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Kelleys Island is both a village in Erie Countymarker, Ohiomarker, United Statesmarker, and the island which it fully occupies in Lake Eriemarker. Originally known as Island Number 6 and later Cunningham Island, it was renamed in 1840 for brothers Datus and Irad Kelley, who were largely responsible for cultivatating the island's quarrying, logging and winemaking industries. As of the 2000 census, the village had a total permanent population of 367. It is the largest of the American Lake Erie Islands, and is a part of the Sandusky, Ohiomarker Metropolitan Statistical Areamarker.

Island history

Native American and early white settlers

Kelleys Island is a remnant of a Devonian limestone ridge carved around 10,000 B.C. during the Pleistocene era.

The first known inhabitants of Kelleys Island were either Erie, Cat, or Neutral Native Americans who lived in the area dating back to around the 17th century. On the south shore of the island near what is now downtown, there is a large limestone rock that features pictographs drawn over a number of years by these early settlers. White settlers in the mid-1800s named the piece Inscription Rock. The Kelleys Island Historical Society believes that the carvings date to roughly 1643, and that the rock was used by the early Americans to impart information to one another about how the hunting had been in the area, and where their group would next be traveling to. Many different items and scenes are cut into the large flat top side of the rock, which measures 32 feet by 21 feet (10 by 6 m). Over time, the elements have worn down much of what was originally inscribed on the rock. The people inhabiting the island were largely annihilated by the Iroquois around 1665. In the late 1700s, the Connecticut Land Company did a geological survey of the Lake Erie area, and named the land mass "Island Number 6".

The first white man known to have lived on the island was a French pioneer known only as "Cunningham". He traveled to the island in 1803 with the intention of making his home there, at a time when it was still inhabited by Native Americans. For a while, Cunningham enjoyed friendly relationship native people: he built a log cabin near their village, socialized with their hunters, and traded goods with them on a regular basis. At some point, Cunningham had a disagreement with the Native Americans, and a group of them tore down his home, stole all his possessions, and attempted to kill him. He escaped to the Ohio Peninsula via canoe, but died shortly afterwards as a result of his wounds. For many years after his death, the island was known as Cunningham Island.

Over the next decade, several other white adventurers attempted to explore the island, all of them eventually being driven away by the native people. During the War of 1812, the west shore of Cunningham Island was made a military rendezvous post by General William Henry Harrison. Shortly after the war ended, the Native Americans finally abandoned the island. In 1818, a man named Killam briefly attempted to start a logging company, but abandoned the island after the large steam-powed boat he used to transport wood to the mainland wrecked and sank. Around 1826, people slowly began settling on the island; by 1830, approximately six families made up its entire population.

Around 1833, a French-Canadian veteran of the War of 1812 named Ben Napier attempted to appropriate Cunningham Island and nearby Put-in-Baymarker as his own through squatters rights. He and his associates terrorized the families living in the area, hijacked their cabins, and killed their livestock. Napier was eventually legally ousted after it was realized that he did not legitimately own the land.

In 1834 the principal game was wild hogs which were hunted in the early part of winter. One islander noted that to encounter a drove of them showing their great white tusks and long bristles standing out straight made a formidable looking enemy, and must have been about as exciting as hunting lions in South Africa. The dogs always came home torn and disabled.

Acquisition by the Kelleys

In 1830, John Clemons and his brother began mining the island's limestone, and opened its first quarry. They built a dock its north side in order to ship the rock to the American mainland. Shortly afterwards, brothers Datus and Irad Kelley became aware of the island's potential worth, and slowly began purchasing its land in parcels.

Datus and Irad Kelley were born in Middlefield, Connecticutmarker on April 24, 1788 and October 24, 1791, respectively. Datus moved to Rocky River, Ohiomarker in 1811, working as a surveyor and sawmill owner. Irad moved to Cleveland, Ohiomarker in 1812, eventually becoming a successful merchant, postmaster, sailor, and real-estate investor. Irad Kelley first became aware of the island after being forced to seek shelter there while transporting goods via sloop sailboat from Detroitmarker to his shop in Cleveland. On August 20, 1833, the two began purchasing parcels of land on Cunningham Island at the rate of $1.50 per acre. They eventually owned the entire 3,000 acre island, and in 1840 changed its name to Kelleys Island. By this time, the population had risen to 68 people.

The brothers quickly began improving and expanding the island's docks to export limestone, fruit, and red cedar lumber. Soon, 16 limestone kilns were producing lime. The village's various industries hired a number of immigrants (including young children), many of whom would work on the island during the summer and return to their homeland during the winter. Among the nationalities working on the island at that time were Poles, Slavs, Macedonian, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Italians and Portuguese. Datus Kelley encouraged sobriety, and paid his employees bonuses for abstaining from "intoxifying liquors".

In 1842, Charles Carpenter (son-in-law of Datus Kelley) of Norwich, Connecticutmarker began growing and harvesting grapes for wine on Kelleys Island; by the early 1900s, the island was annually producing 500,000 gallons of wine per year.

The quarries were the origin of the Kelley Island Lime & Transport Company, which was once the largest producer of limestone and lime products in the world, operating between 1896 and the early 1960s. Numerous ruins of these operations and quarries now dot the island.

The small village grew quickly, and soon a library and post office were erected. In 1901, the Estes Schoolhouse was built at a cost of $15,000.

Recent history and modern day

Kelleys Island is heavily forested among several residential areas, some for year-round residents, others for summer vacationers. Some small farms and a small limestone quarrying operation exist on the island.

On the northern side, Kelleys Island State Parkmarker offers camping and protects the Glacial Grooves State Memorial and the North Shore Alvar State Nature Preserve. The glacial striations puts Kelleys in mild fame as inside are the largest and most easily accessible remains of glacial grooves in the world.

The Erie County 4H Camp is located on the north side of the island. Camp Patmos, a conservative Christian youth camp, is located on the northeast side of the island.
Kelleys Island has a cemetery located on Division Street, about a mile north from the center of downtown. Although the cemetery is relatively small, several hundred people are buried or have memorial headstones there. Among those buried there include Datus Kelley, an early developer of the area and one of the island's namesakes.

Currently, the Kelleys Island Ferry is the only line that runs regularly between the island and the mainland. The boat line is owned by James "Jim" Palladino and his family. In the past, Palladino has been tied to the Cleveland Mafia. Islanders do most of their non-grocery shopping on the mainland via the private ferry, which runs to Marblehead, Ohiomarker every half hour during the tourist season. During the summer, another ferry runs from Sandusky to Kelleys Island and Put-In-Bay.

The most common types of establishments on Kelleys Island are pubs and restaurants, almost all of which close for the winter season in September and reopen around May.

The Island is also home to The Kelley's Island Wine Company, originally one of the largest wineries in the U.S., established in 1872. It stopped operation after two major fires eventually destroyed its facility during prohibition. The ruins of the original winery are still standing on the island. The Zettler family re-established The Kelley's Island Wine in 1982 at the site of one of the oldest stone cottages on the island, known as the Nicholas Smith house (built circa 1865). Kirt and Robby Zettler continue to operate it as a working winery and tourist attraction.

In 1975, on the island's southern shore were designated a historic district, the "Kelleys Island South Shore District," and added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1988, the district was renamed to the "Kelleys Island Historic District" and expanded to include the entire island.


Kelleys Island is located at (41.601343, -82.697442).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the village has a total area of 4.6 square miles (12.0 km²), of which, 4.6 square miles (11.8 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.2 km²) of it (1.30%) is water.


As of the census of 2000, there were 367 people, 183 households, and 112 families residing in the village. The population density was 80.5 people per square mile (31.1/km²). There were 709 housing units at an average density of 155.5/sq mi (60.0/km²). The racial makeup of the village was 99.46% White, 0.27% African American, 0.27% from other races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.27% of the population.

There were 183 households out of which 15.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 53.6% were married couples living together, 5.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.3% were non-families. 35.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.99 and the average family size was 2.55.

In the village the population was spread out with 15.0% under the age of 18, 2.2% from 18 to 24, 19.9% from 25 to 44, 40.1% from 45 to 64, and 22.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 52 years. For every 100 females there were 100.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 102.6 males.

The median income for a household in the village was $35,500, and the median income for a family was $49,375. Males had a median income of $29,643 versus $26,071 for females. The per capita income for the village was $21,944. About 7.6% of families and 9.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including none of those under age 18 and 14.0% of those age 65 or over.



  1. Kelleys Island Nature article: " About Kelleys Island".
  2. Kelleys Island Historical Society page for Inscription Rock.
  3. Kelleys Island Chamber of Commerce page: " Island history".
  4. Kelleys Island Chamber of Commerce page: "[1]".
  5. Touring Ohio page: " Kelleys Island".
  6. Lake Erie Islands: Sketches & Stories of the First Century After the Battle of Lake Erie by Michael Gora - pages 108 - 125.
  7. article: " Full text of "Sketches and stories of the Lake Erie islands" ".
  8. Concerning the Van Bunschoten Or Van Benschoten Family in America by William Henry Van Benschoten - page 266.
  9. Plain Dealer article: " The outlaw of Kelleys Island".
  12. The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center article: " Paper Trail - No. 9 SEPTEMBER 2004 - QUARRYING ON KELLEYS ISLAND".
  13. Kelleys Island Historical Society article: " Irad Kelley".
  14. Kelleys Island Historical Society article: " Datus Kelley".
  15. Ohio: A History: page 79 at Google Books.
  16. Lakewood, Ohio Public Library page: " Local History Files: 7: Biography K-L".
  17. USGenWeb Archives Special Projects: Kelleys Island cemetery information.
  18. Kelleys Island Historical Society page for Datus Kelley.
  19. Kellys Life newsletter article: " Circus is coming again! Kelly Miller Circus to appear on Kelleys Aug. 9 & 10".
  20. Cleveland Scene article: " The Mafia Plot To Kill Dennis Kucinich - A Former Cleveland Police Chief Finally Tells The Whole Story".
  21. article: " War of Waste".

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