Milepost 100.0 – Westbound Between Exits 91 and 110
County: Sandusky How it got its name
Jutting out into the green waters of Lake Erie, a few miles north of the Erie Islands Service Plaza, is the Marblehead Peninsula. Just beyond and visible from the shore are the Erie Islands, a popular vacation land offering excellent fishing, as well as hunting, boating, bathing and visiting historical sites. The larger islands are reached from Sandusky by ferryboat and from the Marblehead Peninsula by ferryboat and regular air service.
Twenty in number, the oddly shaped Erie Islands lie on both sides of the United States-Canada border, which at this point is only 25 miles north of the Turnpike. They vary greatly in size. Pelee Island and Kelleys Island are each several thousand acres in area; the three Bass Islands are not quite so large, while there are several small islands consisting of only a few acres. The Erie Islands attract sportsmen from all parts of the country. Fishing for gamey pickerel and fighting bass on the reefs among the islands carries many of the thrills of deep-sea fishing. Ice fishing is a unique winter sport and the thousands who enjoy it claim that no fish is so tasty as a pike or pickerel cooked right after being hauled from the refrigerated water below the ice.
Pheasant hunting is popular on the well-stocked preserves of Kelleys Island. Boating, which attracts thousands to the islands throughout the summer, reaches its climax with the Inter-Lake Regatta in August.
In the fall just about everyone on the islands works in the vineyards, and a sort of holiday atmosphere prevails. The grapes gathered are used for winemaking, an industry that has flourished on the islands since the 1860s.
Commercial fisheries have long constituted an important industry in the area. A tempting dish from the waters around the islands is Planked Lake Erie Whitefish, a real northern Ohio treat.
The Erie Islands are said to have been discovered in the early years of the seventeenth century by a wandering French missionary named Gabriel Segard while exploring this then unknown country, which was at that time inhabited by Huron Indians. Nicholas Sanson, the royal geographer of France, mapped the region in 1656, calling these islands the Isles of the Apostles. LaSalle, the French explorer, and his historian, Father Hennepin, visited the region in 1679.
France ceded the islands to Great Britain in 1763, and Great Britain ceded the islands in the southern half of Lake Erie to the United States in 1783. Settlement on the Bass Islands began as early as 1811, and the first inhabitants on Kelleys Island arrived in 1833.
Largest of the Erie Islands in the United States is KELLEYS ISLAND, with 18 miles of rock-ribbed and bay-indented shoreline. The island is like an independent city-state, with its vineyards, orchards, truck gardens, fishing, schools, churches, hotels and summer cottages. Along the south shore is Inscription Rock, bearing some mysterious ancient carvings, now considerably marred by erosion. Along the north shore is Glacial Grooves State Park, where limestone rocks reveal long, smoothly scored markings made by the ancient glaciers that moved their ponderous weight back and forth across Lake Erie and northern Ohio. A large area of Kelleys Island is being developed as a state park.
Lying south of the Marblehead Peninsula in Sandusky Bay and rimmed by a dense cordon of trees is JOHNSON’S ISLAND, on which during the Civil War was located a prison camp for Confederate soldiers. By the end of the war, more than 15,000 Southerners, most of them officers, had been confined there. A cemetery on the island holds rows of white markers indicating the burial places of 206 soldiers who never left the island. The cemetery is decorated and kept in good condition by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The three Bass Islands, named for the fish found in their surrounding waters, and a number of reefs lie north of the Marblehead Peninsula and to the west of Kelleys Island. The southernmost of these is SOUTH BASS ISLAND, more popularly known as PUT-IN-BAY, which lies only three miles off the mainland. In the summer the island offers boating, swimming, fishing, island tours, hiking, free picnic grounds, and many sights to see. Among these sights are the wineries for which the island has long been famous. Then there are the caves – - Mammoth Cave, which contains a lake; Perry’s Cove, which has been open to the public since the 1850s; and Crystal Cave, the most spectacular of the three. On the southwest tip of the island is a 46-foot Coast Guard lighthouse that flashes red and white alternating lights visible 15 miles away. Near the dock on the north shore of the island is Put-In-Bay Park, with an excellent view of the harbor.
The island’s leading attraction and one of the nation’s most imposing monuments is the Perry Memorial. The monument commemorates the victory of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry over the British in the Battle of Lake Erie that gave the Americans control of Lake Erie in the War of 1812. The towering granite shaft rises from a terraced plaza to a height of 352 feet. From the promenade on top there is a magnificent view of the lake, the Erie Islands, Sandusky, and on clear days, the shorelines of Michigan and Canada. Near Put-In-Bay is Cannonball Monument, which honors the six American and British officers killed in the Battle of Lake Erie. South Bass Island holds a special attraction for bird enthusiasts because of its large spring and fall concentrations of migrating land birds.
In the Put-In-Bay harbor is GIBRALTAR ISLAND, an eight-acre promontory which for 40 years served as the summer home of Jay Cooke, fabulous Civil War financier. In 1925 the island was acquired by Ohio State University to operate a laboratory for research in Ohio’s fishery problems. The old Jay Cooke mansion is used as a dormitory for students and teachers at the laboratory. Near Perry’s Lookout, at the eastern tip of this island, is a monument to Perry’s victory erected by Jay Cooke. A small cannon, reputed to have been used by the hero of Lake Erie, saluted the Cooke family upon its arrival at Gibraltar each summer.
Just off the southern shore of South Bass Island is tiny STARVE ISLAND, 100 feet long and only five feet in elevation, which holds a nesting colony of terns. The isle received its name from the discovery of a human skeleton of someone presumed to have starved there.
About a mile north of South Bass Island is MIDDLE BASS ISLAND, three miles long and one mile wide. Its wooded bluffs encircle 750 acres largely occupied by vineyards. Winemaking is the only industry on the island, and a castle-like winery with a handsome rathskellar is one of the island’s principal attractions. A private club on the island entertained during its time Presidents Hayes, Cleveland, Harrison and Taft.
About one mile east of Middle Bass Island is BALLAST ISLAND, a small, tree-covered isle with an abandoned lighthouse and a government light. Perry is said to have secured stones here with which to ballast his ships just before the Battle of Lake Erie.
About one and one half miles west of Middle Bass is RATTLESNAKE ISLAND, where there is a breeding colony of terns. The origin of this intriguing name is uncertain.
Northernmost of the three Bass Islands is NORTH BASS ISLAND, laying a mile and a half south of the international boundary. Not on the ferryboat line, it is used principally for the growing of grapes used in the production of fine champagne and Catawba wine.
On the Canadian side of the boundary lie Pelee Island, Middle Island and a cluster of islets with such engaging names as Middle Sister, East Sister, Big Chicken, Little Chicken and Hen. Pelee Island is by far the largest of all the Erie Islands and is a popular stopping place for Americans traveling on the steamer that plies between Sandusky and southern Ontario.