Put-in-Bay Hotels Have been an important Part of Island History
The very first hotel to be built at Put-in-Bay South Bass Island was a small lodging facility in the early 1800s. The Gill House was a smaller hotel that could sleep up to 40 people. Over the years there were numerous owners and name changes ending up as the Hotel Oelschlager which featured a general store, and restaurant that offered groceries and souvenirs. This hotel is one of the few that were not later destroyed by fire and still stand today at the end of Delaware Avenue and is the modern-day Carriage House Gift Shop
Next to join the Put-in-Bay Hotel scene was nothing more than a few rooms attached to a house near a boat dockage area in the early 1860’s. Frederick Cooper, a Put-in-Bay entrepreneur saw an opportunity to grow his business and he added rooms as the demand for hotel rooms increased. After several successful years in 1867, he partnered with Andrew Decker and the hotel was formally named The Island Home. it was then expanded to include a few stables, a bowling alley, beer garden and of course a bar.
Several years passed, and, in 1867, he took on a partner (Andrew Decker) and named their growing establishment The Island Home. They expanded The Island Home over the next few years and added a bowling alley, a bar, a beer garden, and some stables. In 1879, Cooper & Decker sold the establishment to Henery Beebe and the hotel was renamed the Perry House.
Henry Beebe saw an opportunity. With the rising popularity of Put-in-Bay and increased tourism traffic from ships arriving at the island, he decided to expand the Perry House with a three-story addition, a ballroom and an ice cream parlor. The Perry House was able to accommodate over 300 guests and customers frequently saw Mes. Beebe who would host formal dinners each evening at 6 PM. The venue was a popular destination for ballroom dancing, dining, parties and a vacation getaway for the best 25 years.
In 1910, the Perry House was sold and renamed the Hotel Commodore, and again sold to the Schlitz Brewing Company before burning to the ground August 23, 1932
The Put-in-Bay House Hotel
In 1861 Joseph Gray, Editor for the Cleveland Plain Dealer Newspaper, purchased one of Put-in-Bay’s finest homes known as the “White House” once owned by Put-in-Bay developer A.P. Edwards. He converted the home into a hotel / rooming house. After several ownership changes, the hotel ended up being purchased by Sweeny, West & Company. Numerous additions and expansions occurred including a larger dining room which seated over 1000 people, large fountains gracing each wing and much like its predecessor, it became a destination for the next ten years
On August 30th, 1878 an elegant charity gala was planned to raise funds for those afflicted by yellow fever. Over 1000 people were to attend the event however once again a fire tragically struck the Put-in-Bay Hotel and burned it to the ground before the event started. A sad event at Put-in-Bay however, unfortunately, it was not to be the last of fires that would consume Put-in-Bay Landmarks.
In 1871, the Hunker House opened on the eastern side of the village park. The hotel featured a vineyard and orchard. The Hunker House was well known for its ice cream, pies, and wine products. All of the Hunker House products were all made from homegrown fruits. Like many other island properties throughout the years, encountered multiple owners and name changes before its final moniker, the Crescent Hotel which closed in 1971.
The Victory Hotel The Largest Of All Put-in-Bay Hotels In History
While Put-in-Bay has been home to many well known and successful hotels, none is more famous (or infamous) than Grand Hotel Victory which in her time was the largest hotel in North American and perhaps the world! Today she is nothing more than scattered ruins hidden within an Ohio State Park campground on South Bass Island Put-in-Bay, and memorabilia scattered throughout attics Lake Erie Islands historical museum.
The History of the Victory Hotel
Prior to the 1800s Huron and Ottawa Indian tribes resided in and around the Lake Erie Islands region. Things started to change as the Connecticut Land Company deeded South Bass Island to John Pierpont Edwards in 1807, and his son John Stark Edwards settled the area and cleared 100 acres of land to raise wheat.
The area’s prominent role in the War of 1812 slowed settlement as the site of a major victory over the British by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. After the war, another Edwards son, Alfred, returned to harvest many of the island’s trees for timber during the 1830s and 1840s. The area remained sparsely settled until the 1850s when Jose DeRivera purchased five of the islands and transformed South Bass Island into a fruit farm.
Some of the early Put-in-Bay hotels were not large enough or luxurious enough to please the increasingly affluent crowd of tourists, and fire destroyed several of them, leaving Put-in-Bay with a large shortage of hotel rooms by 1888. J.K. Tillotson viewed the situation as a great opportunity and began recruiting investors and selling stock in an ambitious plan to build an elegant and spacious hotel, to be named for Perry’s grand victory, in 1888. The group failed to raise enough funds to meet the projected opening date and it was moved back to 1889.
The first cornerstone was erected on September 10, 1889, in celebration of the 76th anniversary of Perry’s victory over the British in 1813. Toledo architect E.O. Falls and Company designed the building which was a Queen Anne era design with turrets, towers, and many dormers. The might steamships which were arriving daily to Put-in-Bay could see the massive structure as far as 2 miles away. Feick Construction Company from Sandusky Ohio constructed the hotel and resort over the next few years. Work continued very slowly on the hotel as costs mounted and the challenges of moving building materials to the island often in harsh weather conditions were challenging.
Developers remained optimistic about the hotel and believed in its potential to provide a real boon to Put-in-Bay’s tourism industry and the island economy in general despite rumors about the hotel project’s lack of economic viability. Behind schedule, the newest and largest Put-in-Bay Hotel opened on July 29th, 1892. The first 200 invited guests and were treated to a lavish dinner for over 500 people.
The Put-in-Bay Hotel Victory Was The Largest & Most Lavish Of Her Time
The Victory hotel consisted of the main building with 625 guest rooms, 80 of which featured a private bathroom. The was rectangular in shape measured 600 feet wide by 300 feet deep. An inner courtyard which was lushly landscaped served guests with a social rea. There were three elevators with bell boy stations on every floor. Heating for the building was steam and the hotel used incandescent lights.
Connected to the main building was a structure that housed the main dining room, a kitchen, servants quarters and a smaller dining area. Between the two dining area, they could both serve up to 1,200 guests at one seating. The staff consisted of hundreds of bellhops, waiters, and maids. Luxurious amenities such as wine cellars, private parlors, photo darkroom, ice cream parlor, billiard room, newsstand, barbershop, and a greenhouse serve the needs of the hotel Victory guests.
Considering the location was on an island served only by steamships for ferries it could almost be considered one of the great wonders of the world that massive amount of materials that had to be brought from the mainland to complete the project. The Hotel, at the time of its 1892 opening had:
- over one mile of carpeting in the hallways,
- more than20,000 yards of room carpeting
- over 3,000 incandescent electric lights
- 16 1/2 acres of flooring
- 7 1/2 miles of wainscoting
- 100 miles of electrical wire
- 2,500 windows
- 1700 doors
- 825 rooms with 600 guests
- 458,000 shingles, not including the roof
Constructed at a cost of over $1 Million dollars, The hotel and its opulent furnishings failed to ever become a financial success. Things may have looked great at the opening, but the hotel quickly fell into financial trouble with creditors and the hotel went into receivership on September 19, 1892. Shortly thereafter in 1893, the stock market crashed, causing a financial panic nationwide and Hotel Victory again closed its doors August 5, 1893.
For the next 18 months, the hotel lay empty and neglected until a sheriff’s sale of furnishings stripped from the hotel, and the hotel itself occurred in 1895. Toledo architect E.O. Falls and Company, the original architect, and the only bidder purchased the building for $17,000. Another creditor purchased the furnishings for $7,000. Amazingly enough, the Hotel Victory opened again for business on July 20, 1896. behind massive publicity and a new twist. The Hotel Victory added a Natatorium (swimming pool) in 1898 that was 30 feet wide with a depth from three to seven feet. Men and Women swam together in the same pool, considered taboo for the era and gained national notoriety as the first in the United States. The setbacks however continued as a smallpox scare in 1898 caused quarantine when 26 of the Victory Hotel employees became infected with the disease. The new owner Falls tired of the challenges of the hotel and sold the hotel to new owners.
New Owners Take The Put-in-Bay Hotel Victory To Her Highest And Most Visible Year
C.W. and J.W Ryan, brothers and hardware merchants purchased the Hotel Victory and brought in Thomas McCreary as the hotel’s new general manager. The gregarious McCreary was a genius for promotion and being the “perfect host” and set about revitalizing the troubled hotel at the end of the 1899 season. When the 1900 season began, guests arrived to a refreshed and refurbished hotel.
McCreary faced a challenge of convincing customers with his neverending publicity efforts that established the Hotel Victory as THE place to stay. His efforts to justify it worth the higher rates the hotel charged to meet its costs and offset the fact that it had a short season soon paid off. He spent time attracting conventions and meetings to supplement the usual crowd of tourists. He touted the many activities, entertainment and safety measures taken to provide for the comfort and entertainment of guests.
McCreary also commissioned sculptor Alfons Pelzer from Germany to create a 13-foot-tall winged Victory statue of copper and bronze with a 7-foot wingspan to sit on a nine-foot-high pedestal in front of the hotel in 1907. This landmark was, unfortunately, the last big project for McCreary at the hotel as he died later that year. McCreary would be the longest-serving manager of the Hotel Victory which reached its peak during his 8-year tenure. The statue itself ended up going to a scrap metal drive years later during World War II. The hotel’s popularity quickly faded as no one else could match McCreary when it came to managing the place and the hotel closed again in 1909. By 1911, a Chicago newspaper reported that neglect and decay caused the hotel to look like a “haunted” hotel.
Again New Owners Try To Revitalize The Victory Hotel
Rumors had become the norm that the hotel was reopening or getting new ownership. A short-lived remodeling effort quickly halted because again, money was a problem. Shortly after, the E.M.T. Automobile Company of Detroit became the newest owners of the hotel and began yet another remodeling effort before the Flanders Realty Company of Detroit eventually bought the hotel for $40,000 and spent another $100,000 on remodeling it before opening it in 1918. The owners sought convention traffic and marketed the hotel as a great getaway for army and navy men on leave during World War I. Rooms cost $1.50 and up, and patrons began to arrive at the hotel again.
A Chicago group headed by Charles J. Stoops purchased the hotel and obtained a $250,000 mortgage on it in 1919. Hopes ran high for the hotel in the community in the face of a predicted post-war economic boom. The business was less than brisk and rumors of closure again surrounded the Hotel Victory. On Thursday, August 14th, 1919, an alarm was phoned into the hotel from the outside that a fire was burning on the third floor. The first proceeded to spread rapidly thru hallways and rooms and by 8:30 that evening the hotel was doomed as the flames had completely engulfed the structure with flames as high as 80 feet, it burned to the ground as the fire was too much for the tiny Put-in-Bay Fire Department, even with its then-new Ford chemical fire wagon and efforts to douse the flames by piping in water from Perry’s Cave. All of the guests were safely evacuated. The fire was visible from as far away as Sandusky Ohio 22 miles away and Detriot 62 miles away.
Rumors were rampant a people speculated the investors set the fires to get out from under the failing hotel and debt. They, however, had little insurance coverage and suffered heavy financial losses with damage to the hotel estimated to be $1,000,000. It was the final end of the Hotel Victory. All that remains of the Victory Hotel is the swimming pool.
The site lay fallow and in ruins until the State of Ohio purchased 33 acres of property on the old Hotel Victory site at Stone’s Cove in 1938 to build a new public park. The park site became part of the Ohio State Park System in 1851. A few small signs mark the site of the hotel ruins, however, no fancy marker exists to explain the hotel’s part in the history of Put-in-Bay Ohio’s South Bass Island
The campground has 125 non-electric campsites, ten full-service sites, flush toilets, showers, picnic tables, a fishing pier, and a small beach. A far cry from the fancy amenities once enjoyed by Hotel Victory guests during its early 1900s heyday.
The Colonial Hotel History Era at Put-in-Bay
Years later, the Put-in-Bay House was rebuilt and resurrected as the famous Colonial Hotel. The Colonial stood for over 100 years, but it also burned down in 1988, which has led many to believe that the land is cursed. Today, the Beer Barrel Saloon and Tipper’s Restaurant stand where the famous Put-in-Bay House and Colonial once did. You can read more about the fascinating tale of the Colonial Hotel Fire here.