By Sue Botos
It was too windy to raise the British Red Ensign flag on the flag pole at Bradstreet’s Landing in Rocky River on Saturday, so two city workers unfurled the banner while historical re-enactor Ken Tischler, attired in the uniform of the British 64th Regiment of Foot, fired a salute from a musket.
With the wind, rain and waves pounding the Lake Erie shore, it was not difficult to picture the scene from 250 years ago.
On Oct. 18, 1764, 1,650 British soldiers, American provincials and Native Americans under the command of Col. John Bradstreet were returning from a mission to Fort Detroit to deal with warring tribes during the American Indian Wars.
On their way back to Fort Niagara, Bradstreet’s party found the usually safe shelter of the Rocky River to be treacherous, in the dark, for their 59 bateaux, large flat-bottomed boats powered by rowers, and several birch bark canoes. They sought shelter on the beach, a break in the stoney cliffs now known as Bradstreet’s Landing.
But as anyone living on Lake Erie knows, conditions can change in the blink of an eye. Local historian Dan Marsalek told the crowd that a huge wave, or seiche, swamped the boats, destroying 27 and swallowing provisions needed for the trek to New York.
“Imagine what those men went through,” the Navy veteran told the hardy crowd. With the background of the crashing waves, it was not difficult. He added that there were no recorded casualties, and that many of the soldiers continued on foot to Fort Niagara.
Marsalek, a retired dentist, had his interest in the event sparked when he heard that possible artifacts had been found near his Rocky River home. He then became curious, and spent nearly the next 45 years researching.
It became a family affair, with Marsalek’s wife, Jan, and other family members pitching in, discovering several cannon balls on the beach. “These were actually in the water,” said Jan Marsalek, displaying some of their finds, which resembled brown baseballs, in the back of the family van, safe from the weather.
According to rumor, six lightweight cannons were buried near the site after the boats had been destroyed. Marsalek searched for them in the early 1970s, getting permission from the city, which discouraged treasure hunters from digging up the park. He was unsuccessful, speculating that soldiers may have returned to recover the valuable weapons. However, his research was successful in convincing City Council to change the name of the site from Lake Edge Park to Bradstreet’s Landing in 1984.
Now, City Council is preparing to bring the park, long a favorite sunset watching venue, into the future.
Safety-service Director Mary Kay Costello gave the group a look at the future, announcing that she has applied for a Natureworks grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to spruce up parking, restrooms and recreational facilities. The city is asking for $330,000.
“In the 1980s, we put in the fishing pier and the ODNR provided funds for grills, benches and picnic tables. We really haven’t done much since,” Costello stated. She said it was time the enthusiasm felt by residents for the park was translated into work.
Other plans for the park include the removal of perimeter fencing, reconfiguring the parking lot, and adding more seating and a playground.
Costello said it was too early to nail down a timeline, but planning is expected to get underway in 2015, and construction in 2016.
“This land connects to the past and to nature. This is a special place, and we look forward to honoring its history,” Costello said.