derivera park cannon

The following piece is published in this month’s Put-in-Bay Gazette. The Gazette has been producing incredible independent Put-in-Bay island news for over 40 years. If you have any interest at all in what is happening on South Bass Island, we urge you strongly to subscribe to the Put-in-Bay Gazette. One-year online subscriptions are only $15, and print subscriptions are available as well. To subscribe please click here.

The six cannons in DeRivera Park look better than they ever have this summer thanks to the hard work of John Galvin and Tim Schluter. The two additional cannons on the village portion of the park still show the many layers of paint applied to them over the past 122 years since they have been mounted for display. As the cannons were stripped of many layers of old paint, the original numbers and other foundry markings were revealed.

One cannon is marked with “B.F.” indicating the Builder’s Foundry of Rhode Island.  Five cannons are marked FP indicating the Fort Pitt Foundry in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Each foundry numbered their cannons and applied other markings. These cannons found their way to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and from there, to Put-in-Bay from the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  From there, they were shipped to Sandusky and later, to Put-in-Bay.

The Cannons in the park are 8-inch guns (the diameter of the inside of the canon) or VIII Shell Guns.  Each one weighs about 6400 lbs. Constructed near the end of the Civil War these guns never were completed and did not see action.

Initially, Put-in-Bay had one 1812-era carronade believed to have come off of one of Perry’s ships.  It was sold to the town of Port Clinton in the 1890s where they included it in their local parades and historic events. The sketch to the right shows how the carronade may have looked on Perry’s ship.  The carronades were easier to handle than the long guns. They required less than half as much gunpowder, allowing fewer sailors to fire them.

Several ears after Put-in-Bay sold the historic carronade, the residents decided to acquire cannons for display. In the late 1800s, the United States War Department was donating excess cannons as decorative items. The art of canon forging was improved after the Civil War making these obsolete.   The cannons sent to PIB were the older Dahlgren style. These canons had not been finished by the foundries before the end of the Civil War. The vent holes in the cannons had not been drilled so they could not be fired.  Put-in-Bay requested eight cannons and 88 cannon balls in 1897. Together, the eight cannons and the cannonballs weighed about 33 tons so moving them was not a small task. The amount spent for the freight on the Baltimore-Ohio railroad to Sandusky was about $150. The larger challenge was moving them from Sandusky to PIB.

After a year of stagnation, as officials argued over freight prices, bills, and transport responsibility, the cannons came to the island. Once they reached the shore of Lake Erie, and funds were raised for expenses, the Fox Brothers used their steamer, the A. H. Burch to bring them to the village.

It took several local fund raisers, a lot of initiative and some generous donations to bring them from Sandusky to Put-in-Bay and get them mounted. A Dramatics Club at Put-in-Bay put on regular performances in the 1890s and later. Their ticket sales generated more then they needed for their costs and were used for various local projects, including St. Paul’s Church, the construction of the initial sea-wall along the shoreline of the village park, and some of the costs of getting the cannons and cannon balls placed in the park. One performance, “Reedy the Mail Girl” offered January 13, 1899 supported the canon project.  The cast included members of the Vroman, Engel, Wigland, Kunzler and Rittman families.

On February 2nd, 1899, a play titled “Hidden Crime” presented by “The Home Club” raised funds for the canon transport fees. The play cleared $52.26 which was lower than hoped due to the grip (flu) suffered by a large number of residents that month. The first week of February Mayor J.C. Oldt was holding $115.28 raised by the community for the transfer and placement of the canons in the park.

The village council met a few days after the February fund raiser. The Mayor appointed T.B. Alexander (who was not present at the meeting) to collect funds to be used to pay the balance of the freight due to Fox and Sons.  His committee was also tasked to have the cannon mounted in stone by May.

The Fox Brothers charged $33 to bring the 33 tons of material to the island. In addition to the proceeds raised by the Dramatic Club, island residents were asked for donations to pay the fees. Some, like Rev Forbes of St. Paul’s gave 50 cents. Some businesses pledged as much as 75 cents.

In late April 1899, George E. Glascoyne, an island resident, prepared foundations for the cannon mounts. First he dug holes, adding stones to the bottom. The stones were covered with cement and lime up to ground level then, cut stone was set in place to hold the cannons. The masonry work provided by George Gascoyne cost about $119 in 1899. According to Sandusky Register, the final bill was close to $300.

An article in the July 6, 1899 Sandusky Register announced the village cannon committee choose to name the cannons with the names of the six officers buried in the park, and their commanders, Commodore Perry and Commodore Barkley. The names were painted on the breech of each of the cannons. The US names and British names were mixed with one US officer on every other.  The alignment of the names placed the old willow between the two commodores;  starting at the north end of the park:  Brooks U.S., Com Barkley B.N., cannon balls, Com O.H. Perry U.S., Finnes B.N, Lunt U.S. Stokoe B.N. Clark U.S. Garland B.N.

The earliest settlers who were chased away by the British before O.H. Perry began sailing on the lake had cleared the land of all trees. At the turn of the century, when the cannons arrived, it held a few second growth trees, and the old willow tree marking the burial spot.

Theresa Thorndale (a pen name) aka Lydia Ryalls, wrote for the Sandusky Register and later published a book in 1898, including several of her articles. Lydia Ryalls has a second hand account of the events of Sept. 10th. Thorndale interviewed older residents and shared their faded memories of visitors from Perry’s crew who returned to the island to visit the spot. An un-named visitor provided his narration of the events with Mr. Vroman who was the first island resident who arrived in 1843. He passed the story to Lydia Ryalls … “After a description of the fight, the narrator closed with an account of the burial of the dead at Put-in-Bay. Six officers, three American, three British, were interred on site marked by the ‘Perry willow’ or ‘lone willow.’” The willow was rumored to have grown from a willow branch imbedded in the ground a few days after the battle. Posts and a rope were placed around the tree. The tree was photographed by countless visitors. On April 17th, 1900, after surviving the storms since 1813, it fell on a day almost as calm as the day of the battle, at the age of 87. Willow trees have a lifespan of 40-150 years.

The cannon balls near the place where the Lone Willow once stood remained as their memorial. Supporters still yearned for a better memorial to remember the Battle of Lake Erie. It took another 12 years before the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial began to rise above the island. In 1913, 100 years after the battle, the remains were moved from the park to the column but the cannonballs remain as a reminder of their initial resting place.

This piece of Put-in-Bay journalism has been provided to courtesy of the Put-in-Bay Gazette, Put-in-Bay’s only local newspaper. Visit their website for more information and to subscribe!