Put-in-Bay History dates back to the war of 1812 where Put-in-Bay became an important operations headquarters for Oliver Hazard Perry. One of 20 islands located in the western shallow end of Lake Erie, Put-in-Bay harbor served as the launching point from which Perry set sail to defeat the British fleet commanded by Robert H. Barclay in the war of 1812, This historic battle of Lake Erie and the American victory gave the United States Navy and our country the often quoted slogan “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”
Today at Put-in-Bay a beautiful Greek Doric column, Perry’s Victory, and International Peace Memorial marks the battleground. The peace that came from this historic battle has lasted over 150 years and is commemorated by the 352-foot granite shaft. 3,987 miles of border between Canada and the United States is the longest unprotected border frontier in the world today. Put-in-Bay History is re-enacted daily in season at the base of the monument. Guests who visit Put-in-Bay can ride an elevator to the top of the monument to an observation deck offering spectacular views of Detroit, Toledo and Cleveland skylines on a clear day.
The battleground which hosted sloops, ships, and brigs with their cannons and long guns have since been replaced by sleek sailboats and yachts in the downtown Put-in-Bay Docks. In the spring summer and fall season pleasure craft from all around Lake Erie plot their course to Put-in-Bay Ohio to enjoy the Put-in-Bay History which has shaped the island into what it is today. On any given day 1000’s of tourists hop on the Put-in-Bay Ferry for a short ride across Lake Erie to enjoy the many Put-in-Bay attractions, great restaurants and vibrant nightlife the small Lake Erie Island has to offer.
Put-in-Bay History shows the earliest visitors were American Indians and is evidenced by the many arrowheads, stone axes, and other implements of blue and white flints that to this day are still turned up during construction. When Winter ice conditions allowed the crossing of Lake Erie from the mainland, the American Indians would come to hunt raccoons and other animals.
Louis Jolliet, the French explorer, and fur trader was the first white man to travel on the lake according to Put-in-Bay History. A group of unidentified explorers sailed among the islands in the summer of 1784. Charts were created of the islands, naming one of them Pudding Bay because the shape of the harbor resembled a pudding bag. Several Put-in-Bay History log books referred to the harbor as Puden Bay. Connecticut laid claim to the Lake Erie islands land tracts which were then known as the Western Reserve. The French were the earliest known white inhabitants to occupy the Lake Erie Islands.
In the summer and fall of 1811, Seth Done arrived with a group of laborers who worked to clear over 110 acres of land to plant wheat and other crops. Soon thereafter he imported 150 hogs and over 400 sheep which grazed on an abundance of hickory and acorn nuts found on the island. Soon after this, British Soldiers in the war of 1812 arrived and drove the settlers off the island and destroying the crops and livestock.
Put-in-Bay History includes numerous tales of battles in the western Lake Erie area and the surrounding land areas, The Americans had suffered several embarrassing defeats in the early start of the war. In August of 1812, General William Hull attempted to invade Canada and the mission failed miserably which lead to the surrender of Detroit to the British. In the River Raisin, now known as Monroe Michigan, General James Winchester and his forces were soundly defeated in January of 1813. Later that year in May and August, Fort Meigs in Perrysburg Ohio and Fort Stephenson in Fremont Ohio were successfully defended against British and Indian invasions. September 10, 1813, was the turning point in the war. Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory over the British fleet in the Battle of Lake Erie utilizing the Put-in-Bay Harbor changed the face of the war in a single day. In October of 1813, General William Henry Harrison subsequently invaded Canada and defeated the Indians and the British at the River Thames
Put-in-Bay History books document that the harbor was used by Oliver Hazard Perry as a base of operations. Using the Bass Islands, Sandusky Bay was a short sail for conferences with Harrison or to spy upon the British forces at Fort Malden (Ontario Canada), in the Detroit River. When the ships and their men were not engaged in battle, there was plenty to keep them busy. Constant training at the gunnery range and maintaining the ships in battle-ready condition occupied most of the soldiers time. On August 12th in the year 1813, Oliver Hazard Perry sailed the American fleet from Erie, Pennsylvania arriving in the bay of Sandusky Ohio on August 16th. While in Sandusky, Perry met with and strategized with American Generals Lewis Cass and Harrison thus planning the next actions to be taken in the campaign to defeat the British. Commanded by Captain Robert H. Barclay, the British fleet was located off the western horizon by a lookout in the brig Lawrence, Perry’s flagship.
Little did the British command know or to expect a hard charge by Perry and the American fleet hidden behind the Bass Islands. Friday, September 10th of 1813, Put-in-Bay History was made The Lake Erie Battle began at 11:45 in the morning eight miles northwest of Put-in-Bay and shortly after 3:00 pm that same day near West Sister Island the British were defeated and their control of Lake Erie came to a bloody end. The entire British fleet of 6 ships was captured. Oliver Hazard Perry scribed on the back of an old letter a note to William Henry Harrison the following:
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,
Postwar of 1812, the Johnson family lived on Put-in-Bay for three years. Following their settlement on the island came the Hyde family (Henry and Sally) who brought with them 500 sheep. Developer A.P. Edwards brought in laborers and began to develop Put-in-Bay with numerous buildings. Put-in-Bay History records the first Put-in-Bay Dockage being constructed by John Pierpoint who later constructed a second dock named the West Dock.
In 1843, Put-in-Bay was home to the first permanent settler Philip Vroman in 1843. He ivied on the island until his death 68 years later. From the downtown Put-in-Bay area today, Gibraltar Island is just across the harbor and in 1845 was occupied by a contingent of government surveyors who were engaged to make charts of the lake. According to Put-in-Bay History, Langram road as it is now called was then referred to as “sight” road as the surveyors found it necessary to cut a 45-foot swath of trees in a straight like to “sight” the survey instruments correctly.
Put-in-Bay History was perhaps most notably shaped when in 1854 Joseph De Rivera, a Spanish merchant bought the Bass Islands including South Bass (Put-in-Bay Ohio) Middle Bass, Sugar Island, Gibraltar, Ballast and Stave Island for $44,000. He proceeded to develop the island first building a stave mill and a sawmill in the fall of 1854. De Rivera hired an engineer to survey the area and began to form 10 acre parcels. 42 of these parcels were sold in the first ten years on South and Middle Bass Islands. The current day downtown park at Put-in-Bay is aptly named De Rivera Park in his honor. To this day, a trust manages the park to preserve his wishes. His generosity again impacted Put-in-Bay History when for the sum of $1.00 he sold the South Bass Board of Education a quarter of an acre for the construction of Put-In-Bay’s first school.
Throughout the 1850s, the Islands continued to develop. The grape-growing and wine-making industry began in the Lake Erie Islands. Put-In-Bay’s attraction as a historical island resort was being developed. In 1852, 1858, and 1859 large celebrations were held to honor Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory over the British in 1813. The Bass islands and particularly Put-in-Bay had become well known for the excellent wines made from an extended growing season for island grapes. Farmers recognized the rich soil and warm temperatures extended by the breeze across the Lake Erie waters and many came to the island to plant vineyards and become active in resort oriented businesses. By the 1860s, over 500 persons called Put-in-Bay their permanent residence.
Put-in-Bay History books document a story that appeared in the Sandusky Daily Register which ran in 1866 and documented some rather interesting statistics. According to the article, the once uninhabited island now was home to 165 cattle, 103 horses, 206 hogs and one lone mule. Farmers harvested bountiful crops of wheat, rye, barley, potatoes, hay, clover, sorghum, buckwheat, and oats. An additional72 acres of Put-in-Bay was now planted with vines bringing the total to 422 acres. In 1865 the Put-in-Bay grape harvest totaled 1,117,801 pounds which yielded 33,805 gallons of wine!
As the island continued to grow, Put-in-Bay History documented the first Local island government in 1861. 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, the electors selected their town trustees.15 years later In May of 1876 after the three islands were organized as a township, a portion of South Bass was incorporated as the Village of Put-in-Bay, which we now refer to as downtown Put-in-Bay Ohio.
In 1865 De Rivera again demonstrated his generosity by donating land for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Mother of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church which was established in 1866. The Put-in-Bay Telegraph Company was incorporated in 1873, with a two and seven-eighth mile cable between Catawba Point and South Bass Island. In the 1930s, dial phones replaced old hand-cranked wall instruments. In May 1906, the street lighting system was converted to electricity.
From the 1850s to the 1900s, numerous steamships, including several holding upwards of 1,500 passengers, included Put-in-Bay as a regular stop. Hotels were constructed for the tourists and many were treated to the largest, the Hotel Victory, a 300 x 600 foot with 625 guest rooms. At the time, the Hotel Victory was the largest hotel in America with the first-ever coed swimming pool. When the cornerstone for the Hotel Victory was laid, Seven steamboats brought over 8000 people to Put-in-Bay, Another noteworthy hotel was the Beebe House with a wide hall 500 feet thru the center and a dining room seating 1000 people. Before being able to be fully utilized, the Hotel Victory burned to the ground in a blaze according to Put-in-Bay History that could be seen from Cleveland.
For over 100 years Put-in-Bay Ohio has attracted tourists to a quaint but vibrant resort island. Today, over one million tourists annually enjoy the eclectic makeup of fun-filled activities including fishing, boating, caves, winery’s, and a vibrant nightlife. Put-in-Bay Hotels offer travelers comfortable modern accommodations and many with pools and swim up bars. The gem of the island the Put-in-Bay Resort is the island newest and largest full-service resort just a block from the downtown nightlife. The Edgewater Hotel was newly remodeled in 2017 and is the only modern hotel directly on the main strip across from the park and Put-in-Bay Docks. The Bay Lodging Resort has the islands only indoor-outdoor swimming pool just 2 blocks from the main area of town. For those seeking more of a rental home type accommodation, the Put-in-Bay villas offer vacationers 4 and 5 bedroom rentals also just a block from downtown
For more information on the history of Put-in-Bay History, we suggest you read Isolated Splendor by Robert Dodge where some of the information for this brief Put-in-Bay History page was obtained. Come to visit the South Bass Island, or Put-in-Bay as it is better known, and see for yourself!