Part of our Time Traveler Series
There’s something intriguing about old buildings that draw you in. The history, the character, the stories embedded into the walls from generations of people who have walked the floor boards over the years. That’s why I, for one, was excited when Shores & Islands Ohio decided to relocate our Sandusky Welcome Center into a circa 1866 building. Prior to S&IO moving in, the building had been unoccupied since the late 1980s when the Volunteers of America closed their retail store and vacated the space.
During the initial site visit, it was obvious this building was in desperate need of love. Window panes were broken out, birds were nesting inside, wallpaper was peeling, and ceiling were tiles drooping. Enter Sandusky-based redevelopment company, Renaissance Too. They had a vision and were up for the challenges an historic building posed.
After the American Civil War, Sandusky experienced a building boom. According to the Erie County Historical Society, the building is of Italianate style and was constructed by Andrew Biemiller to be the home of a German-American gymnastic club called Turnvereine. The Turnvereine were often referred to as the Turners by Americans who had difficulties pronouncing German words. Mr. Biemiller was treasurer of the club and also well-versed in the fish and wine business. Utilizing those assets, he established the Turner Hall Hotel and a restaurant and bar in the building along with the Turnvereine gymnastic club.
The Turnvereine were an interesting group. On the surface they promoted German culture and language and encouraged gymnastics and athletics. Diving deeper, the German Turners were very active in liberal politics; especially in the late-18th and early-19th century during the Napoleonic Wars. Many Turners also participated in Germany’s struggle for independence in the 1840s.
The 1848 German Revolution was not a success and many Turnvereine either left or were forcibly removed from Germany and emigrated to the U.S. A group came to Cincinnati and then from there migrated to Sandusky where they became involved in social reform such as public education and labor movements, while still maintaining a focus on the promotion of gymnastics and physical health.
By the late-1800s, the Turnvereine movement began to decline, and the gymnastics club vacated the building. In the late 1890s, the building was purchased by Mr. August C. Kunzmann and Mrs. Katie (nee Link) Kunzmann. The Kunzmanns decided to continue operating the Turner Hotel and restaurant but changing the name to Hotel Kunzmann. Mr. and Mrs. Kunzmann previously owned a successful hotel and restaurant known for "excellent accommodation and reasonable rates" on Jackson St. in Sandusky but wanting a waterfront location, decided to relocate their business to 125 E. Water St.
Opening in 1898, the newly-relocated Hotel Kunzmann quickly proved to become popular due to its location on the Sandusky Bay, modern amenities such as fire escapes, electric lights, and hot water heating, as well as for its food and drink offerings. The hotel restaurant advertised the High-ball – the largest beer in town – and for only 5 cents! Also advertised were fine, imported wine and beer, cigars, a rathskeller in the basement, and “the only place in the City to get Imported Beer on Draught.”
After August Kunzmann’s death in 1905, Kaite and their children ran the hotel until 1919. According to the Sandusky Library, a microfilmed scrapbook of local newspaper clippings Katie Kunzmann collected between 1898-1919 can be viewed at the Sandusky Library Archives Research Center.
The Sandusky Star-Journal reported on October 11, 1919 that Ciro S. Riccelli “had recently leased the three-story building that was once the Hotel Kunzmann” for his Riccelli Cone and Candy Company. From a listing in the 1919 edition of The International Confectioner, Mr. Riccelli’s new incorporation came at a cost of $25,000. Mr. Riccelli came to Sandusky in 1889 and opened a fruit business. He also had a factory on E. Market St. which manufactured ice cream cones along with other confectionery products and soft drinks. Mr. Riccelli’s Cone and Candy Company supplied treats to businesses in Sandusky and local summer resorts such as Lakeside, Cedar Point, and Johnson’s Island Pleasure Resort. According to the website, heritagepursuit.com, Mr. Riccelli had a fruit and confectionery store and an ice cream parlor in Sandusky’s business district. From my research, it’s unclear which one of these businesses were located at 125 E. Water St.
It’s also unclear how long Mr. Riccelli occupied the building. What we do know is The Volunteers of America operated a retail store on the first floor of the building from 1944-1989. For the next 30 years, the building sat unoccupied. Although the Erie County Historical Society’s website states there was a restoration to the original architectural features on the outside of the building in 2000, the inside was left neglected. Over the past 30 years, various people have attempted to repurpose the building but nothing materialized, until 2018 when Renaissance Too acquired the property.
Renaissance Too completed an extensive renovation of the entire building while managing to keep some of the original character such as the floors and exposed brick walls. The third floor was converted into residential units with the rest of the building being occupied by Shores & Islands Ohio. The second floor houses our offices and the first floor, our Welcome Center. We welcome you to stop by our Welcome Center and visit! We are open year-round. You can find our hours on our website.