8 things you may not know about Erie, Pennsylvania

Photo courtesy of SevenMaps via Shutterstock.

By Kalena Thomhave

March 22, 2024

Erie has been receiving a fair amount of attention recently, as Pennsylvania’s northwestern corner is the only spot in the state where the full totality of next month’s total solar eclipse will be visible. But Pennsylvania’s fifth-largest city remains a mystery to many others throughout the commonwealth.

Erie, Pennsylvania is having a moment.

Pennsylvania’s northwestern corner is the only spot in the state where the full totality of next month’s total solar eclipse will be visible. Therefore, the humble city on the shores of Lake Erie has been receiving a fair amount of attention recently. 

Thousands will descend upon Pennsylvania’s fifth-largest city (population: 93,511, according to the most recent US Census data) to witness the once-in-a-lifetime event on Monday, April 8. Area hotels and Airbnb’s have been booked solid for months, and watch parties are planned throughout the city and surrounding towns.

But while Erie is getting a bump in attention ahead of the mid-afternoon darkness that will blanket the region for about four minutes, the city remains a mystery to many on the eastern side of the state. Even Pittsburghers, who may visit Erie for a trip to “the beach,” likely have a lot to learn about the “Flagship City.”

We’re here to help demystify Erie just a little bit.

1. You can fly to Dublin in less time than it takes to drive from Philly to Erie.

Erie is closer to Buffalo, N.Y. (92 miles from Erie) and Cleveland (103 miles from Erie) than it is to Pittsburgh, which is 128 miles from the northwestern city. Meanwhile, Erie is a whopping 428 miles from Philadelphia. To drive to Erie from Philly, you’d essentially cross the state from one corner to the other; the whole trip would take just under seven hours. You can also fly direct from Philadelphia International Airport to Ireland’s Dublin Airport — this trip too would take just under seven hours, but would still be a little faster than the trek from Philly to Erie. (In other words, plan about 6.5 hours to get to either Erie or Éire.)

2. Erie is home to one of the last remaining ships from the War of 1812.

The USS Niagara is a wooden ship docked on the waterfront near downtown Erie and the Erie Maritime Museum. It’s also (sort of!) more than 200 years old, having served as the relief flagship for Oliver Hazard Perry during the War of 1812’s Battle of Lake Erie; Perry emblazoned the now famous “don’t give up the ship” on the Niagara’s flag! Now, the USS Niagara is a ship with an actual Ship of Theseus problem — is an object still the same object if all of its components are replaced? The USS Niagara has been restored a number of times and bolstered with modern equipment. Whether that means it’s a replica or not, it’s still a cool ship you can see in Erie. The ship sometimes even sails the Great Lakes as the official state ship of Pa. (That’s another fun fact — we have an official state ship!)

USS Niagara courtesy of arianravan // CC BY 2.0 Deed.

3. You can visit Erie to experience the seashore in Pa.

Erie is home to Pennsylvania’s only “seashore” — that of Lake Erie. The entire shoreline is roughly 75 miles, though it’s mostly bluffs. While there’s debate about whether Pennsylvania is truly landlocked given that its coastal areas are along a river and a lake, we lean toward a designation of not landlocked. The Great Lakes may technically be lakes, but they could also be considered freshwater inland seas. After all, Lake Erie is estimated to be the final resting place of at least 1,000 ships that wrecked in the lake’s tumultuous waters, including more than 100 off the coast of Erie.

4. You can visit Erie to go to the beach — really!

Erie hosts the Pa. seashore — including its beach access. Presque Isle State Park, a sandy peninsula that juts into Lake Erie to form Presque Isle Bay, is a natural area just off the coast of Erie. Besides an environmental center and beautiful hiking trails, the state park also has nearly a dozen beaches where you can relax and enjoy the sun and “sea” — Lake Erie is so sea-like that a Lake Erie beach day doesn’t feel like you’re merely at a lake. It’s the only place in Pa. where you can swim in the surf!

Presque Isle State Park courtesy of Pennsylvania’s Great Lakes Region // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed.

5. Erie ultimately takes its name from the first known inhabitants of the region.

Erie may take its name from Lake Erie, but the lake itself owes its name to the first known inhabitants of the region, the Erie people. The Wendat or Huron called them “Eriehronon,” meaning “cat” or “long-tail” people, and the French called them the Cat Nation. (Rather than wildcats, they were likely named after raccoons or mountain lions.) Little is known about the tribe — they may have even been a group of tribes — because the Erie were essentially exterminated by the Iroquois between 1654 and 1656 as part of the Beaver Wars. Before that, the Erie managed to avoid almost all contact with European settlers. We do know the Erie held against the Iroquois for two years — but as the Iroquois had firearms and the Erie did not, the Erie were eventually defeated. Survivors were assimilated into neighboring tribes, particularly the Seneca of the Iroquois Confederacy. 

6. Erie is one of the snowiest cities in the US.

Thanks to Lake Erie and lake effect snow, Erie gets some of the heaviest snowfall in the US. Lake effect snow occurs when cold air passes over the warm waters of a lake — warmer air with water vapor from the lake rises, the water vapor freezes, and then snow falls to the ground to mess up Erie morning commutes. On average, Erie gets 104.3 inches of snow per year. For comparison’s sake, Philly gets roughly 19.3 inches and Pittsburgh gets 41.9. Of course, this past winter was mild — by mid-March, Erie has usually gotten more than 90 inches of snow, but so far this season it’s only gotten 22.7 inches. Still, Erie may not have mountains for downhill skiing, but you can for sure travel to the city for cross-country skiing!

7. The roots of ‘American Gladiators’ are in Erie.

The strange delight of the reality TV show known as “American Gladiators” got its start in Erie, when Johnny Ferraro and Dann Carr gathered amateur athletes and “gladiators” to compete against each other in tests of strength. The initial event took place at Erie’s TechnicalMemorial High School in 1983, and the original TV show ran from 1989 to 1996. In 2023, a documentary about “American Gladiators” premiered on ESPN; another American Gladiators documentary series, which also premiered in 2023, is streaming on Netflix.

8. Erie has its own wine country.

The largest grape production region east of the Rocky Mountains is located around Erie, with more than 30,000 acres of vineyards stretching across Pennsylvania and New York. Most of these grapes are sold for jam and juice, but about a fifth are turned into wine. Lake Erie Wine Country, which begins about 15 minutes from Erie in the town of Harborcreek, is made up of 21 wineries across 53 miles — perfect for a wine lover’s road trip.

Erie grapevines courtesy of MissMessie // CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed.

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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