinct history as an important location in the opening and development of the Great Lakes, especially in regard to the integration of the two great peninsulas in Michigan.
What sort of historic tour would be complete without visiting some ruins? If you venture up to Fort St. Joseph in Jocelyn, Ontario, you’ll be able to explore the ruins and get your fill of educational fun. This site also played an important role in the War of 1812 and you’ll be able to feel it as you explore the ruins of the fort.
Fort St. Joseph witnessed a powerful alliance between the British and the First Nations People of the western Great Lakes Region. You can experience this firsthand through heritage demonstrations and the authentic artifacts of the historic fort. In addition, you’ll also be able to take in the scenic location which boasts more than 100 species of birds.
Then, if you enjoy scenic trails that lead to historic ruins, you won’t want to miss the Bay Furnace Historic Site on Lake Superior. The ruins are a recently stabilized blast furnace where they made pig iron between 1870 and 1877. Bay Furnace is one of the last remaining structures of its kind in the Upper Peninsula, and it also offers spectacular views of Lake Superior and Grand Island.
Lastly, if you’re a fan of historic shipwrecks you’ll also want to pay the Remains of Lottie Cooper a visit on the shores of Lake Michigan. Lottie Cooper is a ship that capsized off Sheboygan, Wis., due to a fierce gale in 1894. A large portion of the structure was salvaged in 1992 during Harbor Centre Marina’s construction. Originally 131 feet long, you can now take a look at the 89-foot long recovered center section on display on the northbound Bright Drive at the entrance of Deland Park in Sheboygan.
The ship was originally built by the Rand and Burger Shipyard in Manitowoc, Wis., in 1876, and it was named after the daughter of one of the original owners. The Lottie Cooper stands as a representation of a historic period when thousands of commercial wooden vessels sailed the often treacherous Great Lakes.
As you can see, the Great Lakes are rich with history just waiting to be explored. So what are you waiting for? Plan your historical voyage today and experience history while creating your own unforgettable memories!
For More Information
Bay Furnace Ruins
Buchanan Historic Marker
Fort St. Joseph National Historic Site
Historic White Pine Village
Les Cheneaux Area
Old Fort Erie
Remains of Lottie Cooper