Middle Bass Island is an island of the U.S. state of Ohio, located in Lake Erie. The
805-acre (3.258 km²) island is shaped like the Big Dipper and is one of three Bass
Islands located at the center of a group of 23 smaller islands.
The Lake Erie Islands are a chain of archipelagic islands in Lake Erie. They include
Kelleys Island, Pelee Island, the Bass Islands, and several others. The majority of
these islands are under the sovereignty of Ohio in the United States. Pelee Island
is the only major island administered by Ontario although Middle Island is the
southernmost point in Canada. Most islands that are large enough are popular
tourist attractions with car ferries running from the mainland and between some
islands and some small airports and numerous private marinas offering other
ways to reach the islands.
Middle Bass Island Ohio
In 1534, France first laid claim to the Great Lakes, sight unseen, as
French explorer Jacques Cartier sailed across the Atlantic and into
the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, naming all of the region drained
by that river New France. Later explorers ventured further into the
continent, and in 1608 Frenchman Samuel de Champlain founded the
colony of Quebec on the banks of the St. Lawrence. Several years
later, a trader and adventurer, Etienne Brule, left the colony and
wandered deeper into the interior of New France, eventually
becoming the first European to discover Lake Erie. Soon after the
French got comfortable in the Great Lakes region, explorers from
Great Britain arrived in the far northern reaches of the vast Canadian
territory, claiming that area as their own. In 1670, the Hudson Bay
Company was founded by Prince Rupert, a cousin of King George II of
England, to rival the thriving French fur trade.
The island was landed upon by French explorer, Robert La Salle, in
1679. The abundance of wildflowers on the island impressed La Salle
and his crew so much that they appropriately named it Isle des
Fleures, the Floral Island.
In the early 1700s, the Wyandots settled into the sparsely populated
Lake Erie area and claimed the Ohio country between the Great Lakes
and Miami River. There, they traded with the French and coexisted
peacefully with other Indian tribes to whom they granted land.
Meanwhile, the fur rivalry between France and Britain had turned into
all-out war over the Canadian territory, including the Great Lakes
region. In 1763, France ceded the Great Lakes region to victorious
Britain. Britains victory was short-lived, however.
The name Isle des Fleures would be the name for the next 200 years
until it was acquired by a German count in 1856. With the aid of
immigrant German workers, the island was used for growing grapes.
This proved to be a very successful undertaking.
At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, the Lake Erie area
became part of the Connecticut Reserve. By 1795, the Bass Islands
were transferred to the Connecticut Land Company and parcels were
offered for sale to U.S. citizens.
Lake Erie islands by size:
1. Pelee Island (Ontario, Canada)
2. Kelleys Island (Ohio)
3. South Bass Island (Ohio)
4. Middle Bass Island (Ohio)
5. North Bass Island (Ohio)
6. Johnson's Island (Ohio)
8. West Sister Island (Ohio)
9. East Sister Island (Ontario, Canada)
10. Rattlesnake Island (Ohio)
11. Turtle Island (Ohio & Michigan)
12. Green Island (Ohio)
13. Sugar Island (Ohio)
14. Ballast Island (Ohio)
15. Mouse Island (Ohio)
16. Gibraltar Island (Ohio)
17. Indian Island (Michigan)
18. Hen Island, which has three smaller islands known as
"chickens" around it. (Big Chicken Island, Chick Island,
and Little Chicken Island) (Ontario, Canada)
19. Middle Sister Island (Ontario, Canada)
20. North Harbor Island (Ontario, Canada)
21. Ryerson's Island (Ontario, Canada)
22. Second Island (Ontario, Canada)
24. Buckeye Island (Ohio)
25. Lost Ballast Island (Ohio)
26. Snow Island (Ontario, Canada)
27. Mohawk Island (formerly Gull Island) (Ontario,
28. Gull Island, Ohio (No longer exists)
glacial past is evident in small scratches in the rock surface, known as glacial striations, carved by rocks
embedded in the glacial ice. Vast stands of red cedar and the presence of underground caverns, both
associated with limestone, are found here. The islands and shoreline support a variety of reptiles including
the state's highest concentration of the harmless fox snake. The timber rattlesnake was at one time quite
prevalent on the islands but is now gone from the area. Rattlesnake Island was so named due to the presence
of this reptile years ago.
Migrating songbirds rest here before winging across the lake. Hundreds of different species have been
identified, making this one of the best birdwatching areas in the country. Several nesting pairs of the
magnificent bald eagle are located in the area.
Middle Bass Island was formed during the glacial period when massive ice sheets entered Ohio. Glaciers
gouged and scoured the bedrock, and their tremendous weight left deep depressions which filled with
meltwater, forming the Great Lakes. Lake Erie, the world?s 12th largest freshwater lake, is large in area but
shallow, allowing for violent storms with high waves. The western basin, where Middle Bass Island is located,
has an average depth of only 25 to 30 feet.
Some of its more famous neighbors are South Bass Island, with the town of Put-in-Bay, Kelleys Island, and
Pelee Island. The island has a year-round population of 95 residents (2000 census). Seasonal population
surges to near 1,500 residents during the summer.
Some of the earliest known inhabitants of the lower Great Lakes region were the Ottawa Indian tribe, whose
name means trader, and the Wyandot (Huron), whose name is believed to mean islander or dweller on a
peninsula. Pictographs carved several hundred years ago into a huge slab of limestone known as Inscription
Rock on Kelleys Island attest to the presence of Indians on the islands in Lake Eries western basin.
were destroyed by fire in 1923.
By 1875, Middle Bass Island's Golden Eagle Winery was reputed to be the
largest wine producer in the United States. The Lonz family acquired the
business in 1884 and owned and operated it until the death of George Lonz in
1968. Lonz Winery has often been compared with the wineries of the German
Rhineland. The old castle-like structure has been visited by countless
dignitaries including five American Presidents. The winery is now part of a
corporation bearing the Lonz name. Since 1979, the wines have been made by
Italian enologist Claudio Salvador.
In 1926, Peter Lonz and his son, George, merged their own winemaking
business with the remains of the Golden Eagle Winery. Despite the nationwide
prohibition of alcohol and the onset Great Depression, the Lonz business
survived by selling bottles of grape juice with instructions for fermenting the
juice at home. Following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, George Lonz began
rebuilding the winery complex. After a fire destroyed the structure in 1942,
work began on the Gothic-style stone castle that became a familiar landmark
for tourists and wine enthusiasts for nearly 60 years. A modern wine press was
built in 1956, and in 1962, a marina was added to the winery complex to
accommodate pleasure boaters. The Lonz Winery was placed on the National
Register of Historic Places in 1986, and remained popular with tourists until the
tragic collapse of a crowded terrace in July 2000.
In the winter of 2000 and spring of 2001, the state of Ohio purchased 124 acres
on Middle Bass Island, including undeveloped natural areas featuring
wetlands, woodlands, glacial grooves, and nearly a mile of Lake Erie shoreline,
along with the shell of the Lonz Winery and the marina complex. Middle Bass
Island became Ohios 74th state park in March 2001.