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Lake Erie Islanders: Rudolph Siefield of North Bass Island

 

Sketches from the 1917 History of Northwest Ohio 

(plus a new sequel written in 2003)

(reference 4a in the Bibliography)

 

    RUDOLPH SIEFIELD. It is to be hoped that there will never come a time when the truthful story of struggle crowned with success, will lose its attraction. Capital and influence assist many indifferent men to places of prominence, but their rise possesses no particular interest for either their fellow citizens or for the general reader, but a record of personal effort, of industry, courage and perseverance, leading from a poor and orphaned boyhood to affluence and proud position, is so human a document that it wins attention as it should, and spreads a beneficial, and stimulating influence. Such a story may be unfolded concerning one of the most prominent citizens of North Bass Island, Ottawa County, Ohio, Rudolph Siefield, postmaster of the Isle of St. George and identified politically and in a business way with the leading affairs and industries of this entire section.

    Rudolph Siefield was born July 15, 1858, near Oak Harbor, Ottawa County, Ohio. His parents were born, reared and married in Wurttemberg, Germany. They came to the United States some years after marriage and located in Ottawa County among the earliest pioneers, selecting land in what was known as the Black Swamp, in the northern part of the county. The father, Henry Siefield, contracted malarial fever and died when Rudolph was yet young, leaving the mother with nine children, as follows: Rickey, now Mrs. Helsley, a widow, living at Oak Harbor; Caroline, who is the wife of Allen Tyrell of Brompton, Michigan; Louise, who is the widow of Horace Stevens, of California; Minnie, who is the widow of John Stone, of Put-in-Bay; Amelia, who is the wife of John Hetrick, of Oak Harbor; Rudolph and Herman. who is a resident of East Toledo. After the death of the father, the mother removed with her children to Oak Harbor. She was a woman of thrift and resources and there started a small mercantile business which she carried on for several years or until her death.

    Rudolph Siefield was not more than tell years old when his mother died and he was thus left an orphan entirely dependent on his own efforts. He was willing and industrious and soon found an employer in Frank Clark, on Catawba Island, with whom he remained for some time and then came to Put-in-Bay, to the home of Allen Tyrrell. Wishing to see something of the world while bettering his condition, he then went to Escanaba, Michigan, and in that vicinity was a laborer for four years. In the spring of 1875, however, he returned to the islands and came to North Bass, where his brother-in-law, John Stone, in partnership with Simon Fox, were operating a fishery, entering their employ and continuing with them for ten years.

    During this time Mr. Siefield was prudent with his money and soon had capital enough to warrant an investment, this taking the form of rented land from Simon Fox and the operation of a vineyard on the same, on shares. Subsequently he bought the fish business of his employers and carried it on himself as long as it was profitable as an individual enterprise, but when the Sandusky Fish Company was organized, he sold to that concern.

    In the meanwhile Mr. Siefield had been buying land, his shrewd business instinct leading him to invest on the north shore of North Bass, continuing to add to his acreage from time to time, and he now has a home farm of fifty-two acres, thirty of which are in grapes. Another purchase, while still in the fishing business was the "Hen and Chickens" group of islands, north of North Bass, which he later disposed of to an outing club of Cleveland, of which he is a member. Besides his farm he has various other interests, the most important, perhaps, being the owner and individual operator of the Peerless Champagne Company. He grows his own Catawba grapes and produces a grade of champagne which in flavor, appearance and bouquet cannot be distinguished from the finest imported wines. He caters principally to private customers, discriminating buyers, who want the best wine they can procure and find their demands satisfied with the vintages of the Peerless Champagne Company. Mr. Siefield was one of the organizers of the Bass Islands Vineyard Company, of Sandusky, Ohio, large producers of grape juice, and is now vice president of this company. He is also one of the directors of the Becker Wine Company, and is president also of the North Bass Central Dock Company.

    Mr. Siefield was married to Miss Nana Fox, who was born at Put-in-Bay, July 15, 1858, and is a daughter of Simon and Elizabeth (Sullivan), Fox, and they have had three children: Florence, who was born February 19, 1884, is the wife of Emil Ruh, a prosperous grape grower of Put-in-Bay; Ida, who was born June 21, 1887, is the wife of Walter S. Ladd, a leading business man of Put-in-Bay and postmaster, and Walter F. who was born September 22, 1889, and died June 20, 1914, was a young man of great promise, finely educated and widely known. He had attended the Oak Harbor High School, the Sandusky Business College and the Ohio State University, being a graduate of each. He was married June 13, 1914, to Miss Rose Leschied, of North Bass.

    In politics Mr. Siefield is a sound democrat. For fifteen years he served as township trustee of North Bass, for many years was a justice of the peace and during the present administration has been postmaster of Isle of St. George. His high standing among his fellow citizens may thus, in a way, be determined. The leading fraternities are old institutions in the islands, and Mr. Siefield belongs to the Masonic Blue Lodge and Chapter at Sandusky, the Odd Fellows at Put-in-Bay, and St. George Tent, Maccabees, North Bass.

 

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A sequel written in 2003 and contributed by an individual who grew up on North Bass:

I have some more info you may find interesting, that wasn't explained in the biography of Rudolph Siefield. It pertains to his son Walter. As you may have noticed, Walter was married to Rose Lescheid on 6/13/1914 and he died on 6/20/1914. The biography doesn't explain what took place to cause his death, which I'm sure was out of respect. But I can fill you in. The Siefields lived in the white house at the northern end of the airstrip (had the wrap around porch) and Rose lived in the blue house across the road. They fell in love and were married in the church on 6/14/1914. Fallowing the ceremony there was a reception held at the Siefield house. All the men on the island brought their rifles to perform a gun salute for the bride and groom. Afterwards some of the folks were sitting on the porch and Walter was leaning against the rail. A gentleman named Buttons Wires was sitting in a chair and his gun was behind him leaning against the side of the house. He went to scoot back in his chair and in doing so knocked his gun over and it went off accidentally shooting Walter. He died 8 days later. Rose and her family left the island soon after that, as I'm sure the sorrow of staying there was just too great. Well that was that until one day back in 1979 or 1980 my Mom received a phone call from a gentleman asking if it would be alright if he brought his Great Grandmother back to visit the island. She lived on the island till 1914 and hadn't been back since. And all she wanted was to see the island one last time as she was now 90 years old. Of course they said it would be fine and they would give them a car to use. Well come to find out it was Rose. They came in the fall when the grapes were ripe, which is when she wanted to come so she could smell the sweetness in the air given off by the sun ripened grapes. (Which if you've ever been privileged enough to enjoy it is truly one of mother nature’s greatest gifts) What a tragically sad, yet interesting story her life was. I was only 10 or so at the time she came to the island. I sure wish I could have been able to spend some time with her, just to listen to what she would have to say.

After that tragic incident nobody would get married in the church, believing it to be bad luck. There wasn't another wedding there until the 60's. My Aunt (Dad's sister) and Donnie Stonerook (Ingels/Stonerook family have lived on the island since the late 1800's and still do to this very day) were the first to do so. We've now had maybe 10 weddings since, including my own, with no tragedies. 

 

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