From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

For the first time in two decades, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) will open a new museum when the Erie Maritime Museum makes its grand debut in May.

Planning for the museum began in 1986, but a suitable site was not secured until 1991. We needed not only a museum location but also a new berthing facility for the U.S. Brig Niagara. It was at this time that the Erie County Public Library announced its intention to dose its aging downtown headquarters and approached the PHMC to explore the possibility of linking the new library and museum projects.

Such collaboration became feasible when the Pennsylvania Electric Company (now part of GPU Energy) closed its steam generating plant on Front Street, bordering the east basin of the historic Erie Extension Canal. This location is ideal – not only is it accessible to the new Bayfront Highway with connections to interstate highways, it’s also a short drive to State Street, Erie’s main thoroughfare, and Dobbins Landing, a popular gathering place. Our final plan blended the need for access to the bay front, historic preservation, museum interpreta­tion, modern library services, and respect for the natural setting.

The Erie Maritime Museum, housed in a rehabilitated 1917 powerhouse, will offer visitors an in-depth look at the causes leading to the War of 1812, a complex period of history not well known by many Americans. The bitter conflict was the final chapter in the bloody contests with France and Great Britain for control of North America that began in the 1750s with the eruption of the French and Indian War. Museum exhibits include an environmental history of Lake Erie; profiles of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and military leaders; interactive experiences on sailing for children; and an innovative “live-fire” display illustrating the damage caused by cannon balls to a ship. The highlight of a visit will undoubtedly be a tour of the Brig Niagara.

The development of the Erie Maritime Museum represents a bold effort to transform Erie’s bay front into a thriving incubator of economic development and tourism. The museum I library complex will be the anchor for commercial, residential, and intermodal public transportation initiatives. Such accom­plishments cannot occur without the extraordinary support of partners, public and private. The Commission is fortu­nate to have engaged the cooperation of all levels of government, especially the Erie Port Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We have been joined by local businesses, foundations, and the chamber of commerce. Perhaps the most important partner is the Flagship Niagara League, a private support organization of nearly one thousand members.

The partnerships, the physical structures, and the ambitious goals all make the opening of the Erie Maritime Museum a proud moment for the PHMC and major “must-see” attraction on the Pennsylvania Trail of History!

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director