Island History – Overview
1872 Corps Of Engineers Map showing outline of POW Depot on middle right side. Dark marks along the road from the Federal Docks toward the larger fort indicate buildings from the POW Depot.
Johnson’s Island was originally named Bull’s Island and was part of a tract of land owned by Epaproditus Bull. He and his family left Connecticut and settled on the Marblehead peninsula in May of 1809. In 1812, Bull and his family fled to Cleveland, Ohio because of Indian attacks. In the autumn of 1812 Bull died there, a victim of disease. His family then returned to the peninsula and retained ownership of Johnson’s Island until 1852.
Leonard B. Johnson purchased the island in 1852 and renamed it Johnson’s Island. Johnson cleared several acres of the island for farming.
In the fall of 1861, the U.S. Army leased 40 cleared acres of the island from Johnson to establish a Prisoner of War Depot. The depot was in operation from April, 1862 to September, 1865. The following year, the Army auctioned off all of the surplus equipment and materials, the buildings, and the stockade walls. Most of the lumber was salvaged, and some of the smaller buildings were moved across Sandusky Bay to Marblehead when the Bay was completely frozen with thick ice. (More about the Civil War Era.)
From 1866 to 1894, the island was used primarily for agricultural purposes. Fruit trees were planted along with general crops. The site of the Prisoner of War Depot was plowed under to raise crops. A small number of private lots were sold to individuals during this period.
In 1894, the first of two pleasure resorts was established on the island in the area north and west of the Confederate Cemetery. They were both named The Johnsons Island Pleasure Resort Company. The first resort went out of business in the fall of 1897, primarily due to the burning of the main pavilion and a wrongful death lawsuit for $10,000.00. The second resort opened in 1904 and closed in the fall of 1907. More than likely, it closed because of competition from Cedar Point and the dust and noise from a working quarry on the island. (More about the Pleasure Resort Era.)
An existing quarry was enlarged in 1902 and a full-scale quarry operation was established. It was a part of the Breakwater Company. A village that included a post office and school was constructed for the quarry workers and their families. Quarry operations for the most part were discontinued in 1908. (More about the Quarry Era.)
From 1910 to 1956, not a great deal occurred on Johnson’s Island. At various times, the island was considered as the site for a Coast Guard Training Center, as well as an Army training ground for the Ohio National Guard.
In 1956, plans were announced to develop the island as a vacation home site. A causeway to the mainland was approved and started in 1964. The perimeter of the island was subdivided and individual lots were sold for cottages. The causeway and island roads were not completed until the Johnson’s Island Property Owners Association, at its own expense, stoned and paved the roads in the 1970s. In 1989, a second developer came to Johnson’s Island to create a new subdivision in the island interior and quarry area. The proposed subdivision included 110 building sites in the area of the abandoned quarry. Several hundred sites proposed for the interior of the island never got beyond the planning stage.