It seemed like every summer growing up, when my parents talked about “going to the islands” they referred to Lake Erie Islands, and more specifically Put-in-Bay. We would head out usually early on a Sunday Morning, drive the freeway across the Sandusky Bay, and spend most of the day there, the ride on the ferry-boat being half the fun of being there. I has been years since I made the last boat ride over there and so, last Thursday, I decided to hop in the car and go back.
Put-in-Bay, located on South Bass Island, is a place of contrasts. Home to the Perry Victory and Peace Memorial and the Aquatics Visitor Center, Put-in-Bay is also known locally as a Key West North with the number of bars and eateries lined up near the harbor loaded with boats. Roughly an hour and a half from Cleveland, the inhabited islands on the US side of the border draw millions of visitors each year. They range from day trippers, college students working there or spending a wild Saturday Night on the harbor, to those spending the summer in their cottages. When I went a recent Thursday afternoon, the crowd was a lot less rowdy, senior citizens slightly dominating the visitors embarking on the Mill Boat Ferry from Catawba Island which is, ironically, on the mainland.
The Boardwalk restaurant in Downtown Put-in-Bay has a remarkable view, and personally that took precedence over the food. For a weekday in September, it was doing brisk business and my server had to handle more than one table besides my own. Famous for its lobster bisque, I wound up getting a good cheeseburger and onion rings which was just right for my budget. It is a very nice space and looking out at Gibraltar Island and the Lake beyond was spectacular. Across the street Mossback’s, located in an old wooden commercial building, is where I would go when I was much younger with the parents. Looking at their website, and a few others, the prices are all comparable and, let’s face it, at a tourist meccas like Put-in-Bay, they can price their menus any way they wish.
The Put-in-Bay Yacht Club, established in 1886, is one of the oldest ones on Lake Erie and apparently a hub of activity in the summer. A well maintained place, the yacht club was a lot quieter at this time of year than even just a few weeks back.The Aquatics Visitor Center (a former fish hatchery) was also pretty quiet, with the boats moored in front of the buildings and one of the staff hosing down the sidewalk. However, at the kiosk on their grounds, I discovered that tours of the Ohio State University Center for Lake Erie Aquatic Research’s. Stone Lab and the rest of Gibraltar Island are offered on Wednesdays from June 24 through August 12 which is something that I never knew before.
Naturally, there are plenty of things to do, from kayak rentals to the State Park on the Western end of the island. There are also numerous bed and breakfasts along the Western end of the harbor. Many visitors rent bikes and golf carts to get around, though residents and over night visitors do bring their cars, or trucks for that matter. As for me, I took the bus into town for $2.50 each way.
For a place just off the shore from the North Coast, Put-in-Bay is a tourist destination that seems a world away.
Photographs by James Valentino.