By virtue of a natural harbor considered the best on the lake, Erie first rose to prominence in the 19th century as a maritime center, in addition to shipbuilding and fishing, Erie's docks served as a hub of travel and trade.
In 1812-1813, six warships, including the Brig Niagara, were constructed in Erie. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry would lead them to defeat the British at the Battle of Lake Erie on September 13, 1813.
Beginning in the 1830's, Erie's steamboat fleet carried passengers and goods between the Erie Canal at Buffalo, the Port of Erie, and Western Lake Erie.
In 1843, the first iron hulled warship on the Great Lakes, the U.S.S. Michigan (later renamed the Wolverine), was built in Erie and stationed here until 1949.
In 1844, the Erie Extension Canal opened linking Erie to Pittsburgh and the Ohio River Valley.
At its height in the 1920's, the largest freshwater fishing fleet in the world was based in Erie's harbor.
During this period, the lighthouses at this location played a critical role in bringing ships safely into Erie's harbor, and, in turn, were instrumental in the development of the United States.