Historical Collections of Ohio
Henry Howe LL. D.
KELLEY'S ISLAND is a township of Erie County; lies in the lake,
thirteen miles from Sandusky, and contains a little over four square
miles. It was originally called Cunningham's Island, from a Frenchman,
who came here about 1803. He was an Indian trader, and built a cabin or
trading shanty. In 1810 came two other Frenchmen, Poschile and Bebo;
all three left the Island in the war period, at which time Gen.
Harrison, in command of the "Army of the Northwest," stationed a guard
on the west point of the island to watch the movements of the British
and Indians on the lake. In 1818 a man named Killam came with his
family and one or two men. The steamboat "Walk-in-the-Water," the
first built upon the lakes, came out this year, and Killam furnished
her with fuel, all red cedar. In 1820, the "Walk-in-the-Water" was
wrecked at Point Albino. In 1833 Datus kelley, of Rockport, in
connection with his brother, Irad Kelley, of Cleveland, bought the
island, with a view of bringing into the market the red cedar with which
much of the island was then covered. At this time there were only three
or four families, and those squatters, on the island, and only six
acres of cleared land. In 1836 Mr. Datus Kelley moved his family to his
island home, and remained until his death, in 1866, in his
seventy-eighth year. He was a man of great force of character, and
careful not to sell land to any settlers except to people of thrift and
general good habits; the result of this is apparent in the fine moral
status of its present population. The census of 1840 gave it a
population of 68; that of 1880, 888.
The sales of wood, cedar and stone soon repaid many times the entire
purchase, and the tillable land, a strong limestone soil, proved to
be of superior quality. The stone trade grew into great proportions.
Large quantities of limestone were then quarried for building and other
purposes. Some of the most elegant structures of our cities are built
with the Kelley Island limestone.
Another element came into effect a revolution in the pursuits of the
people. About the year 1842, Mr. Datus Kelley noticing that the wild
grapes upon the island were remarkably thrifty, brought from his former
residence at Rockport the Catawba and Isabella grape vines, and found
the soil and climate surprisingly well adapted to the culture of the
grape. Mr. Charles carpenter, son-in-law of Mr. Kelley, born in
Norwich, Conn., in 1810, planted the first acre of grapes as a field
crop, and the demonstration was such that in a few years there were
nearly 1,000 acres set to vines, about one third of the entire area of
the island. Large profits for a time resulted from the sale of the
fruit packed for table use, and as a consequence the price of land
advanced several hundred percent. The excess of supply over demand for
table use, and also the quality of the crop for that purpose, led to
the manufacture of wine, and there were in course of time erected on
the island cellars which, including those of the Kelley Island Wine
Company, had a capacity of storing half a million gallons of wine. The
average crop of grapes by 1880 had grown to 700 tons, all of which was
manufactured into wine. Mr. Carpenter, mentioned above, was not only
prominent as a horticulturist, but he took a deep interest in the
artificial propagation of white-fish, and was put in charge of a
branch of the State Fish Hatchery on Kelley's Island.
Kelley's Island was a favorite place of resort of the aborigines, which
is shown by the remains of mounds, burial-places, and implements. Here
is the famous "Inscription Rock," which archaeologists have regarded as
the work of the Eries, or Cat Nation, which was annihilated in a
wholesale slaughter by the Iroquois in 1655. The following brief
description is from the pen of Mr. Addison Kelley:
This Inscription Rock lies on the south shore of Kelley's Island, in
Lake Erie, about 60 rods east of the steamboat landing. The rock is 32
feet greatest length, and 21 feet greatest breadth, and 11 feet high
above the water in which it sets. It is part of the same stratification
as the island, from which it has been separated by lake action. The
top presents a smooth and polished surface, like all the limestone of
this section of country when the soil is removed, suggesting the idea of
glacial action; upon this the inscriptions are cut; the figures and
devices are deeply sunk in the rock.
Schoolcraft's "Indian Antiquities" says of it: "It is by far the most
extensive and well sculptured and best preserved inscription of the
antiquarian period ever found in America." It is in the pictographic
character of the natives; its leading symbols are readily interpreted.
The human figures, the pipe, smoking groups, and other figures denote
tribes, negations, crimes, and turmoils, which tell a story of
thrilling interest, connected with the occupation of this section by
the Eries, of the coming of the Wyandots, of the final triumph of the
Iroquois, and flight of the people who have left their name on the lake.
In the year 1851, drawings of these inscriptions were made by Col.
Eastman, of the United States Army, who was detailed by the government
at Washington to examine them on the representation of Gen. Meigs, who
had examined them. Copies of the inscriptions were made and submitted
to Shingvauk, an Indian learned in Indian pictography, and who had
interpreted prior inscriptions submitted to him.
We copy a few lines from Schoolcraft's "American Antiquities," page 85
to 87 inclusive: "No.6 is a chief and warrior of distinction; 7, his
pipe, he is smoking after a fast; 15-16 are ornaments of leather worn
by distinguished warriors and chiefs; No.14, ornaments of feathers;
33, is a symbol for the No.10 and denotes ten days, the length of his
fast; 34 is a mark for the number 2 and designates two days, and that
he fasted the whole time, except a morsel at sunset.
"Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24,
25, 26, and 43 represent different objects relied upon by the chief in
the exhibition of his magical and political powers, denoting in him the
sources of long life and potent influences; figures 30, 19,41, denote
a journey in snow shoes; 31-40, war clubs; 78, a road; 122, serpents
who beset his path, etc.etc."
These inscriptions were first brought to the knowledge of "the white
man," about the year 1833-4, soon after the purchase of the island by
Datus and Irad Kelley, being discovered by Charles Olmstead, of
Connecticut, while tracing, and studying the glacial grooves. Since
then the rock has been visited by thousands of persons, and has become
much worn, and some of it is so much obliterated as to prevent a full
photograph being taken of it, as it was when first discovered.
Prior to photographing the shown view of Inscription Rock Mr. Bishop and
Mr. Addison Kelley, the latter shown on its summit, passed half a day
in going over the partly obliterated lines in red chalk because red
The most celebrated locality perhaps in the world to show the marks of
the receding glaciers is in this island region, and especially are they
strong on Kelley's Island, as described on the third page of the
article in this work, "Glacial Man in Ohio." Col. Chas Whittlesey, in
a paper read before the "American Association for the Advancement of
Science," August, 1878, entitled "Ancient Glacial Action, Kelley's
Island, Lake Erie," says: "These islands originally formed a part of
the main land on the south and of the low coast to the west. Probably
all of the lake west of Point Pellee, in the pre-glacial period, was
more land than water. Instead of a lake with islands, it must have been
a country with lakes, rivers, and swamps." Some of the furrows on
this island worn by the ice are two feet deep.
In this region whenever the rocks are laid bare the evidences of ice
action are very marked. In Sandusky City many of the cellar bottoms
show polished, grooved and striated surfaces.