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A Bunch of Emeralds

1913 text from reference (15) in the Bibliography - Anecdotes About the Minor Lake Erie Islands

Mere dots as they are on the broad bosom of an inland sea, the reminiscent lore attaching to the smaller islets dating from their early history is interesting.


While too limited in extent to afford room for more than a few occupants at a time, the fact that so many individuals, singly, or as families, should have sought at various times the seclusion of bounds so narrow, is a matter of surprise. Instances of the occupation of each by single families have been numerous, while correspondingly marked has been the tendency toward Crusoe life.


As will be seen on reference to the map, the islands in question are scattered promiscuously among the larger members of the group, and may be enumerated as East, West and Middle Sisters, Green Island, Rattlesnake, "Gull," "Sugar," "Mouse," "Lost Ballast," "Hen and Chickens," North Harbor, Middle Island, "Buckeye," and “Starve” and "Fighting” Islands.


Among early occupants of West Sister Island, figured the name of Dr. Girty - brother of Simon Girty – “Tory of the Western Reserve.” In the early “fifties,” Dr. Girty practiced medicine among the few inhabitants of Put-in-Bay, and was the first of his profession to locate among the islands. That any practicing physician should have selected a place so difficult of access to his patrons, remains a mystery.


At another period of its early day history, the island was occupied by a family consisting of two men, two women and a child. They were French Canadians, and had a boat with which they transported needed supplies from the mainland. All went well until winter closed in, and they were surrounded by ice. The child was taken sick - Dr. Girty did not then live on the island - and died.


Wishing to bury the child near their Canadian home, the two men started across the ice, having between them a boat in which was placed the remains.


The ice was in a precarious condition, the wind sprang suddenly from a breeze to a fierce gale, the ice broke up, and the men never returned to West Sister. The women remained imprisoned for several weeks on the lonely isle. Their only boat was gone and their supplies nearly exhausted.


Finally with the opening of navigation a cruising vessel chanced to pass near the island. The attention of some one on board was attracted thereto by the flutter of a white flag. Two women were noticed, standing on the beach; they were frantically waving that which proved to be a white tablecloth fastened to a pole. A boat was lowered and sent to the island. The women told a pitiful story of loneliness and privation, having but little left to eat. They were taken on board the vessel and their wants supplied. When the vessel reached its destination they were sent to their Canadian home. The men, their companions, were never heard of again and doubtless met death beneath the waves.


Several years ago East Sister Isle became the property of James Morrison of Put-in-Bay. Mr. Morrison built a small house on the island and engaged in fishing and farming. The waters were well stocked with fish and the land was very fertile.


Frequent trips were made by Mr. Morrison between Put-in-Bay and the "Sister," in an open pound boat, bringing over loads of fish, fruit and vegetable products for shipment at Put-in-Bay, or Isle St. George. He was usually accompanied on these trips by one or more of his four sons; and his daily life bore a spice of adventure. The winds ofttimes were contrary, the sea tempestuous, but patience, and courage never failed, and he was always successful in landing his cargo.


The island is now owned by the widow of James Morrison, and large quantities of fish are still taken from adjacent waters.


As a lighthouse station, Middle Island, situated in Canadian waters south of Point au Pelee and containing but a few acres, has formed for many years the abode of a whole series of government employees whose main occupation it has been to kindle and keep burning through nights of storm and darkness the lights within its gray old tower, occupying in turn with their families or alone the one modest dwelling which the island contains.


Drawing from their personal experiences, the light keepers of Middle Island have contributed in ample measure to stories of adventure, and often of hardship and privation incidental to a life so isolated.


On yet another occasion a solitary occupant of the island during the winter season was taken seriously ill and lay for several days uncared for, his only medicines comprising a few simple herbs, his only companion a dog.


In like manner the keepers of Green Island light have had during the years intervening, since the building of the first lighthouse upon its shores, many haps and mishaps which if woven into story would make interesting reading. An occurrence most notable in the history of Green Island was the burning in 1864 of the lighthouse above mentioned, an account of which is elsewhere given in this volume.


For a number of years rocky little Rattlesnake was inhabited by a family bearing the name of Hammond, but later formed the summer residence of Capt. Freyense, of Sandusky, who annually repaired thither with his family. A romantic interest attaches to the place.


For many years after the settlement of the principal islands, the “Hen and Chickens,” lying north of the Bass group, were uninhabited. The “Hen” was finally settled by one Captain Blanchard, who came to be known as “the hermit of the old Hen.” Unlike the proverbial recluse, Captain Blanchard was an able man financially and his hermitage formed a quiet, but very comfortable retreat, in which during the summer season he received and entertained many friends from a distance. Tired at last of his solitary life Captain Blanchard sold the “Hen” and her brood to a party of Sandusky gentlemen. An elegant and commodious structure was erected near the site of the hermitage and christened - “Quinnebog Club House”, and semiannually its members repair thither to fish for black bass and run wild.


For a time the only inhabitant of "Ballast" was “Uncle Jimmy”, who occupied a humble cot and posed as monarch of all he surveyed, until after the purchase of the island by Cleveland parties and subsequent erection of a club house and cottages.


"Sugar," containing an area of about fourteen acres lying between Middle and North Bass, possesses varied attractions and is favored as the resort of camping and fishing parties.


Concerning "Mouse" Island, a visiting journalist thus writes:


“It is a little gem of an island on the south shore of Lake Erie just a stone’s throw from Catawba Island. May it be your good fortune to see it by moonlight, with Green Island light blinking sleepily over the port quarter. Then see it with each leaf in the gentle silhouette. Here are bays and capes in miniature, and pretty little harbors where fairy fleets might anchor.


“From Catawba Island the telegraph cable takes a long leap - stops a moment at ‘Mouse’ Island and then plunges into the lake to go to Put-in-Bay. The happy swallows gather on the wire in August before their trip to the South and talk over the coming journey, all unconscious of the messages under their feet, messages of births and deaths and marriages that shall make the heart flutter, many a cheek to pale or flush at Put-in-Bay. What do the swallows care? Robins, too, shall sing a sunset carol for you on the wire, and you may sink to sleep with the echo of his gentle vesper in your ears.


“You might have seen Perry start out from here several years ago with his fleet. How queer those old vessels would look now!


“On this shelving beach many and many a time has the bark canoe of the Indian grated. Here he was absorbed in thoughts of his spirit, and here, too, he probably absorbed a great deal too much spirit, after the white man came.


“If you do go to Mouse Island this summer, the memory of it shall have its halo for you.”


Mouse Island - it may be added - has won distinction as having once been the property of Ex-Prest. Rutherford B. Hayes. It now belongs to his heirs.


“Gull” formed in early days a resort both for sea-gulls which repaired thither in flocks to lay their eggs in the sand, and for adventurers who went to gather them.


“Buckeye” and “Lost Ballast” are gems in miniature. Only fifteen or twenty years ago the latter was an extension of Ballast Island proper, from which it was cut by the wear of waves, and is now separated by a sweep of water. Covered with trees and shrubbery, this tiny islet - subsequently named “Lost Ballast” - forms an emerald setting in the blue water.


“Starve” Island is said to have taken its name from the melancholy fact that somewhere about the opening of the present century a sailor got stranded thereon, where he starved to death. The skeleton of the unfortunate man was afterwards found bleaching upon its barren shore.


Starve Island forms a mass of rock and scant vegetation and its adjacent reefs are known as danger points and carefully shunned by cruising vessels. It boasts not even a Crusoe. 

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Revised: 21 Jul 2008 06:54:58.

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