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Lake Erie Islanders: Simon Fox of North Bass Island

 

Sketches from the 1917 History of Northwest Ohio 

(reference 4a in the Bibliography)

 

SIMON FOX. So important have the grape and fishing industries become on the group of fertile islands lying like gems in Lake Erie, east of Toledo and northwest of Sandusky, Ohio, that it may sometimes be forgotten that agriculture also flourishes here and it was as a farmer that the first of the Fox family came to Peelee Island. It was John Fox, the father of Simon Fox, who later became one of the important men of the entire group, the founder of numerous island enterprises and a man of high character and sterling worth. Simon Fox was born December 13, 1823, at Gosfield, County Essex, Ontario, and was the third son of John and Rachel (Stewart) Fox.

John Fox and his wife were reared and married in Ontario and possibly were born there. Farming was his vocation. The Canadian winters are sometimes very severe and after three extremely cold seasons, in which his stock perished and his crops failed to mature, John Fox decided to seek a milder climate and with his family, about 1827, sailed to Peelee1 Island in Lake Erie. He found several other white families there and many Indians. The land was heavily timbered and the family had to endure many pioneer hardships and deprivations.

Simon Fox knew no other home throughout life but these islands. He was four years old when his parents settled on Peelee1 and he grew up accustomed to the homely duties and lack of comforts that attend all frontier settlements but many were the interesting tales he could tell of those early times, later in life. He had practically no schooling, probably learning, as have other big men of the world, at his mother's knee. As soon as youth began to assert itself he was ready for hard work and soon became a courageous sailor and an expert fisherman. In the course of time he acquired a sloop rigged sailing vessel, named the Amherst, and established the first regular line on the lakes between Sandusky and Detroit, making regular trips by way of Kelley Island, the Bass Islands and Canadian points.

Simon Fox followed the water more or less regularly until he came to Put-in-Bay, about 1850, when he entered the employ of J. D. Rivera, who had purchased South Bass, Middle Bass and all the other small islands in the immediate waters. For a considerable period Mr. Fox worked for Mr. Rivera, mainly in clearing off the timber, which was then cut into cord wood and sold to the large boats for fuel. He proved so efficient under all circumstances that Mr. Rivera made him his selling agent, very little of the land at that time having been purchased by settlers. Mr. Fox took charge of this business with characteristic earnestness and as fast as settlers came with sufficient capital, tracts were sold them.

In 1852, with his brother Peter Fox, Simon Fox purchased about two thirds of North Bass Island. This island had been owned by Horace Kelley, who had previously disposed of two tracts, making up about one third of the total area of 696 acres, to men who were the very first settlers on North Bass. As Simon Fox was still employed at Put-in-Bay, his brother Peter moved to North Bass to take care of their interests there, and in 1861 Simon removed there also, with his family and it became his permanent residence. Peter Fox selected the southwest corner of the island for his homestead, while Simon chose over one hundred acres in the northeast corner with the intention of going into general farming and stock raising. About this time the cultivation of grapes as an industry was introduced in the Bass Islands, and the price of grape land advanced to such a substantial figure that Simon immediately sold all of his homestead but fifty-five acres, in small lots for vineyards, and then, in common with others, took up the cultivation of grapes and his was the first acre of grape vines put out on the island. He increased until he had twenty acres more in vineyard. The rest of his farm he devoted to fruit growing and general farming.

Mr. Fox also went into the fishing business, his first partner being a Mr. Axtell, and later he was in partnership with John Stone, who subsequently removed to Put-in-Bay Island, where he died. Mr. Fox was then associated in the fishery with Rudolph Siefield, who subsequently purchased the business. In all his transactions he was a man of his word and his judgment concerning business matters could be depended upon.

Simon Fox was married at Put-in-Bay, October 11, 1857, to Miss Elizabeth Sullivan, who was born at Williamsburg, County Dundas, Ontario, Canada, and died on North Bass September 5, 1903. She was a half sister of Philip Vroman, one of the early settlers of Put-in-Bay, who had come from a point on the St. Lawrence River, in New York.  To this marriage the following children were born: Nannie, who was born at Put-in-Bay, July 15, 1858, married Rudolph Siefield, whose extended sketch will be found in this work; Diantha Florence, who was born on North Bass Island January 13, 1864, and died November 20, 1875; Frank W., who was born on North Bass September 17, 1867, and Stewart A., who was born November 13, 1873. Simon Fox died November 16, 1902, one year before his brother Peter. The latter was born in Ontario, Canada, April 7, 1826, and after coming to North Bass Island remained here until his death on September 16, 1903. Two children survive him: Fred, who is in the real estate business at Toledo, and Mrs. Dr. Harvey, of Detroit, Michigan.

Simon Fox in many ways occupied a very prominent place in early affairs in these islands and his name is still held in high esteem. In 1861 he erected the fine residence in which his son, Frank W. resides, it being the handsomest and most modern structure then in North Bass, having a particularly beautiful site, on the east side of the island near the water line of Lake Erie. He spent many happy years here. He was too broadminded a man not to be intensely interested in politics and was identified with the republican party all his life, but he sought no political honors serving merely from public spirit for many years on the school board. He belonged to the Masonic fraternity. In his two surviving sons, both able, honorable business men, this old pioneer has worthy representatives.

 

1: Incorrect spelling in the original material. Should be spelled "Pelee".

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