In the 1850s, the Lake Erie islands were purchased for grape production, giving them their nickname, "wine islands." Since the early 20th century the Lonz Winery was a familiar landmark at Middle Bass Island. After the winery closed, the state purchased the complex, which included a marina and acres of undeveloped Lake Erie shoreline. Today, a modern marina offers day-use and overnight boat slips, and a harbormaster building with modern conveniences for visitors.
The historic Lonz Winery grounds have been transformed into several reservable facilities for daytime occasions.
Overnight Dockage at the Marina
Overnight dockage is available May 3-Oct 15. For guaranteed overnight dockage, call the Middle Bass Island Marina directly at (419) 285-0311. Full payment for overnight dockage is due at the time of reservation. Minimum 2-night stay required on holiday weekends.
- 11am-9pm: $15 or $20 with electric
- 11pm-11am: $1.50 per foot or $1.75 per foot with electric, or $30 minimum
- Maximum boat length is 54 feet
- Dock is rented for the entire night and will not be re-rented until 11am the following day
- Check-out time is 11am.
Walk-in Primitive Camping
Primitive camp sites can be reserved from May 15-Oct 15 at no charge by calling (419) 285-0311. Each sites offers a fire ring and picnic table. There is a vault latrine in the area but no electric service and no potable water. Showers and water are available in the harbormaster building. Vehicles must remain in designated paved parking spaces.
Middle Bass Marina is equipped with a total of 184 slips of which 150 are electric, 34 non-electric, and 10 are personal watercraft docks:
- Dockside electric & water
- Showers and flush toilets
- Day dockage is available from 11am until 9pm on first come, first served basis. Flat rate of $20 with electric or $15 non-electric for any interval of time
- Dock is rented until boat vacates. Once the dock is vacated, it can be re-rented for the remainder of the day.
- Maximum boat length is 54 feet. All boats must be registered at the office.
- No alcoholic beverages are permitted off your boat.
- Swimming is not permitted in the marina.
- Pets are required to be on a leash when they are off the boat and cannot be left unattended.
- No open flame fires are permitted on the boat.
- Rafting off boats is not permitted.
- Boats may not be left unattended for more than 24 hours.
More to Do
- Bicycles, kayaks, and paddleboards available for rent at the Harbormaster building.
Passenger and auto service are available to Middle Bass Island from mainland Catawba. The scenic, 40-minute ferry ride is available several times a day during the summer months. The ferry is able to transport cars, but vehicle reservations are required. You can also ferry to Middle Bass Island from Put-in-Bay/South Bass Island via regularly scheduled ferry service between the Boardwalk dock and Middle Bass Island.
The Lake Erie Shores and Island Welcome Center is an excellent source for travel options and ideas, go to the Lake Erie Shores & Islands website or call (800) 255-3743.
History & Natural Features
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 dolomite known as Inscription Rock on Kelleys Island attest to the presence of Native Americans on the islands in Lake Erie's western basin.
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.
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 Native Americans 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. Britain's victory was short-lived, however.
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.
In 1807, Middle Bass and South Bass islands, along with Green, Sugar, Ballast, Gibraltar, and Starve Islands were purchased for $26,087 by Pierpont Edwards, a Revolutionary War veteran and member of the U.S. Continental Congress. In August 1854, the Edwards family sold the islands for $44,000 to José de Rivera Saint Jurgo, who cultivated the land for grape production and wine making. Jurgo sold Middle Bass Island in 1864, and in 1866 one of the new owners, Andrew Wehrle, established the Golden Eagle Wine Cellars, which soon became one of the largest wineries in the country. In 1884, island resident Peter Lonz established his own winery on the island. The Bass Islands earned the nickname "Wine Islands" and the wines they produced were compared favorably to fine French vintages. The Golden Eagle winery was expanded to include a dance pavilion over the wine cellar, and a subsequent owner built a 60-room hotel, the Hillcrest, in 1905. Both the hotel and the dance pavilion were destroyed by fire in 1923.
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 Ohio's 74th state park in March 2001.
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.
Lake Erie has high nutrient levels and warm temperatures which produce greater numbers and varieties of fish than any other Great Lake. Annual catches nearly equal the combined catch of all other Great Lakes. Yellow perch, smallmouth bass, white bass, channel catfish and walleye are dominant species. Due to the stabilizing effect of the lake on air temperature, the Lake Erie islands are also highly productive agriculturally; despite their extreme northern location, the islands have the longest frost-free period of any area in Ohio.
Middle Bass and its neighboring Lake Erie islands are composed of dolomite bedrock. The island's 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 dolomite, 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.
The Lake Erie water snake, a subspecies of the Northern water snake, comes in a variety of colors, ranging from banded gray and brown blotches to solid gray. This snake has one of the smallest geographic ranges of any vertebrate in the world and is only found on the islands of Lake Erie. The Lake Erie water snake is similar to its relative, the Northern water snake, except that the dark pattern of crossbands is very pale or completely lacking. The general coloration is gray, greenish, or brownish. The belly is white or pale yellow, occasionally tinged with pink or orange down the center. In the summer, snakes prefer to spend time near the water's edge basking on the rocky shoreline or foraging just off shore. Overwintering sites are typically located within 76 yards of the shore in rocky substrates and are sometimes covered with soil, leaf litter, decaying wood, and grass. Overwintering sites include natural and man-made structures in open and wooded areas. This snake mates from late May to early June by forming "mating balls" consisting of one female and several males. Live birth of 30 or so pencil-sized young occurs in early September. Only about 15 percent of the young survive their first year.
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.