The Isles of Ohio

Sittin on the dock at Put-in-Bay

I spent a day on an island off the coast of Ohio. This induces laughter among my friends because they think I am kidding. Yes, Virginia, Ohio has islands.

Put-in-Bay is a village on South Bass Island, which looks like a cheesy invented Victorian village, dropped in Lake Erie. But the truth is that Put-in-Bay has been around since the Victorian era, and some of the restaurants & inns are still in use. As I envision it, after arriving by ferry from the mainland, men would head to the beach, perhaps even daring to get their woolen bathing suits wet. Ladies would parade the streets with their parasols. At least in my mind. There was once an amusement park here, and once an 800-room hotel, which could serve meals for nearly a thousand in its ballroom. Not that there were enough visitors to support that, as the hotel declared bankruptcy within one year of opening, was sold at auction not long after, and burned down before it reached its 30th birthday.

Now, tourists hire golf carts and bicycles and putter from one end to another (on a 3-mile long island, this doesn’t take long). We visited the beach at South Bass Island State Park, situated steps from where the Hotel Victory once stood. The beach was as rocky as Nice, France. The water was pleasant, although I only went in up to my ankles. What was not pleasant was the sunfish floating belly up and the fat man (why must all beaches have a fat man?), pasty from the long Ohio winter. We ate at an outdoor cafe, as I always do, then headed to Heinemann’s Winery.

Stop laughing at me again. Ohio has wineries! And while many were created in the wine popularity boom of last 30 years, there is a great enological history here. Ohio led the nation in wine production in 1860 (of course California hadn’t been invented yet). At the turn of the last century, there were 17 wineries on this one island, so a visit to the 130 year-old Heineman’s Winery is more than just a place to get loopy on sweet wines, like catawba and reisling and concord. It’s a historical place to get loopy on sweet wine. We had the keys to a golf cart, so we couldn’t get sloppy. But there’s always next time.

By Matthew Stone
Travel to Put-in-Bay, South Bass Island, Ohio

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