Published December 2020
The Shores & Islands area is known for its rich history and connection to milestone events in our country’s timeline. From Milan’s native son, Thomas Edison, to more light-hearted history with Knute Rockne perfecting the forward pass on Cedar Point Beach, this popular vacation destination has played a key role in a variety of noteworthy events. This storied past even extends from the shorelines to the islands! And while many people know about Put-in-Bay and Oliver Hazard Perry’s important victory in the War of 1812 and the Glacial Grooves on Kelleys Island, a smaller island has also seen its share of important historic events.
Located in Sandusky Bay, between downtown Sandusky and the Marblehead Peninsula, sits quaint Johnson’s Island. The island is approximately 300 acres in size and sits across the bay from downtown Sandusky. In the mid-1800s, the island only had one resident, its owner L. B. Johnson, and his family. However, by the middle of the century, and thanks to the Civil War, the island’s population would soon grow significantly. As the Civil War continued to drag on, the North knew that it would have to find locations for captured Confederate prisoners. While touring the area, Col. William Hoffman noticed Johnson’s Island. In particular, he liked the remoteness of the island, in case of raids to release prisoners, and he also liked the accessibility, as the island could easily be reached by water from Sandusky. Johnson’s Island was home to more than 9,000 prisoners during its 40-month use. Today, the island is home to more than 200 graves and headstones of prisoners buried there. Visitors to the island can view and walk around the cemetery. Some will even say that the cemetery is haunted!
After the Civil War, the center of the island was forever transformed during the early 1900s as quarrying operations began. Between 1902 and 1916, limestone was removed from the island and sent to ports along the Lake Erie shore, including Cleveland, Lorain, and Conneaut. During peak activity, more than 300 workers were on the island. Due to that large workforce, housing, a general store, school, and even a U.S. Post Office were opened on the island. Workers made less than $2 per day. Today, the old quarry is home to a marina and a large number of houses that sit high above the water below.
Around the same time as the quarry work was taking place, a group of investors created the Johnson’s Island Pleasure Resort. Their goal, to capitalize on pleasure travel and to compete with the new Cedar Point, located just across the bay in Sandusky. The island would come to house a large pavilion, which included a dance floor and overnight accommodations, a concession stand, and more. Unfortunately, a large fire destroyed the main pavilion in the winter of 1897, which led to the eventual closure of the pleasure resort. Additional attempts were made at adding attractions to the island, however, they could not compete with the growing popularity of Cedar Point, and in 1908, the Johnson’s Island Pleasure Resort was sold to Cedar Point for $800 in stock.
In the 1960s, a causeway was constructed that finally connected the tiny island to mainland in Marblehead. The island has also been designated a National Historic Landmark. Today, the island is still home to the Confederate Cemetery and numerous private homes. Visitors can cross the bridge, for a small fee, and tour the cemetery. You may want to keep an eye out for ghosts!