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Kelleys Island, Ohio
Aerial photo of Kelleys Island, looking west
Aerial photo of Kelleys Island, looking west
Location of Kelleys Island, Ohio
Location of Kelleys Island, Ohio
Location of Kelleys Island in Erie County
Location of Kelleys Island in Erie County
Country United States
State Ohio
County Erie
 • Total 4.41 sq mi (11.41 km2)
 • Land 4.35 sq mi (11.26 km2)
 • Water 0.06 sq mi (0.15 km2)
597 ft (182 m)
 • Total 312
 • Estimate 
 • Density 71.53/sq mi (27.62/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 419
FIPS code 39-39662
GNIS feature ID 1064922
Kelleys Island South Shore District
Kelleys Island Historic District
KI Town Hall (Infobox crop).jpg
Location Water St. on the southern side of Kelleys Island (original)
Entire island (increase)
Area 23 acres (9.3 ha) (original)
2,888 acres (1,169 ha)
Architectural style Italianate, Queen Anne, Gothic Revival
NRHP reference No. 75001380 (original); 88002734 (increase)
Added to NRHP March 27, 1975 (original)
December 15, 1988

Kelleys Island is both a village in Erie County, Ohio, and the island which it fully occupies in Lake Erie. The British originally called it Sandusky Island. Later the United States took it over and officially designated it as Island Number 6 and Cunningham Island. It was renamed as Kelleys Island in 1840 by brothers Datus and Irad Kelley, who had purchased nearly the entire island.


Native Americans and Inscription Rock

Kelleys Island is a remnant of a Devonian limestone ridge carved around 10,000 B.C. during the Pleistocene era. The first known occupants 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 the downtown-village area), there is a large limestone rock that features pictographs drawn over a number of years by these early Native inhabitants; it was later named 'Inscription Rock' by scholars in the mid-19th century. The Kelleys Island Historical Association [1] relies on the Schoolcraft investigations that date the carvings date at roughly 1643, and that the rock was used by members of "seasonal" Native American tribes, to impart information to one another about how the hunting had been in the area, and where their group would next be traveling.

Many different items and scenes are cut into the large flat top side of the rock, which measures 32 feet (9.8 m) by 21 feet (10 by 6 m). Over time, most of the inscriptions on this rock, have been eroded-away. The indigenous peoples who are thought to have inscribed these images, are said to have been annihilated by the Iroquois tribes, about 1665.

Early pioneer settlers

This island is called "Sandusky Island" on maps produced in the latter-half of the 18th-century. (Prior to U.S. occupation of this area, the name "Cunningham's Island" seems to have instead been the name of present-day 'Catawba Island', which at that time, was also a true 'island'.) In the 1790s, the Connecticut Land Company did a general survey of the Lake Erie area; but a more thorough survey was completed in 1806, when this island was officially designated as "Island Number 6"; it was afterward, when the name "Cunningham's Island" began to be also used in reference to this island.

There is a legend that the first Caucasian resident of this island was a man named "Cunningham" (a "Frenchman"-*)., who supposedly 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 with these native people: he built a log cabin near their village, socialized with their hunters, and traded goods with them on a regular basis. But (as the legend goes) 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. [ However, the legend of Mr. Cunningham might instead apply to present-day Catawba Island, which seems to have been formerly named "Cunningham's Island" by the British, prior to 1804.) (*-Also note that the surname 'Cunningham' is not typically of French origin, but is recorded to be of Scottish origin.)] It is also recorded that, prior to the War-of-1812, several other white adventurers attempted to occupy this island, all of them eventually being driven away, either by the native people, or by the incoming U.S. pioneer-settlers and land-owners. By the time the war had ended, the few remaining Native Americans had finally also vacated the island.

During the War of 1812, the west shore of Cunningham Island was made a military rendezvous post by General William Henry Harrison. In 1818, a man named Killam briefly attempted to start a logging company, but abandoned the island after the large steam-powered 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.

About the year 1833, a French-Canadian veteran of the War of 1812, named Ben Napier, claimed ownership of this "Cunningham Island" (and also nearby Put-in-Bay), through his squatters rights. Napier and his associates often bullied the incoming pioneer-settlers, sometimes even hijacking their cabins and stealing or killing their livestock. Napier was eventually legally ousted after the court-system finally denied him of any ownership.

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 afterward, 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, Connecticut on April 24, 1788 and October 24, 1791, respectively. Datus moved to Rocky River, Ohio in 1811, working as a surveyor and sawmill owner. Irad moved to Cleveland, Ohio 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 Detroit 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 (12 km2) island, and in 1840 changed its name to Kelleys Island. By this time, the population had risen to 68 people.

Kelleys Island Estes Schoolhouse
The Estes Schoolhouse on Kelleys Island

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, Macedonians, 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, Connecticut began growing and harvesting grapes for wine on Kelleys Island; by the early 20th century, 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. Each Summer since 1974 (typically in August), the island hosts a weekend-long homecoming festival, and includes a theme parade featuring both locals and vacationers, a picnic, and a number of food and craft booths.

Alvar habitat on Kelleys Island. South Bass Island visible in distance.

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. Burials there include that of Datus Kelley, an early developer of the area and one of the island's namesakes.

In 1975, 23 acres (9.3 ha) 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.

On August 19, 2010, three downtown businesses on Division Street were destroyed after a fire started in the attic of the Country Store. The fire quickly spread from the convenience store where it began to the businesses that it shared the building complex with, Papa T's Ice Cream Shop and Vi's Island Treasures. The vinyl siding of the neighboring Island House restaurant partially melted during the incident. The Country Store had closed following the summer of 2009, and was vacant at the time of the fire; an Ohio state fire marshal later ruled the blaze had started after a work lamp was left on in the vacant grocery shop's attic. The Kelleys Island Volunteer Fire Department of 12 people took approximately 15 minutes to arrive on the scene. 15 to 20 additional firefighters were also dispatched from the mainland. No one was injured during the fire; the entire building was razed shortly afterward.


Glacial Grooves State Park, Kelleys Island OH
Glacial Grooves State Park, Kelleys Island. These glacial grooves were carved out during the Pleistocene (the last Ice Age).

Beaches and wildlife

Kelleys Island features a number of public beaches. Many areas allow swimming, boating, and fishing.

In August 2010, a report from The Nature Conservancy in conjunction with the US Fish and Wildlife Service U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and several other non-profit agencies listed Kelleys as the 7th most ecologically threatened island in the Great Lakes. The reasons given for the island's poor ecological health included "development, tourism and recreation, marinas and resorts, increased roads and buildings, incompatible agricultural practices and invasive species."


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 also features a coffee shop, miniature golf course, several small general/convenience stores, and a large number of gift shops. No liquor is sold on the island outside of bars or restaurants, but several shops do sell beer and wine.

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 some of that original late-19th-century 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 c. 1865). Kirt and Robby Zettler continue to operate it as a working winery and tourist attraction.


Camp Patmos, a Christian youth camp, is located on the northeast side of the island. Camp Patmos was purchased in 1952 from Nativity B.V.M. Parish of Cleveland to be the site of a faith-based summer camp for youth. A chapel was built in 1959 and a pool was added in 1968. 20 new cabins were also built for campers. Camp Patmos has added many more buildings and programs since then including a rec center, a 200-foot (61 m) dock, pophouse, guest cabins and continues to run Christian summer camp and retreat programs for youth from 4th thru 12th grade. The Erie County 4H Camp is located on the north side of the island.



The first ferry to regularly serve the island was the Neuman Ferry, founded in 1907 by John Paul Neuman. The boat originally provided transport from Lakeside, Ohio to what is now the island's East Harbor State Park. At its peak, the company operated a fleet of four ferries: the Commuter, the Corsair, the Kelleys Islander, usually running out of Marblehead; and the Challenger running out of Sandusky. The company folded in the first decade of the 21st century due to financial mismanagement, excessive growth with low market share, and steep price competition by the recently established Kelleys Island Ferry.

The Kelleys Island Ferry is the only line that runs year-round (weather permitting) between the island and the mainland. The line is owned by James "Jim" Palladino and his family. Palladino was tied by local media to the Cleveland Mafia. He was arrested in 1992 for being a felon in possession of over 60 firearms (it is illegal for an individual in Ohio to own any guns if previously convicted of a felony). After the Neuman Ferry line closed, Palladino had purchased several boats from the company, as well their dock on the island. The private ferry runs to Marblehead, Ohio every half-hour during the tourist season, with the ride lasting approximately 25 minutes.

A competing ferry line named the Jet Express runs during the season many times daily from Sandusky to Kelleys Island. The boat line started in 1988; it operates from May through October. It is a passenger-only ferry, and does not carry vehicles. The Jet Express runs from Sandusky, Ohio and makes stops at Cedar Point, Kelleys Island, and Put-In-Bay. The Jet Express boat takes approximately 20 minutes for the trip from Sandusky.


Kelleys Island Airport
The single runway at Kelleys Island Land Field Airport

The east side contains a small public airport, called the Kelleys Island Land Field Airport (FAA LID: 89D). It features a terminal building, a single runway, and a parking area for planes.

Airline and destination

Airlines Destinations 
Griffing Flying Service Port Clinton


OH 575 map
Route of OH 575

Kelleys Island is served by Ohio State Route 575. The route was created in 1937 and has not changed since, and is one of Ohio's only state highways to be disconnected from the rest of the system.


Due to the island's small size, many people use bicycles, golf carts and motor scooters as their regular transportation while there. Automobiles can be transported to the island via ferry; though most roads are modern, some streets on the north side as well as near the quarries are unpaved.


Bass Islands map
Map of Kelleys Islands and the nearby Bass Islands.

Kelleys Island is located at 41°36′5″N 82°41′51″W / 41.60139°N 82.69750°W / 41.60139; -82.69750 (41.601343, -82.697442).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the village has a total area of 4.41 square miles (11.42 km2), of which 4.35 square miles (11.27 km2) is land and 0.06 square miles (0.16 km2) is water.


The bedrock of Kelleys Island is the Devonian Columbus Limestone, a fossiliferous formation that is quarried on the island for building stone and other uses.

Columbus LS etched KellysIsland
Etched section of hand sample of Columbus Limestone from quarry on Kelley's Island. Circular feature is a crinoid columnal.

On the northern side, Kelleys Island State Park 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.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1900 1,174
1910 1,017 −13.4%
1920 708 −30.4%
1930 638 −9.9%
1940 564 −11.6%
1950 324 −42.6%
1960 171 −47.2%
1970 175 2.3%
1980 121 −30.9%
1990 172 42.1%
2000 367 113.4%
2010 312 −15.0%
2019 (est.) 311 −0.3%
U.S. Decennial Census

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 312 people, 175 households, and 99 families residing in the village. The population density was 71.7 inhabitants per square mile (27.7/km2). There were 859 housing units at an average density of 197.5 per square mile (76.3/km2). The racial makeup of the village was 98.1% White, 0.3% African American, 0.6% Asian, 0.6% from other races, and 0.3% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.3% of the population.

There were 175 households, of which 10.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.6% were married couples living together, 1.7% had a female householder with no husband present, 2.3% had a male householder with no wife present, and 43.4% were non-families. 41.1% of all households were made up of individuals, and 19.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.78 and the average family size was 2.34.

The median age in the village was 58.8 years. 9.6% of residents were under the age of 18; 1.3% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 11.2% were from 25 to 44; 43.6% were from 45 to 64; and 34.3% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the village was 52.6% male and 47.4% female.


Kelleys Island Library
The library is located in an annex of the school.

Kelleys Island School serves the island and is located on Division Street. The village has a public library, a branch of the Sandusky Library system.

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