Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, the naval hero from the War of 1812, was never one to give up on a ship.
Neither are volunteers at the Buffalo Maritime Center who, two centuries later, are endeavoring to re-create the armed cutter USS Trippe, one of Perry’s nine vessels in a fleet that he led to victory in the Battle of Lake Erie on Sept. 10, 1813.
A replica of Perry’s 34-foot vessel is being assembled not far from the Black Rock site where the original was built in 1811.
With a lot more elbow grease, epoxy and spar varnish, what is now a wooden hull of a ship inside an Arthur Street industrial building should be transformed into a seaworthy replica of the USS Trippe in time for September’s bicentennial commemoration of the historic battle off shore near Put-in-Bay, Ohio.
“It’s a means to once again tell Buffalo’s history that has become somewhat lost,” said Roger Allen, a master ship-builder and the director of the Buffalo Maritime Center who is advising a volunteer crew in crafting the boat. “The history of not just the War of 1812, but the history of Buffalo’s maritime tradition, is evaporating.”
Kevin McCarthy, trustee of the Friends of the Edward M. Cotter fireboat – the organization that owns the Trippe replica – is equally excited.
“It’s a memento of a time that shouldn’t be forgotten,” he said.
The Trippe won’t be forgotten if these local maritime history buffs have anything to say about it, but there’s a lot to accomplish in the next seven months – both on and off the vessel.
First is a Feb. 19 scheduled presentation to the Niagara River Greenway Commission in hopes of securing a $90,000 grant that will be essential to completing the project in time. Those funds would be allocated primarily toward materials needed to complete construction and to outfit the Trippe, such as nearly $50,000 to complete all the spars, sails and rigging for the vessel; $20,500 for the fabrication of a 6,800-pound lead keel; and $5,000 for a 16-pound replica long cannon.
As the Greenway Commission process moves forward, volunteers will continue pushing ahead with affixing old-growth redwood cedar veneer over the already-crafted mahogany strips that make up the hull before moving ahead with construction to the deck and interior framing, according to Allen and McCarthy.
When that work is complete and the bicentennial celebration is wrapped up, officials from the Maritime Center envision the Trippe returning to a permanent location at its historical home port.
“We’re hoping we’re going to be able to dock her in Black Rock,” Allen said.
The Maritime Center got a huge helping hand in launching the project when shipbuilder Jim Watkins donated the handcrafted, solid mahogany ship hull. He spent three years building the hull, and it’s valued at $70,000.
Watkins had planned to use the vessel as a cruising boat to travel about the South Pacific but later decided to make the donation to the Friends of the Cotter organization through McCarthy, his longtime friend.
Not only was the hull in great condition, but it was designed in a “very, very similar” fashion to that of the Trippe, making the transition to its new purpose almost seamless, said Allen, who was recruited to the Maritime Center a few years ago. Allen’s resume includes stints as a master shipbuilder at the Philadelphia Maritime Museum and curator of boat-building technology for the state of North Carolina.
The Trippe “would have served as a sniper and a courier vessel,” Allen said.
In the Battle of Lake Erie, a half-dozen or so Kentucky long-riflemen aboard the Trippe sniped at royal forces in the rigging or crow’s-nests of the British naval vessels while as many other riflemen below reloaded the weapons. The Trippe would also have moved both men and munitions among the fleet during the battle.
It’s believed, said McCarthy, that the Trippe led Perry’s fleet when it traveled in a straight line and was in the “most leeward,” or downwind, position when the fleet sailed abreast.
After surviving the Battle of Lake Erie intact, the Trippe was returned to Buffalo and pulled up onto a beach along the Buffalo River at about the site where the General Mills plant now stands. There, she was burned by British forces during the December 1813 torching of the village of Buffalo.
Allen, McCarthy and others intend to put the Buffalo Maritime Center on a voyage similar to that of the Erie Maritime Museum in Erie, Pa., the home port of the re-creation of Perry’s Flagship Niagara, where day sails, extensive volunteerism and educational programming are offered 90 miles down Lake Erie. The Niagara enjoyed overwhelming fanfare locally in September when it docked in Buffalo for Navy Week.
“We’re working on something a little bit smaller, but it isn’t anything less historically significant,” McCarthy said. “The intent would be to use this as a rallying point where we bring all these diverse groups together to tell a common story of maritime history around Buffalo.”
For more information, to donate or become a member of the Buffalo Maritime Center, visit www.buffalomaritime center.org.