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At the start of the War of 1812, British warships under the Provincial Marine controlled the Great Lakes. Outgunned on America's third coast, the fledgling US Navy scored one of its most important victories at the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813, under the command of Oliver Hazard Perry. When Perry's flagship, USS Lawrence, was disabled by enemy fire and forced to surrender, he transferred his command to the 20-gun brig Niagara. The American fleet managed to throw the British ships into disarray, with Perry and the Niagara capturing the two largest British vessels. The rest of the British fleet quickly surrendered to the Americans, securing Lake Erie and helping turn the tide of the war on the Great Lakes in favor of the United States.
The Niagara served on the Great Lakes for the remainder of the war before being sunk for preservation in 1820. Remarkably, the ship was raised in 1913 for the centennial of the Battle of Lake Erie and, after decades of restoration setbacks, was finally presented as a working ship in 1990. Today, the Niagara, with a host of modern upgrades, serves as a sail training vessel for the United States Coast Guard.
This was my first attempt at building a Lego ship. I was drawn to the Niagara for several reasons. I wanted to build a model of a historic vessel with an interesting story. The Niagara's story was certainly fascinating, especially because the ship is still afloat today. Also, I wanted to build the project to minifigure scale, and the Niagara was large enough to make an impressive model but not so large as to be unfeasible for production.
A brick-built model would have several notable differences to the LDD project. The sails would preferably be cloth instead of bricks and cables could be provided for rigging, holding the boats and anchors, etc.
The model is around 4500 pieces as presented, which could be substantially reduced with cloth sails and some refining of the hull construction (I believe a price point of $200-250 could be realistic). It is built primarily for display but with a few minor adjustments could be made very playable. I would like for the ship to include at least one minifigure: her commander Oliver Hazard Perry. It could also come with an expanded crew for increased playability. Three detachable boats are included, as well as 18 carronades and 2 long guns. The ship could be presented either complete or only above the waterline, depending on whether an "out of water" or "afloat" presentation is desired. It includes a movable tiller and rudder.
Note: Though this is a warship, it should meet Lego's standards as a historical vessel (after all, Lego has produced its own USS Constellation). If it would be preferable, the Niagara could be presented in her current form with all but her ceremonial armament removed.
Special thanks to my fellow Lego Ideas user LuisPG and his outstanding HMS Beagle project for inspiring some of the techniques used in this build.