Presque Isle CoverLast night I cracked open an Images of America–a popular history series that seeks to tell lesser known aspects of American history through photographs and other images–instalment by Eugene H. Ware. The volume is dedicated to the history of Presque Isle State Park and the land on which it was created. The images themselves are fascinating, and I highly recommend this series for formulating a quick snapshot of a place’s history.

However, as is all too common when I find myself picking up a popular history, I was distracted by Ware’s emphasis on how ‘natural’ Presque Isle is and how he then proceeds to provide 200 photographs that illustrate that the isle is a highly man-made environment. I could not shake the academic killjoy in me.

Ware opens the book by stating:

Presque Isle State Park’s story is interwoven with the awesome power and beauty of nature, the history of northwestern Pennsylvania, and the continuing strong desire of the people of Erie and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to keep the park unchanged and natural…Two events have contributed  to the success of the efforts to keep Presque Isle natural. The first was the 1921 designation of Presque Isle as a state park. The second was naming Presque Isle a national natural landmark in 1967.

Okay, well that’s all well and good. He then goes on to talk about Lake Erie pollution (not ‘natural’). Also:

…city of Erie. Over the years, the park seems not to have let this creation of man interfere with her natural splendour.

So, the park is not a creation of man?

Presque Isle is a large sandbar with no bedrock foundation and only a gravel moraine formation is holding it in place. With the prevailing westerly winds and lake currents, the sands are constantly washed away from the western end (the neck) and deposited around the eastern end (the point). Over time, the park tries to move eastward, and only the efforts of man keep it in place. 

So, we like it natural, unless its the kind of natural that causes change, then man steps in to keep the isle as we know it? Checks out. 

He then talks about the Eriez people, who lived and hunted on the isle. Its still natural though.

Many commercial ventures at one time called the peninsula home. These included a speakeasy, a caviar processing plant, and many commercial fishing operations. 

Commercial ventures sound natural. 

Okay, I’ll stop.

PS: One last comment. On a photo of Joe Root, Presque Isle’s famous vagrant, Ware states: “Joe Root…always liked the ladies…Joe would climb a tree in the park and sit for hours watching the women come and go. In general the women loved the attention.” That checks out Eugene. All attention is good attention. They LOVED it. Nothing better than a vagrant in a tree watching you. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. #eyeroll

Published by Jessica M. DeWitt

Dr. Jessica M. DeWitt is an environmental historian of Canada and the United States. She is passionate about the use of digital technologies to bridge the gap between the public and researchers. In addition to her community and professional work, she offers various editing and social media consultancy services.

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