Put-in-Bay History

The shallow traditional western basin of Lake Erie is home to a group of 20 or more island destinations. These islands are rich with Put-in-Bay History. One of those, alternately known as Put-in-Bay or South Bass Island, served as the central command center for Oliver Hazzard Perry.

Picture of the Battle of Lake Erie A Part of Put-in-Bay HistoryIt was from this harbor called Put-in-Bay that the British fleet fell under Robert H. Barclay during the war of 1812 by the American fleet. On the morning of September10, 1813, Perry sailed nine vessels of the United States Navy defeated and captured six ships of the British Royal Navy. This ensured American control of the lake for the rest of the war. In turn, it allowed the Americans to win the Battle of the  Thames and recover Detriot. This broke the Indian confederation of Tecumseh. It was one of the most significant naval battles of the War of 1812.

Brig Niagara broke through the British line ahead of Detroit and Queen Charlotte and luffed up to fire raking broadsides from ahead of them, while Caledonia and the American gunboats fired from astern. Detroit and Queen Charlotte managed to untangle the two ships, but they could no longer offer any resistance. The vessel both surrendered at about 3:00 pm. The smaller British vessels fled but were overtaken and also surrendered.

Although Perry won the battle on Niagara, he received the British surrender on the deck of the recaptured Lawrence. In the modern-day, the Brig Niagara makes regular visits to Put-in-Bay.

The American victory in the Lake Erie Battle gave the United States Navy and the citizens of the USA a memorable slogan of positive accomplishments,

“We have met the enemy, and they are ours…”

Put-in-Bay History -The Perry International Peace Memorial

In Memorium, today there stands at Put-in-Bay a beautiful 352 foot tall Greek Doric column, Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial. This granite shaft commemorates not only a naval battle but a peace with Canada, which has lasted for more than 150 years. The boundary between the United States and Canada is the largest unguarded international frontier in the world. The border stretches over 3,987-miles and has been at peace for over a century.

The memorial was constructed by a multi-state commission from 1912 to 1915 “to inculcate the lessons of international peace by arbitration and disarmament.” An international competition produced the winning design from Joseph Freelander.  Established to honor those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812, and to celebrate the long-lasting peace among Britain, Canada, and the U.S. the Memorial column, rising over Lake Erie, is situated five miles from the border of Canada.

While the monument bears the name of Oliver Hazard Perry and six officers who died during the battle are buried under its rotunda, Perry himself is buried in Newport, Rhode Island. Under the stone floor of the monument lies the remains of three American officers and three British officers. Inscribed into the walls of the rotunda are names of soldiers and sailors who were killed or injured in the Battle of Lake Erie.

The Ships, Brigs, and sloops with their cannonades and long guns are gone. Yachts and sailboats now ply the rich waters of Lake Erie. Many of these pleasure craft set a course for Put-in-Bay to escape the tensions of the city. Others — yacht-less tourists — board the Put-in-Bay Ferry Boats or fly airplanes to the Put-in-Bay Airport for their trip to an island in Ohio’s Lake Erie vacation-land.

For over 100 years, tourists have been coming to Put-in-Bay. From the top of the Perry Memorial, the visitor can observe the site of the Battle of Lake Erie. He can also probe the depths of the caves, sip locally produced wine or grape juice, bicycle around the island, or enjoy a Put-in-Bay Golf Cart Rental to tour the island. On a clear day, you can see the Detriot Skyline, Canada, and Toledo. The sheer number of Put-in-Bay Attractions makes this one particular place not to miss.

Put-in-Bay History – The Earliest Visitors To The Islands

American Indians were the earliest visitors, according to Put-in-Bay history. Many stone axes, Indian arrowheads, stone axes, and other implements of white and blue flints turned up during the construction of the Put-in-Bay Hotels. Skeletal remains are routinely found during excavations on the island. Indians visited Put-in-Bay when ice conditions allowed the crossing to hunt raccoons and other animals for fur.  Put-in-Bay History suggests that the Erie Indians were among the first Native Americans to live in Ohio. As such, they were the first people to visit the Lake Erie Islands and Put-in-Bay.

The early Indians traveled north and south along the Warrior’s Path believe Scholars. The path connected the Ohio River with Lake Erie.  (The route is also known as the Sandusky-Scioto Trail and still exists today). Indians followed the trail from the south up towards Port Clinton. They would paddle eastward from there along the shoreline toward Niagara Falls. On Occasion, they would head west toward the Detroit River, island-hopping along the route. When bad weather would arise early spring or late fall, the Indians would find shelter on Put-in-Bay while they waited for better conditions. In the winter months, when the lake would freeze, many Indians would come to South Bass Island to hunt raccoons for pelts and as a food source.

In the mid-1600s, the Erie Indians were defeated by the Iroquois Confederation, and they began to populate the islands as well. By the 1700s, the Miami, Shawnee, Delaware, Wyandot, Tuscarora, Ottawa, Seneca, and Tuscarora tribes all migrated to Ohio. Because of the various artifacts (arrowheads, axes, mounds, and skeletons) found on Put-in-Bay, it’s safe to claim that all these people groups visited South Bass before 1800. But, none of the Indians truly settled there.

The First Known White Men Arrive

Photo of Put-in-Bay History of Lake Erie Islands

French explorer Louis Jolliet, a fur trader, was the first known white man to travel on the lake in 1669. An unidentified group of explorers sailed among the islands in July of 1784. They made charts of the islands, naming one of them Pudding Bay because the shape of the harbor (or Put-in-Bay) resembled a pudding bag. Other logbooks referred to the port as Puden Bay. The Lake Erie Islands were included in the tract of land claimed by Connecticut and which is known as the Western Reserve. The French were the earliest white inhabitants known to have occupied the Islands.

Seth Done brought laborers to South Bass Island and they cleared over 100 acres of land and planted wheat in the summer and fall of 1811. Four hundred sheep and 150 hogs were imported to graze on the hickory nuts and acorns, which were plentiful on the island. The war of 1812 ended the first effort to settle the island when British soldiers arrived and drove residents off in the fall of 1812. The crops were destroyed to discourage their return

Put-in-Bay History & The War Of 1812

Western Lake Erie and surrounding land areas on Michigan, Ohio, and Canadian Ontario were the scenes of battles and skirmishes during the War of 1812. The Americans suffered several humiliating defeats at the commencement of the struggle. The invasion of Canada by General William Hull’s failed. In his disgrace, Hull surrendered  Detroit to the British in August of 1812. American forces lead by General James Winchester were badly beaten at the River Raisin (Monroe, Michigan), in January 1813

 The Indiana and British invasions of Ohio at Fort Stephenson (Fremont)and Ohio at Fort Meigs (Perrysburg) were repulsed in August and May. Experts agree the turning point of the war in The Old Northwest came with Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory in the Battle of Lake Erie over the British 10 September 1813. The naval victory made it possible for General William Henry Harrison to invade Canada and defeat the Indians and British at the River Thames in October 1813.

According to Put-in-Bay History, the harbor was used by Perry as a base of operations. From the Bass Islands, he could quickly sail to Sandusky Bay for meetings with Harrison or recce the British forces at Fort Malden located in Amherstburg, Ontario. When the men and ships were not in battle, there were duties preparing the ships for action, gunnery practice, and training.

On 12 August 1813, the American fleet sailed from Erie, Pennsylvania, and arrived off Sandusky Bay on the sixteenth. Perry met with Lewis Cass and Harrison regarding the next step to take in advancing the war campaign. A lookout sighted The British fleet led by Captain Robert H. Barclay from the masthead of Perry’s flagship, the brig Lawrence, Friday, 10 September 1813 near 5:00 AM

The Battle of Lake Erie began at 11:45 a.m. and ended a few minutes after 3:00 p.m. Supremacy on the lake by the British came to an end when the entire enemy fleet of six vessels was captured. Eight miles northwest of Put-in-Bay, the conflict began. It reached its climax at West Sister Island, fourteen miles away. A short note was prepared by the triumphant American captain on the back of an old letter to William Henry Harrison, making Put-in-Bay history:

U.S. Brig Niagara, Off Western Sister Island head of Lake Erie, Sept. 10, 1813, 4 p.m.

Dear General —

We have met the enemy, and they are ours; two ships, two brigs, one schooner, and one sloop.

Yours with great respect and esteem,

O.H. Perry

Put-in-Bay History After the War Of 1812

Aschell (Shell) Johnson lived on Put-in-Bay for three years after the War of 1812. Henry and Sally Hyde were the next settlers to arrive in 1818. The Hydes brought 500 head of sheep to the island. A.P. Edwards brought laborers and began to develop Put-in-Bay, A dock was constructed along the waterfront by John Pierpoint. It was known as the West Dock

Philip Vroman was the first permanent settler to come to Put-in-Bay in 1843. He remained on the island until his death 68 years later. Gibraltar Island in the harbor was occupied by a group of government engineers and surveyors In 1845. They began to make charts of Lake Erie and determined it necessary to cut a strip 45 feet wide running through the woods of Put-in-Bay in order to site the instruments correctly

In 1845 Gibraltar Island in the harbor was occupied by a group of government surveyors and engineers who were engaged in making charts of the lake. They found it necessary to cut a strip 45 feet wide running through the woods of Put-in-Bay so they could site the instruments properly. The strip was used as a road by the islanders called “Sight Road.” Today it is referred to as Langram Road and runs parallel with the Put-in-Bay Airport.

Put-in-Bay History Founder Jose De Rivera

Photo of Put-in-Bay History Jose De Rivera Tree Carving

Joseph de Rivera, a Spanish merchant, bought South Bass, Middle Bass, Starve Island, Ballast Island Sugar, Gibraltar, for a price of$44,000 in 1854. De Rivera began to develop the islands with the construction od a stave mill and sawmill in late 1854. He commissioned an engineer from the county to survey the rea into 10-acre lots. De Rivera sold 42 parcels of land in South and Middle Bass in the first ten years.

South Bass Board of Education received a quarter acre of land for a dollar, the cheapest in Put-in-Bay history. The park downtown is named de Rivera Park in his honor, and trust is responsible for the park and other lands still today. The annual Put-in-Bay founders day event honors his memory each year. Recently, a tree carving was unveiled in De Rivera’s honor.

Put-in-Bay Begins To Grow

The wine-making and grape-growing industry began on South Bass Island in the 1850s, Put-in-Bay’s attraction as a historical island resort was off to a fast start and multiplying. In 1852, 1858, and 1859 large celebrations were held honoring Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory in 1813. Put-in-Bay and the surrounding islands were becoming well known for excellent wines and sought after grapes. The population proliferated as farmers came to the island to plant vineyards. Many others arrived to become part of the booming resort business. About 500 people were permanent residents of Put-in-Bay by the early 1860s.

As the popularity grew, steamships began to arrive, bringing tourists by the hundreds to get away for a few days and enjoy the island. Numerous Put-in-Bay Hotels opened along with restaurants and pubs to service the tourists. The areas leading newspaper Sandusky Daily Commercial Register published a story in 1866. It told of the growth of Put-in-Bay township. Islanders owned 165 cattle, 103 horses, 206 hogs, and one mule. The fields were planted in oats, wheat, buckwheat, barley, rye, sorghum, potatoes, tobacco, clover, and hay.

The vineyards were the main source of income. In 1865 over 72 acres of vines had been planted to bring the total to 422. In 1865, over 1,117,801 pounds of grapes were produced. This converted into almost 34,000 gallons of wine. The future was looking bright for island farmers.

Put-in-Bay History Of Government

 The Ottawa County commissioners were petitioned by John Stone, Simon Fox, and others from the three Bass Islands for permission to organize Put-in-Bay township. On June 22, 1861, electors selected their town trustees, marking a first in Put-in-Bay history. In May of 1876, 15 years later, after the three islands organized as a township, a portion of South Bass was incorporated as a village. This is what is now referred to as downtown Put-in-Bay.

In 1865, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was built on land purchased by Jay Cooke from Jose DeRivera for $10.00 (the land for the Put-in-Bay School was sold for $1.00). The deed to the land stipulated it must be used for the construction of an Episcopal church. Islanders raised the initial funds to build a church. They were financially assisted by Jay Cooke. Cooke’s heirs gave the land to the Episcopal church in the early 1900s. In 1866, the Mother of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church was established. In 1873  an important part of Put-in-Bay History took place. The  Put-in-Bay Telegraph Company incorporated with a two and seven-eighth mile cable between Catawba Point and South Bass Island. In May 1906, The street lighting system converted to electricity in May 1906. Dial phones replaced old hand-cranked wall instruments in the 1930s.

The Steam Ship Era In Put-in-Bay History

In its heyday, around the 1850s to the 1900s, several steamships, some holding up to 1,500 passengers, serviced the island regularly. Tourists were treated to a variety of hotels, including 300 x 600-foot Hotel Victory with 625 guest rooms.  At that time, the largest resort hotel in America. It featured the first coed swimming pool in America. The laying of the cornerstone of The Victory brought elaborate ceremonies. Over 8,000 people arrived at the island on seven steamboats. The Beebe house had a dining room that could seat nearly a thousand diners. A with a vast hall running 500 feet through the center had a dining room that served meals. Over 800 persons could be housed in the Hotel. Unfortunately, the Victory Hotel caught fire and burned to the ground before it could be fully utilized. Put-in-Bay Hotels have played an important role in Put-in-Bay History.

Put-in-Bay And Prohibition

In 1919 the passage of the Volstead Act creating the Prohibition of Alcohol, was catastrophic to the Island’s grape and wine industry. Many of the Put-in-Bay wineries failed, and the vineyards fell into disrepair. Heineman’s Winery survived under Gustav’s son, Norman, providing taxi cab service to and tours of the Winery’s caves. He also sold unfermented grape juice to visiting tourists. Ohio was one of the first States to go “wet” after repeal, and Louis’s father Norman received his grower’s permit to make wine. With little competition, Heineman’s soon was again very successful.

During Prohibition, the Lake Erie Islands were a popular route for smugglers. In the Summer and Fall, smugglers would make trips across to Canada and haul back liquor to supply the numerous speakeasies. In the winter months, when Lake Erie was frozen over, specially adapted “ice cars” were used to traverse the ice. Often the Lake Erie Islands were used as stopovers or hideouts to evade Law Enforcement agents.

Modern Day Put-in-Bay History

Put-in-Bay has been a summer resort destination for more than 100 years. Today’s Put-in-Bay is a vibrant tourist resort complete with modern bars, Hotels with swim-up bars,  and several modes of transportation to Put-in-Bay

With large marinas and public docks boasting electricity and water, the island has become a popular destination for boating. The Put-in-Bay Yacht Club has several popular events each year, which bring in thousands of boaters throughout the summer. Lake Erie is home to Yellow Perch, and Walleye and fishermen come from all over the midwest to enjoy fishing at Put-in-Bay.

The island is best seen by renting at Put-in-Bay golf carts, which are driven as cars on the island. Over the years, the island has added numerous attractions that make South Bass Island a destination. Few places on earth offer so many things to do in one location. With caves to explore, gemstone mining, and all types of watersports, there is something to do for everyone at any age.

One thing for sure, there is far more to do and see at Put-in-Bay than you can cover in a day. Be sure to book one of our excellent Put-in-Bay Hotels, or Rental homes Hotels range from smaller boutique hotels such as the Edgewater Hotel to the ultra-modern Put-in-Bay Resort, the island’s newest and largest lodging facility.

For additional information about the island, please visit the Put-in-Bay Visitors & Convention Bureau website here: or call the central reservation center at 888-742-7829

Another View Of Put-in-Bay History

The earliest known residents of the lower Great Lakes region was the Ottawa Indian tribe, whose name means “trader.” They and the Wyandot Indians (Huron), whose name is believed to mean “islander” or “dweller on a peninsula.” Historians have located several pictographs carved hundreds of years ago in a huge slab of dolomite known as Inscription Rock on Kelleys Island. This proves the presence of Native Americans on the western basin islands in Lake Erie.

The French first laid claim to the Great Lakes in 1534, sight unseen. When French explorer Jacques Cartier ventured across the Atlantic, he eventually arrived into the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. He named all of the regions drained by that river, “New France.” Explorers would later venture further into the continent, and in 1608 Frenchman Samuel de Champlain founded the colony of Quebec. Located on the banks of the St. Lawrence, Quebec would later become one of Canada’s most populated provinces.

The Europeans Arrive In Lake Erie

A few years later, an adventurer and trader, Etienne Brule, left the colony and wandered deep into the interior of New France. He eventually became the first European to “find” Lake Erie. After the French got comfortable in the Great Lakes region, Great Britain’s explorers arrived in the far northern reaches of the vast Canadian territory and claimed that area as their own. The Hudson Bay Company was founded In 1670 by Prince Rupert, a cousin of King George II of England. They would soon rival the thriving fur trade of the French.

The Wyandots settled into the sparsely populated Lake Erie area in the early 1700s. They claimed the Ohio country between the Great Lakes and Miami River. They traded with the French and coexisted peacefully with other Native Americans tribes there to whom they gave land. The fur rivalry between Britain and France and Britain had developed into an all-out war over the Canadian territory. This included the Great Lakes region. France ceded the Great Lakes region to the victorious British in 1763. It was, however, a  short-lived victory dor the British.

Lake Erie area became part of the Connecticut Reserve at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. In 1795, the Bass Islands were transferred to the Connecticut Land Company. Parcels then became available for sale to U.S. citizens.

South Bass and Middle Bass islands, along with Sugar, Gree, Gibraltar, Ballast, and Starve Islands, were purchased for $26,087 by Pierpont Edwards at the conclusion of the Revolutionary. Edwards was a Revolutionary War veteran and member of the U.S. Continental Congress. In August 1854, the family again sold the islands for $44,000 to José de Rivera Saint Jurgo. De Rivera, who cultivated the land for grape production and winemaking, is considered one of Put-in-Bays Founding Fathers.

Jurgo sold off Middle Bass Island in 1864, and in 1866 one of the new owners the Wehrle family established Golden Eagle Wine Cellars. It soon was one of the largest wineries in the USA. Island resident Peter Lonz established his own winery on the island In 1884. Some called The Bass Islands, the nickname “Wine Islands.” Wines they produced were compared in a favorable light to the fine French vintages.

The Golden Eagle winery expanded rapidly and included a dance pavilion over the wine cellar. The next owner built a 60-room hotel named the Hillcrest, in 1905. A fire destroyed both the dance Pavillion and the hotel in 1923.

Peter Lorenz and his son, George, merged their own winemaking business with the remains of the Golden Eagle Winery In 1926, A Nationwide prohibition of alcohol and the onset Great Depression nearly destroyed the Lonz business. They survived by selling bottles of grape juice with instructions on how to ferment the juice at home.

The Repeal Of Prohibition A Milestone in Put-in-Bay History

Prohibition was repealed in 1933, and George Lonz began rebuilding the winery complex. The 1942 fire that destroyed the structure would not hold the family back. A Gothic-style stone castle that would become a familiar landmark for tourists and wine enthusiasts for nearly 60 years was constructed. Modern wine presses were added in 1956, and a popular marina was added to the winery complex to accommodate pleasure boaters in 1962. The Lonz Winery was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. It had remained popular with tourists until the tragic collapse of the crowded terrace in July 2000, resulting in deaths.

Shortly thereafter, in the winter of 2000 and spring of 2001, the state of Ohio purchased 124 acres on Middle Bass Island. This included undeveloped natural areas featuring woodlands, wetlands, glacial grooves, and almost a mile of shoreline along Lake Erie. The price included the shell of the Lonz Winery and the marina complex. Middle Bass Island State Park became Ohio’s 74th state park in March 2001.

Like Put-in-Bay History, Middle Bass Island Also Had Many Natural Features

During the glacial period, when massive ice sheets entered Ohio, it is believed that Middle Bass Island was formed. The moving Glaciers gougedPhoto of high waves that sank many ships in Put-in-Bay History and scoured the bedrock leaving deep depressions from their tremendous weight. These impressions filled with meltwater and formed the Great Lakes. Lake Erie is the world’s 12th largest freshwater lake. It is large in area but very shallow. This often allowing for violent storms with dangerous high waves. The average depth in the western basin, where Middle Bass Island is located, is only 25 to 30 feet.

Lake Erie Waters have high nutrient levels and warmer temperatures, which produce greater numbers and varieties of fish than any of the other Great Lakes. Annual catches nearly equal all the other Great Lakes combined. Yellow perch, smallmouth bass, white bass, channel catfish and walleye are dominant species. Due to the warming effect of the lake on air temperature in the Fall, the Lake Erie islands are also highly productive agriculturally. The islands have the longest frost-free period of any area in Ohio despite the northern location.

The nearby Lake Erie islands like Middle Bass are composed of dolomite bedrock. The effect of the Glaciers on the island is evident in the small scratches observed in the rock. These are known as glacial striations. They were carved by the rocks that were embedded in the glacial ice. Large stands of red cedar and the presence of underground caverns, both associated with dolomite, are frequently found here.

The Put-in-Bay History Of Snakes!

The shoreline of the islands supports a wide variety of reptiles, including the state’s highest concentration of the fox snake, which is harmless. At one time, the timber rattlesnake was quite prevalent on the islands but is extinct from the area. Nearby Rattlesnake Island was so named due to the abundant presence of this reptile years ago.

Lake Erie water snakes, a subspecies of the Northern water snake, comes in a variety of colors, ranging from banded gray and brown blotches to solid gray. This particular snake has one of the smallest geographic ranges of any vertebrate in the world. It is only found on the islands of Lake Erie. It is similar to its relative, the Northern water snake, except that the dark pattern of crossbands is pale or not visible at all. The general coloration is greenish, brownish, or gray. The belly is pale yellow or white and occasionally tinged with orange or pink down the center.

The Snakes prefer to spend time near the water’s edge basking on the rocky shoreline in the Summer. They can also besee or foraging just offshore. In the Winter, their sites are typically located within 76 yards of the shore in rocky substrates. They occasionally are covered with leaf litter, soil, grass, and decaying wood. Their sites include man-made and natural structures in open and wooded areas. Mating season is from late May to early June by forming “mating balls.” These balls consist of one female and several males. Live birth of the 30 or so pencil-sized young occurs in September. About 15 percent of the young survive their first year.