By Marie Demer Rader
ORIGINAL CLUB (1874- 1922)
The Original Club consisted of the Toledo and Lake Erie Boating and Fishing Association (1874-1894) and the renamed Middle Bass Club (1894-1922). The prominent Toledo families that started the Original Club and remained members for a number of years include: Barbers, Barbours, Baumgardners, Berdans, Bodmans, Bonds, Burdicks, Childs’s, Collins’s, Coltons, Curtis’s, Cummings, Davis’s, Dodges, Doyles, Goslines, Hamiltons, Hardees, Isherwoods, Kelseys, Ketchams, Lockes, Poes, Potters, Rodgers’s, Shoemakers, Smiths, Standarts, Stars, Stevens, Swaynes, Taylors, Waites and Youngs to name a few.
“In the year 1872 twenty gentlemen of the City of Toledo associated themselves together for the purpose of establishing and maintaining suitable conveniences for boating and fishing at Ten-Mile Creek, which empties into the Maumee Bay northwest of Toledo (several miles from the city.) Their experience during that and the following year demonstrated that the location was not well chosen for the purpose of the Association. In view of this fact it was decided to increase its membership and form a perfect organization, which was done at a meeting, called for that purpose, at Odeon Hall, in the City of Toledo, March 16, 1874, at which time a Board of Trustees was elected for the ensuing year, consisting of the following named gentlemen: Matthew Shoemaker, Stephen H. Standart, Harry J. Chase, James B. Monroe, Edward O. Brown, Valentine Hicks Ketcham, and Horatio E. Bangs; also a Constitution, By-Laws and name of the Association were adopted.
On the following day, March 17th, the Board of Trustees met at the Northern National Bank, in the City of Toledo, and organized by electing Matthew Shoemaker, President; James B. Monroe, First Vice-President; Stephen H. Standard, Second Vice-President; Francis Pilgrim Isherwood, Secretary; and Frederick B. Shoemaker, Treasurer. A committee on location, buildings, boats and supplies was appointed by the Board, consisting of Harry J. Chase, Matthew Shoemaker, Stephen H. Standart, and J. H. Morehouse. This committee made a personal examination of several locations on Middle Bass and Put-in-Bay Islands, and finally recommended the present location, which was adopted at a meeting of the Association, held at the Northern National Bank, in Toledo, on April 13, 1874.
At a meeting of the Board of Trustees, held at the same place on April 22, 1874, bids were received for the construction of the main part of the first Club House, and a contract was made with T. H. Hamilton & Co. to erect the building at a cost of $2,340, and to be finished by June 1, 1874, each member having contributed a membership fee of $25 to meet the cost. Mr. Matthew Shoemaker and Mr. Emery D. Potter, Jr., were appointed a committee to make a lease of the ground on which the Club House was to be built, which they perfected with Mr. William Rehberg on May 5, 1874, for all time, without rent, and covering an area of a little less than one acre. On the 16th of May following a contract was made by the Trustees with Mr. J. D. Bourn to take charge of, and keep the Club House during the ensuing season. “ 1
1863 Map of Middle Bass Island (Source: Library of Congress)
Original Club House Built 1874, cost of $2,340 (Source: Dr. Martin Taliak Collection)
“From the experience of the members of the Association at the Club House during the summer of that year, the idea that the location chosen would be a very favorable one for their families and guests as a summer resort in connection with the purpose for which the Association was originally formed, became a conviction in their minds. With this view, the Club House having been finished and furnished in a very cheap manner inside, certain changes and improvements were decided upon, to better adapt the building and its surroundings to the new purpose. At a meeting of the Association, held at the office of Messrs Brown & Dodge, in the City of Toledo, on September 11, 1874, Mr. Edward O. Brown was appointed a committee of one to solicit a donation of $20 each from one hundred members to aid in carrying out the proposed changes and improvements. Mr. Harry J. Chase and Mr. Stephen H. Standart, were subsequently added to this committee, and the full subscription was obtained in the spring of 1875.
A number of members who seemed to be somewhat more zealous than the rest, purchased lots adjoining the Club House grounds, in 1874, from Mr. William Rehberg, on which to erect cottages, and Mr. Francis Pilgrim Isherwood built his cottage that year.
In 1875 the improvements contemplated the previous year were made, which included a small dock and boat house, wind-mill and water works, laundry, changes in and addition to Club House and furniture, and a donation to Mr. William Rehberg of $400 to aid in enlarging what is known as “Rehberg’s Dock.”
The improvements made since 1875 consist of the dock or breakwater outside the boat house, a new kitchen and the present boat house and bath house in 1879.
The Association deemed it to their interest to have full control of the grove and ground occupied by the Club buildings, purchased that portion of Middle Bass Island lying west of Grove avenue, and decided to incorporate the Association, at its annual meeting held March 1, 1880, adopted resolutions to that effect, and took the necessary steps to become an incorporated body under the Statutes of Ohio.” 2
Articles of Incorporation, Middle Bass Club
“The rapid growth in membership and popularity of the Association, made it evident that larger and better accommodations must be provided, but the annual assessments being limited to ten dollars (which could only be increased by an amendment to the Constitution at the next annual meeting), and it being very desirable to commence improvements in the fall of 1881 in order to complete them for the next season, Messrs. Edward O. Brown and Edward C. Bodman, in May 1881, drew up an agreement to be signed by the members whereby they pledged themselves to pay $100 extra building assessment, and to vote at the next annual meeting for an amendment that could enable the trustees to make such an assessment upon each member of the Association. By the first of September the agreement had been signed by a large majority of the members, when it was deemed expedient to commence the improvements at once. Several plans for building were obtained, and that known as the “Fallis Plan” was finally adopted at a special meeting of the Association held in Toledo on the 19th day of September, 1881. To the committee on Building and Grounds, viz: Matthew Shoemaker, Welcome Otis Parker and Calvin Cone, were added the names of Messrs. George Milmine, John M. Fiske, Sheldon Clark Reynolds and Elijah H. Norton, who were directed to receive bids and close a contract for the moving of the old and erection of the present handsome and commodious Club House. The contract was let to Messrs. Kerruish & Branderbury, the improvements to be completed June 1, 1882.” 3
New Club House Built 1882, cost of $25,000 (Source: Dr. Martin Taliak Collection)
The Original Club House was moved to William Rehberg’s 1st Addition lots 35 and 36 and was called “Club Cottage.” The Club Cottage was used to house additional guests when the New Club House was at full capacity. In 1881, lots 35 & 36 were purchased from William Rehberg by the following members: Leander Solomon Baumgardner, Frederick B. Dodge, William Alonso Gosline, Epaphras Lord Barber, Marcus V. Barbour, Adam Burgert, Arthur D. Howell and George Douglass. Each member owned 1/8 portion undivided of each lot.
In 1882 a handsome chapel was built on the Association grounds (William Rehberg’s 2nd Addition, Lot 45) through the efforts of ladies of the Club who formed the Middle Bass Chapel Association. “The need of a Chapel, on Middle Bass Island, having been recognized by many of the members of the Middle Bass Club, a meeting of persons interested in the erection of such building, to be used for religious and literary purposes – was held at the cottage of Mrs. D. H. Mears on the 10th Day of August, 1881. The chapel was designed by E. O. Fallis, the same architect of the New Club House, and built by Joseph Brady. The chapel was built by obtaining donations from Club members and was formally dedicated on July 4, 1882. The chapel had its first church service and Sunday school on July 8, 1882. At the Annual Meeting of the Chapel Association held in the chapel on Monday, August 7, 1882 at ten o’clock it was announced, “The chapel is now completed and entirely free from debt as will be shown in the report of the Treasurer of the Association.” 4
Chapel Built 1882, cost of $1,500 (Source: Dr. Martin Taliak Collection)
“In 1882 there were 23 member cottages providing accommodations for 120 people. An increased water supply being an urgent necessity, a fine steam pumping apparatus was purchased, a strong and substantial trestle, surmounted by a large iron tank sixteen feet height and sixteen feet in diameter, was erected, and affords an ample supply of water for the new Club House and cottages of the members.
In 1885, the Trustees decided to protect the Association’s property by the construction of a substantial sea wall. The work was commenced that year and was continued in 1886 and was wholly completed in 1887.
In 1886 the boat house dock, or break water, was extended out into the lake 114 feet.” 5
“The limit of membership (200) has been full for some time, the value now being $300 or a total of $60,000. The aggregate value of the property of the Association and of the cottages of members, is about $100,000 which is steadily growing through the increase in the number of cottages and other improvements. It is probably the most successful establishment of its kind on the Great Lakes. With good steamboat connections with Toledo, Detroit, Sandusky and Cleveland, it is made accessible from every direction, while the range for fishing, boating, bathing and other exercise, is exceptionally fine.” 6
A tennis court was constructed in 1891.
An ice house was built and filled during the winter of 1893. The water works burned in July 1893. Temporary works were improvised, on the Holly system, for the balance of that season.
The new works now in operation were built in 1894. The name of the organization was changed in 1894 to the Middle Bass Club. 7
“The property now owned by the Association, together with the twenty-three cottages (the private property of the members), and the handsome chapel built through the efforts of the ladies of the club represent a value of nearly $100,000, the whole constituting one of the finest private summer resorts on the great chain of lakes; and the members of the Association have good cause for congratulation in the possession of such a beautiful retreat from the busy cares of life. “ 8
“A bicycle track was constructed in 1897.” 9
1893 Sanford Fire Map of The Toledo and Lake Erie Boating and Fishing Association Grounds: Club House, Boat House and Member Cottages. (Source: Library of Congress)
A bowling alley was built in 1900. The gas plant was purchased from Mr. Herman Rehberg in 1900, and in addition to it, the pump-house was built by the Club the same year.
A new kitchen was erected in 1901. Amendments to the Constitution and By-Laws were adopted at the annual meeting in 1901, substituting the word “Club” in place of “Association” in these documents.
Extensive repairs and improvements were made in 1902.” 10
Plat of the Middle Bass Club, Approx. 1898-1904. (Source: Dr. Martin Taliak Collection)
1905 Sanford Fire Map (Source: Library of Congress)
In the above 1905 Fire Map, there is no Club House building depicted in the Middle Bass Club’s Grove. Thus, we have to assume that the Club House burned down or was torn down after the 1898 Fire Map and another Club House was built in the same location after 1905.
In 1910 there were thirty member cottages. 11
Original Club Recollections:
“The Toledo and Lake Erie Boating and Fishing Association (later the Middle Bass Club) was extremely popular from the start; there never was quite enough accommodation for all of the members and when one of the big lake steamers would land at “Rehberg’s Dock” some of the gentlemen would send their small boys running ahead of them to book a room at the Club House. There was a strict rule that no one could have a room longer than two weeks if the Clubhouse were full up. The Original Club was during a period of the great steamers which plied the Lakes including “Chief Justice Waite,” “City of Toledo” and “Greyhound” from Toledo, the “Kirby” and the “Put-in-Bay” from Detroit and the “Arrow” from Sandusky.
Jimmy Johnson’s orchestra of Cleveland played there every afternoon of the season for 25 years beginning about 1897. During the dinner hour the orchestra played near the dining room. Captain Rutherford managed the Club and Mrs. Miller gave readings for the young ladies in English Literature. The young gentlemen would spend many of their evenings at the bench half way down the walk to “Rehberg’s Dock,” harmonizing “Moonlight Bay” or others of the classics. The Chapel hosted Sunday school classes, Sunday services as well as other literary and intellectual pursuits. Alfred Robyn, a talented composer from St. Louis played at the Chapel for hours. It was a time of formality in dress and actions. Swimming (women in stockings and skirts and men in full suits) was at a small stretch of beach where bath houses had been built. Swimming consisted of standing in whatever little surf there was and jumping up and down amid squeals from the ladies. Members and their families spent the evenings at “Rehberg Hall” where the members could enjoy a drink, dance in the ballroom, play cards and billiards or listen to music or plays held on the bandstand. From Rehberg Hall’s porch, you could also watch tennis on the courts below. In 1910, there were a few major tennis tournaments held on the grounds. In 1913, Perry’s Monument on Put-in-Bay was dedicated representing the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie. The Club Members would often travel to Put in Bay to have lunch at the Hotel Victory (until it burned in 1919). The Original Club died slowly due to assessments in 1922, a lack of golf and facilities for automobiling.” 12
“The Middle Bass Club, located on the west end of Middle Bass Island and directly across from Put-in-Bay, is surrounded by unusual natural beauties. Sheltered from heavy storms by many islands, yet receiving from all sides the refreshing lake breezes, it is the ideal spot at which to spend your summer vacation. The sunsets, as seen from the Club grounds, are unsurpassed in their gorgeousness, and in themselves are worth a visit to the island. The Club formed forty-three years ago, has made a continuous effort toward comfort and health, and to this is due the fact that never in its history has there been a serious illness at the Club nor accident in its waters.
For older members it insures rest and diversion from the cares and worries of business and housekeeping’; for the young people, all types of amusements and sports; for the children – a wonderfully healthful place to romp and play without danger.
With all isolation and freedom form the noise and wear of the city, it is far more accessible than most watering places – and each member finds that instead of the loneliness of the usual summer resort, he spends a delightful and beneficial vacation among new and hospitable acquaintances.
There is excellent boating and bathing, under the supervision of a competent care taker, which insures full protection to those participating in these healthful amusements.
During the fishing season the followers of Isaac Walton have the wonderful advantage of being in the very heart of the famous fishing grounds of Lake Erie, and the Club boats make them very accessible.” 13
INTERIM PERIOD (1923-1925)
“During the Interim Period, Mrs. Smith rented the Club House and ran it as a resort hotel.” 14
“During Prohibition days, members of the New Club never ran out of drink because the friendly Canadian shore was always quite close. There was a well-established routine. Club members would organize an expedition, hire a speedboat and head for Pelee Island. Once there you had but to spend a dollar, register at a Canadian Hotel, and for purposes of visiting the liquor store, you were then a full-fledged Canadian resident. The store was quite handy to the boat landing.” 15
Two couples from the Middle Bass Club (who shall remain anonymous) found a clever way to go to Pelee Island, Canada in a speedboat for a “booze run” during Prohibition. They asked a pregnant woman to sit in the front seat of the boat, wearing her “Mother Hubbard” style maternity dress. After purchasing the booze at Pelee Island, the contraband alcohol was placed on the floor of the boat hidden underneath the pregnant woman’s “Mother Hubbard” maternity dress. At that time, it was well understood that a Customs Agent would never dare to ask a pregnant lady to stand if the boat was pulled over by the authorities… 16
One Club member (who shall remain anonymous) carried a glass flask in his back pocket during Prohibition while vacationing at the Middle Bass Club. Unfortunately, one time when he was swinging on a tree playing with the children, he fell on his backside and broke the glass flask; he had to go to Put-in-Bay to get his backside stitched up… 17
NEW CLUB (1926-1939)
“The New Club consisted of descendants of old members; especially the Walbridges, Bakers, Berdans, Beckwiths, Baumgardners, Kinseys, MacAbees, Brooks, Mennels, Logans, Hixons, Wrights, Straters and Harold Norton. Most of the New Club members were from prominent Toledo families. The tempo of life had changed significantly. Morals, manners and dress were all far more casual. Hard drinking and informality were probably the hallmarks of this younger generation just as a heavy and somewhat pompous stiffness, formality and correctness was the hallmark of the Old Club. Back in 1928 all the young people were well-to-do and everyone owned a speedboat buzzing around at great speed over the lake and accomplishing just nothing. Swimming consisted of changing into swimsuits then walking down to the Club dock to dive right into the lake.” 18
“Circa 1926-1928 some of the cottage owners anted up enough money to buy the Old Middle Bass Hotel, grounds and Rehberg Hall. The reason was there were no kitchens in the cottages and the hotel was the only place to eat. Rehberg was the German family who actually lived year round and ran the winery; mother told me stories of the small catholic school operated there and the anti German sentiment during WWI towards the Rehbergs.
In the 1890s the hotel had been a big summer resort and flourished until WWI. The attempted revival was moderately successful but there was not a Middle Bass Club per se.
Alphonse Mennel (my great grandfather) was NOT one of the buyers; the Stranahan family from Toledo ws never involved with the enterprise. Most of the cottage owners were from Ohio (Toledo, Cleveland, Cincinnati) and one from Indiana. The day trip steamers went to Put-in-Bay not Middle Bass; the boat’s names were “Greyhound” from Toledo, “Put-in-Bay” from Detroit, “City of Cleveland” from Cleveland and “Chippewa” from Sandusky. The “Chippewa” carried supplies to and from North Bass, Middle Bass and South Bass Islands.
There were no permanent houses on the so called Club property.
By the late 1930s, early 1940s the organization ceased to function and only one of the cottage owners returned after 1945.” 19
The Middle Bass Club was a family place in the late 1920s, early 1930’s. Families, mostly from Toledo, shared summers together; the Club members were a close knit group with the kids referring to the adults as “Aunts” and “Uncles” even though they were not actual relations. The Members would ride the Old Erie Isle ferry from Catawba to Middle Bass and get off at Rehberg Dock. The ferry had penny slot machines on the lower level and a bar on the upper level. Kids would be given a roll of pennies to play the slot machines while the parents would go upstairs to the bar to have a drink. Families would take their Model T cars over on the ferry so they could drive to their cottage or the Club House as well as visit all parts of Middle Bass Island.
Most cottages had added in a small kitchen, basically a sink and a burner, so breakfast could be eaten at home. Lunch and dinner were to be eaten with other members in the Club House. The cottages had big claw foot bathtubs where you turned on a heater (kerosene?) to get hot water. People spent little time in their cottages; they were mostly at the Club House or outside.
Members and guests signed into a Guest Book at the reception desk when they arrived at the Middle Bass Club so that their meals and rooms could be charged to the members appropriately. The reception desk had a glass case where the children could buy candy and adults could buy cigarettes without having to travel to Put-in-Bay to purchase them.
Behind the reception desk, there was a staircase which led to the guest rooms. Upstairs, the guest rooms (which all had a view of Lake Erie) had iron beds with brass knobs. The mattresses were placed on top of a “flat” metal spring.
In the parlor on the main level of the Club House, there were wicker love seats where the seats faced opposite directions, not the traditional love seat that has seats side by side. This type of love seat was known as a conversation bench where members could have private conversations without anyone in the room overhearing their discussion.
The Club House had two slot machines that were in the hallway just past the reception desk toward the dining room.
In the Club House dining room, the children sat together at round tables while the adults sat at long tables. It was elegant with tables adorned in white linen tablecloths. The manager at the Club House realized that the children’s table was always dirty, and it was costing the Club a lot of money to launder the tablecloths after each meal, so he came up with an idea of how to reduce the laundry bills. He asked all the parents to give their children an allowance. If a child made a “spot” on the clean tablecloth, he or she had to cover up the entire mess with coin(s) from their allowance. Children under five used pennies, children under ten used nickels and teenagers used dimes and quarters. The manager’s idea really made the children eat carefully because they wanted to save their allowance to buy candy or play the slot machines.
The Club House had a big front porch which faced south, toward Put-in-Bay and the Club Dock. Club members enjoyed sitting in rocking chairs on the porch enjoying the lake breeze.
The Boat House was no longer in existence, but the Club Dock was still used for small boats and swimming. Club Members enjoyed swimming off the Club dock and would also swim at “Sandy Beach” on the east side of the island because the shore around the Middle Bass Club was very rocky.
The Chapel was still in good shape, but it was “deserted” and no longer used for church services. There was a bible open on the pulpit and hymnals in the pews. The children would play inside the chapel on rainy days but were extremely careful to keep the chapel as they found it.
Rehberg Hall and some cottages were “deserted.” The children enjoyed exploring the “haunted houses” and playing inside them even though their parents were concerned that they might get hurt. The children enjoyed the island: swimming, sailing, fishing, looking for beach glass, hunting snakes, putting on plays and concerts and exploring the attics of old cottages with trunks filled with dress up clothes. The adults enjoyed swimming and diving off the dock, sailing, fishing and enjoying alcohol (especially during Prohibition).
Excursions to Put-in-Bay were common to explore the caves, ride the carousel, go to the roller rink or bowling alley, go to Jim’s Place to hear the piano player or get something to eat. 20
MIDDLE BASS CLUB (Present)
The Middle Bass Club today contains twenty six family cottages of which the majority were the original structures built on the William Rehberg Subdivisions over a hundred years ago. The oldest cottage built by Francis Pilgrim Isherwood was completed in 1874 at the time the Original Club House was built within the Toledo and Lake Erie Boating and Fishing Association. Francis Pilgrim Isherwood’s cottage and the Original Club House were moved from their original, prominent locations to make way for a bigger, grander Club House and a larger, more ornate member cottage around 1882. Thankfully, the oldest cottage of Francis Pilgrim Isherwood is preserved and enjoyed today by a family at its location on Grape Avenue.
First Middle Bass Club Cottage, as it looks today in 2021. Photograph by Marie Rader
Unfortunately, both the Original and New Club Houses were eventually torn down so the location in the Grove (New Club House) and William Rehberg’s 1st Addition lots 36 and 37 (Original Club House) are empty. The “Grove” where the Club House once stood is a park with access to Lake Erie to the south, west and north sides. It’s remains an amazing place from which to view the Lake Erie sunsets and spectacular sky post sunset.
Sunset View from the Middle Bass Club’s Grove, 2021. Photograph by Marie Rader
The only hints of the past life of the Toledo and Lake Erie Boating and Fishing Association, besides member cottages, are pieces of the Club Dock and seawall (that only show when the Lake Erie water is low), concrete patches in the Grove from the Club House, big sandstone sidewalks along Grove Avenue and Grape Avenue, cottage sidewalks that stand alone in the grass because a cottage burned or was torn down and a few pieces of the Delco system.
Original Middle Bass Club Dock sections, as seen in 2021. Photograph by Marie Rader
Midde Bass Club Dock and Sea Wall pieces, as seen in 2021. Photograph by Marie Rader
Middle Bass Club Dock and Sea Wall pieces, as seen in 2021. Photograph by Marie Rader
Middle Bass Club House foundation pieces in the Grove in 2021. Photograph by Marie Rader
Middle Bass Club walkway in 2021 leading to a cottage that once existed but decades prior it was either torn down or burned. Photograph by Marie Rader
Thankfully, one original structure remains on the Middle Bass Club grounds: a brick Pump House built in 1900 sits on the western most point in the grove. Because of the Pump House’s location, it’s the first thing on Middle Bass Island that you see when you ride over on the Miller Ferry to Middle Bass Island…
Middle Bass Club’s Pump House in 2021. Photograph by Marie Rader
Being a present member of the Middle Bass Club, I completely understand why the Toledo and Lake Erie Boating and Fishing Association chose this location; it is an incredibly special place to many people: past, present and future.
1. Articles of Incorporation and Constitution and By-Laws of the Middle Bass Club, 1895.
12. Edward L. Strater. "A Short History of the Middle Bass Club, 1874-1964." In The Middle Bass Club Compendium of Newspaper Articles and Historical Documents 1874-1950, Dr. Martin Taliak. NOTE: same source for 12, 14, 15, 18. It's an article within Dr. Taliak's Compendium book.