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Perry site gains drama with new visitor center

  • Perry-site-gains-drama-with-new-visitor-center

    A 20-foot statue of Commodore Perry, lent by the city of Perrysburg, has the place of honor in the three-story atrium, which frames the monument.

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  • Perry-site-gains-drama-with-new-visitor-center-2

    Exhibits show causes of the war and how it was waged, and re-create the 1813 battle.

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Perry-site-gains-drama-with-new-visitor-center

A 20-foot statue of Commodore Perry, lent by the city of Perrysburg, has the place of honor in the three-story atrium, which frames the monument.

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PUT-IN-BAY - Nearly 90 years after a 352-foot Doric column was erected to honor Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, a permanent visitors' center is ready to tell the story of his naval victory in the War of 1812.

At 2 p.m. today, federal, state, and local officials will dedicate the new center, a modernistic structure that overlooks Perry's Victory and International Peace Monument on South Bass Island. The facility, which includes a three-story glass atrium for viewing the tower, replaces a small green shack that was put up in 1971 as a “temporary” visitors center.

Judge George Smith, who helped raise money for the $2.5 million center, said the new visitors center provides a dramatic place for people to learn about Commodore Perry, the war, and the battle.

“It's beyond my expectation,” said Judge Smith, who serves on the U.S. District Court bench in Columbus. “I knew it would be a nice building, but it's so well-designed and interesting and unique. It's got that three-story atrium that allows you to frame the monument. When you stand in the center, you see this enormous monument through the glass.”

Judge Smith helped form an advocacy group for the monument, the Friends of Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial, in 1989. The group helped raise $100,000, plus a $25,000 grant from former Gov. George Voinovich's administration.

“The main purpose of that was to show Congress that we really did want a visitors' center here,” Judge Smith said.

Perry-site-gains-drama-with-new-visitor-center-2

Exhibits show causes of the war and how it was waged, and re-create the 1813 battle.

blade Enlarge

U.S. Rep. Paul Gillmor (R., Old Fort) helped secure $1.7 million for construction of the center in 1999, plus $200,000 the next year. Mr. Gillmor, who will speak at today's dedication, said the center provides a fitting home for paintings, models, and books on one of the most important battles in U.S. history.

“Until this visitors center, all we had out there was an old tin shack with some pamphlets in there,” Mr. Gillmor said. “This is one of the most historical sites in American history. The Battle of Lake Erie, if that battle had gone the other way, the geographical shape of the U.S. could have been entirely different.”

Commodore Perry defeated a British fleet eight miles north of Put-in-Bay in 1813. The fighting changed the course of the War of 1812. By defeating the British, Commodore Perry took control of Lake Erie and most of the Northwest Territory.

The center's exhibits will feature a glass-encased re-creation of the battle, with small replicas of the nine American and six British ships that were involved.

A 12-foot-by-7-foot painting by military history artist Dean Mosher of Fairhope, Ala., depicts the height of the battle, when Commodore Perry and crew members abandoned his battered ship, the Lawrence, for the Niagara.

The center includes a 70-seat auditorium, where visitors will watch a 15-minute film on the pivotal battle.

Visitors also will see some original weapons used in the war and photographs from the monument's construction between 1912 and 1915.

The facility's centerpiece is the atrium, which houses a two-ton, 20-foot- high marble statue of Commodore Perry. The historic 1860 statue, which was not part of the original center plans, was loaned to the National Park Service by the city of Perrysburg.

“The statue looks wonderful in that setting, on a pedestal,” said Ralph Moore, superintendent of the Perry memorial, which is run by the park service. “You open the door and look over Perry's head to the monument. It's very powerful.”

For those who can't walk up the 37 steps to reach the elevator to the column's observation deck, a videocam will beam live images of the view from the top to a monitor in the atrium.

Mr. Moore said the center will be open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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