MIDDLE BASS ISLAND, Ohio — The State of Ohio plans to spend up to $5 million to restore the former home of George Lonz, who ran a major winery on this Lake Erie island for nearly 50 year.
The house, built in 1906, sits in Middle Bass Island State Park, which was established in 2001, a year after a fatal cellar porch collapse shut down the popular tourist site.
Mary Mertz, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said it was time to restore the house to its former glory, when Lonz was one of the largest wineries in the country.
“We want to give people a great experience and more of a connection to the people of the island,” she said.
The state has already invested millions in the park, which comprises 124 acres on the southern end of Middle Bass Island, a 40-minute ferry ride from mainland Ohio. The island is also a short boat ride from its much busier cousin, South Bass Island, home to the bustling town of Put-in-Bay.
Mertz said the state’s goal was to make Middle Bass a destination.
“We want to make sure there’s enough for a great day trip,” she said. “We needed something else for people to enjoy. I think the Lonz Mansion is perfect.
Although Ohio took ownership of the Lonz property in 2001, it wasn’t until more than a decade later that the state invested the funds to repair it. For years the cellar sat empty and deteriorated, a painful reminder of the tragic night in July 2000 when a porch collapsed at the cellar, killing one person and injuring 75.
When the state finally allocated the money to rehabilitate the dilapidated structure, it was too far to save completely. Contractors repaired the iconic stone facade and copper-clad observation tower, converting the building into an open-air pavilion, which has become a popular venue for picnics, weddings, live music and entertainment. other events.
Five wine cellars, under the pavilion, house historical exhibits about the cellar. The press house, behind the pavilion, houses a popular café, the Island Grind. Nearby is a small, primitive campground and a 190-berth marina, which fills up on summer weekends.
The 3,200 square foot Lonz mansion, however, has remained relatively untouched over the years.
Years ago, the state stabilized the structure, repaired the foundations and the roof, but postponed all long-term decisions about the building in the future.
The future is now, Mertz said. “It’s not exactly beautiful, but it has good bones,” she said, noting that the entire interior will need to be gutted and rebuilt.
The state’s most recent capital budget included $5 million for its restoration, though Mertz said she hoped it wouldn’t cost that much.
The house was built in 1906 by Island winemaker August Schmidt and sold to George Lonz in 1926, in the midst of Prohibition. Lonz survived Prohibition by selling grape juice, with instructions on how to convert it into wine. After a devastating fire in the 1930s, he rebuilt the winery into the famous castle-like structure that still welcomes customers today. He ran the establishment until his death in 1969.
The house, which has been converted into sleeping quarters for cellar workers, was included in the sale of the property to Paramount Cleveland’s distillery in 1979. Paramount owned the facility when the porch, filled with guests, collapsed in 2000.
Mertz said no final decision has been made on how best to use the house once it is restored. She plans to have the first floor open to the public for a tour, giving visitors a glimpse into how people lived on the island a century ago. A bed and breakfast could be considered for the second floor, if the costs are not prohibitive, she said.
Longtime Islander Jim Roesch hopes the state will allow the new Middle Bass Island Historical Society to house a museum in the restored house.
In its heyday, he said, the island was a real tourist destination – with two wineries, dance halls, hotels and the exclusive Middle Bass Club, a summer community located west of the island. island that was visited by four US presidents in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“Middle Bass was a lot more populated and had a lot more tourist activity back then,” said Roesch, a fourth-generation Islander. “All that history is here. We just didn’t have a place to preserve it.
Mertz said design work has only just begun on the house. She hopes construction will begin next year, with possible completion in 2024.
In addition to the work on Middle Bass, the state also intends to restore two homes on nearby North Bass Island, which will be available for public overnight stays in the coming years.
North Bass, located immediately north of Middle Bass, is even more remote than its sister Bass Islands – accessible only by private boat or plane. About half a dozen buildings were included in the state’s 2003 purchase of 598 acres, representing about 90% of the island’s total. The state purchased the land from Paramount, whose subsidiary, Meier’s Wine Cellars, cultivated much of the island for grapes for most of the 20th century.
Mertz said the houses were in poor condition. “We had to make a decision – keep them and make them awesome or delete them,” she said.
The two houses – one on the northwest shore “with beautiful sunsets and a rocky beach,” and the other on the east shore – are from the same period as the Lonz house, but smaller.
In 2018, the state restored a large Civil War-era home in North Bass, with four bedrooms and six bathrooms, and made it available for overnight stays. The house is a popular retreat, Mertz said, and it’s time for the state to do more. “I want more people to take advantage of this,” she said. “I always want more people to enjoy the things that are beautiful in Ohio.”
If you are going to: Middle Bass Island State Park
Miller Boat Line offers regular service from the Ohio mainland at its Catawba Island dock to Middle Bass. Middle Bass Island State Park is steps from the dock. Information: millerferry.com
Transportation from Put-in-Bay to Middle Bass Island has been tricky this summer as the Sonny S ferry was taken out of service for repairs. Inter-Island Charters offers inter-island service most days. Information: facebook.com/Inter-Island-Charters-104814898481510
Aboard the Mary Ann Market, Miller Boat Line’s newest and sleekest ferry to Put-in-Bay
Lake House Rental Opens on Remote North Bass Island in Lake Erie: An Island (Almost) All To Yourself
Historic Lonz Winery reopens as centerpiece of Middle Bass Island State Park (photos)
. Ohio plans restoration million dollars Lonz Mansion which is part of a old estate winery on island Middle Bass lake Erie