I don't even think about cranberries except on Thanksgiving.  However, I wasn't around in the 1800s. That's when everyone in Erie thought about cranberries. The city had a special day to celebrate the cranberry.  It was an official holiday!  Everyone went wild.   

In the early 1800s, Presque Isle did not have roads, trails, and buildings as it has today. But, it did have lots and lots of cranberries. It was not unusual to see people rowing boats across Presque Isle Bay to pick the little red berries. In 1841, the state legislature believed Erie could cash in on its abundance of cranberries.  The legislature passed a bill declaring the first Tuesday in October as Cranberry Day. It was a long-awaited holiday. No one could pick cranberries on Presque Isle from July 1st to the first Tuesday in October. That day was special. If you think St. Patrick's Day is a big celebration these days in Erie, Cranberry Day, back then, was much, much bigger.

"It was much bigger than the Fourth of July,” says Gene Ware.  Gene is an historian who has written ten books, including A History of Presque Isle.  Gene says there were times when a thousand people were at Presque Isle picking berries. 

Now think about that,” says Gene. “You've got all of these boats, all of these people picking berries. About a thousand people. And back then, that was a lot of people."  

Gene says the celebration was called ‘Cranberry Days’ because people would camp out on the peninsula for several days once the first Tuesday of October arrived. Hundreds and hundreds of boats would come ashore at Misery Bay.  Gene believes some of the people who came to Presque Isle probably didn't even like cranberries.

"I think that part of it was they liked to go there and party and it gives them an excuse," he said. 

Unfortunately, poachers led to the demise of Cranberry Days.  The poachers didn't pick the cranberries by hand, they used cranberry rakes, such as the one on display at the Hagen History Center. The poachers arrived when the berries had not yet ripened. They did not care about breaking the law.

"They killed the plants when they put these rakes through here,” says Gene. “They broke off and a blight took over and started little by little over about a period of ten years killing basically all of the plants."  

Cranberry Days are gone. But, let's think about this forgotten Erie holiday as we enjoy our cranberries on Thanksgiving.  If you are wondering, there were only about 3,500 people living in Erie in 1841.   And today, there are only three or four cranberry bushes that can be found on Presque Isle.