The harbor of Erie is considered the finest on the Great Lakes in regard to the natural protection of the Peninsula. Unfortunately, the lack of proper development of shipping infrastructure at the port has hindered the growth of the city according to John Nolen’s observations in 1913.
Investment was needed to improve the piers and railroad spurs that could quickly move freight from ships to waiting customers. As the large pile of wood seen in the below photo shows, the necessity of a lumber pier was sorely needed!
The fishing industry was still in its infancy in 1913. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Erie became the largest freshwater fishing port in the world. That was made possible by the construction of a modern fishing pier, equipment and ways of disposing of the “fishy” debris after processing occurred.
It was also recommended that a one-million-bushel grain elevator be built to relieve the congestion that occurred in the Buffalo, New York elevators. The grain elevator was built; do you remember it? Located at the foot of Holland Street, it was constructed in 1918 and demolished in 1986.
I did a little research on Great Lakes shipping today. I am sure many of us have noticed some freight ships in the distance on Lake Erie or perhaps parked at Donjon for repairs. They are enormous! There is now a movement to relieve the pressures on ocean ports with the backlog of container ships from overseas. Why can’t those ships enter the Great Lakes? Many of them can, but ports on the Lakes are not large enough to manage those ships except Cleveland. That city has invested in their harbor infrastructure for years and stands ready for deliveries. It is unfortunate that Erie does not have those resources.
The Belgian company, Carmeuse, runs the former Erie Sand and Gravel Docks near the channel from the bay to the lake. According to a February 21, 2022, Times News article by Ron Leonardi, 780,000 tons of goods and materials were shipped to Erie via this dock in 2021. That equals 39,000, 20-ton truckloads! Imports include limestone, gravel, road salt, stones, and renewable energy components. There have been few exports though. The last locomotives that were transported by ship left town in 2015.
Every now and then we hear about cruises on the Great Lakes. I looked them up and they do exist, however; not one stops in Erie at this time. Viking Cruises, famous for their river boat tours in Europe, offers a 15-day trip from Toronto to Duluth for $14,000. Want to go?
I wish happiness and long life to all those who work Erie’s harbor. As we have just seen, the growth of our community relies on a practical plan for transportation and recreation in that area. A few hotels and a convention center are not enough to sustain enthusiasm for that prime real estate. My hope is that the Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority and private development can make that happen.