Pocket History


Kelleys Island, Ohio


Jane B. Schlesselman




Location of Kelleys Island . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   page 1

Indian occupation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .            1

Interesting “Firsts” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .            2

Facts about Datus and Irad Kelley . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .            2

Dates of interest . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .            3

Map of Lake Erie Island . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .           4

Map of Kelleys Island . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .          5

Early Boats Serving Kelleys Island . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .          7

Present Times on Kelleys Island . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .          7



Copyright ©


Jane B. Schlesselman


Printed on Kelleys Island


A word of explanation


This is not intended to be a complete history of Kelleys Island, Ohio, but a brochure highlighting historical events, names, etc, connected with the Island.  The writer has in mind the numerous vacationers who want to know the whys and wherefores of Kelleys and do no have time to read a lengthy and involved history.



Location of the Island


Kelleys is 1 ½ miles south of the International Boundry Line, which is not only the boundry line between Ohio and Canada, but is also that of the Incorporated Village of Kelleys Island.  It is 10 miles north of Sandusky, and the nearest mainland is Marblehead, about 4 miles to the south.  Kelleys is 2,800 acres in size, about 14 miles around, 5 miles in length, east and west and about 2 miles from the south to north on Division Street.


The soil is rich in lime, grows excellent grapes and produce.  Island potatoes are noted for their sweetness, firmness and whiteness in color.


Indians occupying Kelleys Island


It is believed that Erie or Cat nation of Indians lived on Kelleys, and were destroyed by the Mohawks about 1655.  The Indians who lived on the Island were mound builders and numerous burial grounds have been uncovered unintentionally during the process of building up the Island and many excellent specimens of Indian lore have been found in the mounds.

On the south shore lies the Inscription Rock.  It is 32 ft. long 21 foot wide.  It is said to be one of the finest samples of Indian hieroglyphics ever found.  A small replica of the Rock was at one time placed in the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland.


Kelleys Island, in early colonial days, passed from French to English hands.  It was made part of the Province of Quebec by act of Parliament in 1774.  It was part of the land granted in 1662 by King Charles II to the colony of Connecticut.  The actual history of the many hands the land passed through is very involved and not too easy to follow and will not be discussed here.


Interesting “Firsts”


First white man was Cunningham who came to the Island sometime before 1800.  At one time Kelleys was known as Cunningham Island.

First white family to settle were the Killiams, shortly after 1812.

First white child was Cyrus Ellithorpe, born Oct.6, 1832.

First property purchased in 1833 was 1,444 acres at $1.50 per acre.  Deed for this property was given to Datus and Irad Kelley in 1842.

First Post Office was built in 1853.

First wine cellar built in 1851, owned by Charles Carpenter.  Later was changed to the Kelley Island Wine Company.

Cemetery was begun in 1854.  Until that time bodies were placed in private burial plots around the Island.

Town Hall, still in use today was built in 1860 by Datus Kelley.


During the Civil War, Kelleys Island supplied the country with a larger proportion of men that any other community of its size in the United States.


Interesting facts about the Island Founders, Datus and Irad Kelley


Datus was born in 1786, died in 1866 at 80 years.  He is buried on the Island.  He preached and practiced total abstinence from intoxicating drinks and would not allow them to be brought to the Island as long as he “ruled” the Island.  In 1840 he gave up his leadership.  He was very well liked and highly respected.


Irad was not as prominent as his brother as he did no live on the Island, but through him their investment in the Island was made profitable.  He was restless and an adventurer, travelling all over the country during his lifetime.  He was postmaster in Cleveland from 1817 to 1829.  He died suddenly in New York at 84 years, shortly before he was to sail for South America.


Dates of Interest in the Progress of Kelleys Island


In 1835 Datus Kelley’s home was built.  It was a log cabin, and since then has been made into a frame building, the construction being made around the original cabin.  It still stands – the first house on the west side of Division Street.

In 1836 the first school classes began.  The first school house was built in 1837.  It is now being used as a home by and Island family.  Its location is on Division St., directly across from the Barber Shop.

In 1850 District School #2 was established on the east end of Kelleys.  Four schools were built, later abandoned.  Estes School, now used for all grades, was built in 1901.

In 1863 a little stone Catholic Church was built on land donated by Henry Lange.  This was the first Church built on the Island and is now known as St. Michaels Church.

In 1865 the German Reformed Church was begun.  It was dedicated in 18??

In 1866 Union Evangelical Church organized.  Dedicated in 1877.

In 1871 the German Evangelical Church was organized.  This is now the Community Church.

In 1872 roads now called Division Street and Lake Shore Bldv. West, were built.

In 1875 the telegraph cable was laid from Sandusky to Marblehead to Kelleys Island.

In 1875 the Kelley Island Wine Company burned.  Damage was estimated between $25,000 and $30,000.  Today the castle-like ruins can be seen at the west end of the Island as one approaches in a boat.

In 1877 a fish hatchery was established by the Ohio State Fish Commission.  It is no longer in operation.

Until 1933, during the winter months, mail and passengers were carried over the ice on boats.  When the boat reached heavy ice all would get out and walk while the boat was skidded over the ice to the next stretch of open water.  In 1933 mail was flown to the Island by Milton Hersberger.  He owns his landing field on the Island.


The Kelleys Island Lime Company ran quarrying operations until 1940, when the quarries were abandoned.  Scars of the operations are clearly visible throughout the Island.


The Island House, an addition to the Addison Kelley home was built in 1853.  It was burned in 1877, rebuilt and burned again.  It was used for a hotel.  The lot remained vacant until it was purchased by the Civic Club and dedicated for a Park in 1924.


The Glacial Grooves at the north end of Division St. are the most remarkable of any found in America.  They were made thousands of years ago by glacial ice grinding at the rocks on the Island.


Datus Kelley’s permanent home is now used for the Dominican Girls Camp.  It has what is said to be the only unsupported circular staircase in the United States.


A Few of the Early Boats Serving the Island


1818 – Walk-in-the-Water, stopped for wood on trips from Detroit to Buffalo

1834 – Hummingbird, carried mail and passengers

1834 – Ben Franklin

1836 - ?? Argus

1839 – Number One

1846 – The Islander, first steamboat to serve the Island

1849 – Steamer Bunker Hill

1854 – Island Queen.  Sunk by rebels during Civil War.  Later raised and sold.


For the present, the most important are the Commuter and Challenger of the Neuman Boat Line and the smaller cruisers and speedboats from Brown’s Livery.


Present Times on Kelleys Island


In 1948 a great number of Islanders felt the need of air service direct to Sandusky and private flyers wanted to land on the Island.  As that was not possible with the airport set-up at that time, several islanders sold adjoining land to be used as a Municipal Airport.  In spite of objections of those who did not want another airport on Kelleys, many many Islanders cleared land that had not been worked for generations and was grown up in trees and dense underbrush, plowed, graded and smoothed the ground and hauled tons and tons of stone for the runways and completed their Airport.  All those men donated their time and equipment to do the job.  In one stage of the development of the Airport a picnic was held.  Sandusky stores donated hams, potatoes, which were made into salads, and all the “fixings” for a good picnic.  Those who attended worked on the land until the women called them for food.  The picnic lasted all day until just before dusk and the work that was done that day was tremendous.


On January 6, 1949 the Island was notified that the Ohio Aviation Board has granted Certification for Commercialization.


In 1948 the Kelley Island Chamber of Commerce was organized and the members have been aiding the Village in their surge forward.  The Island has lain dormant for over 10 years and suddenly it is awakening.  Property is at a premium and prospective buyers are clamouring to purchase land on which to build homes.


On April 30, 1949 the First Annual Banquet of the Kelley Island Chamber of Commerce was held in the new dining room of Sunset Point Lodge.  One of the many distinguished guests was Mr. C.E.A. Brown, Director of the Ohio Aviation Board.  He presented the Village, through Mayor Paul Boltz, the Commercial Certificate for the Municipal Airport.  Almost every guest present had direct or indirect association with the building of the Airport and each felt a personal pride as the Certification was presented.


It was announced at the Banquet that plans have been made to construct a yacht harbor on the location where the Pond now lies.  Work is expected to begin in 1949.


In 1948 a chapter of the Parent Teachers Association was organized.  To date there are close to 50 members.  At a Valentine Party in 1949 enough money was raised to purchase a set of the World Book for the School.  New projects are in the offering and the Island is very enthusiastic in its efforts to better the understanding between the parents and teachers of Estes School.


Farming and fishing are the main occupations on Kelleys at present.  There are now only 5 vineyards in operation, totalling about 100 acres in all.  In 1862 there were 400 acres in grapes, bringing a total of 1,200 tons.  In 1948, 100 acres brought 100 tons.


Lay Brothers Fisheries employ about 22 men year round.  Independent fishermen employ about 24 men each year.


Sports fishing, winter and summer, bring many vacationers each year.  August is usually the best month for summer fishing.  Hunting pheasants and rabbits make the Island very popular in November.


New cottages are springing up all over Kelleys and accommodations are becoming easier to obtain every year.


We natives are very proud of our village.  We feel that we have on Kelleys Island not only what every other town or village in the world has to offer vacationers, but also a wealth of history, beautiful scenery and excellent accommodations with which to make our summer guests comfortable.


It is but with much planning and re-planning and tremendous work that we have just begin to make the Island come back and in a not too distant future we hope to have and Island that will do justice to the efforts and anticipations of the two men who so long ago first purchased the land we now call Kelleys Island.