Erie is heaven for history buffs. Lighthouses, railways, Victorian mansions and even a naval brig from the War of 1812 serve as reminders of Erie days gone by. People in the area encounter names from Erie’s rich history every day — often without realizing the significant contributions of the namesakes. We at Edge — inquisitive by nature — decided to explore the history behind some of Erie’s most famous names.
The public dock in Erie, known as Dobbins Landing, is named for Captain Daniel Dobbins – but what’s his backstory?
Dobbins first came to Erie in 1795 with a surveying party. Shortly after his arrival, he began working on a merchant ship that sailed on Lake Erie. A few years later, Dobbins became the captain of the merchant ship, Sloop Good Intent. Not long after that, he became master and part owner of the 90-ton Schooner Salina.
Dobbins sailed his ship on Lake Erie and Lake Huron until it was captured by the British Navy in 1812. The British gave Dobbins parole and made him take his ship to Cleveland. There, Dobbins joined the militia, and fought in some skirmishes where he once again became prisoner to the British.
After escaping to Erie, Dobbins was told to report what he had seen to the authorities in Washington. While there, he was given the rank of sailing master and assigned the task of building a fleet in Erie, where Oliver Hazard Perry was one of the captains Dobbins built for.
After retiring from the Navy in 1826, Dobbins supervised harbor improvement projects in Erie and Ashtabula, Ohio. He was also the director of the Erie and Chautauqua Steamboat Company which built and operated the first steamboat to be sailed in Lake Erie: the Steamer William Penn.
In 1829, Dobbins became a captain in the US Revenue Cutter Service; since turned into the US Coast Guard. He retired from the US Revenue Cutter Service in 1849.
Dobbins was also involved in helping slaves board ships on their journey to freedom through the Underground Railroad.
Dobbins died in 1856 at the age of 79; he is buried with his wife in Erie Cemetery.