FLORIDA — Local residents gathered at the Florida Public Library Tuesday to reminisce about Girty’s Island — a popular gathering spot in the early 1900s easily accessible to those from Florida, Napoleon and Holgate.
The program featured Mary Voigt Camp, whose grandfather was the 1900-12 Girty’s Island Summer Home Co. owner Fred Voigt. Her daughter, Beth Kiessling, also spoke on the history of the island at the event.
Kiessling said many people believe the island was named after Simon Girty, who is commonly known as being adopted into the Seneca Native American tribe after the death of John Turner and was a liaison for the British and Native American allies during the Revolutionary War. However, Kiessling said her family’s research has brought up a source attributing the naming to Girty’s brother, James, who had a trading post across the river.
Voigt Camp spoke on her memories of visiting the island when she was a child.
“I spent a little time on the island when I was probably five or six,” she said. “We stayed in the stone cottage, we went to the beach and it was a good time. Then, later, we would use the beach on the south side of the river by the culvert, and we would go down on Sundays and go to our little beach and have a picnic. And sometimes we would go up to Benien’s Woods, which was just up the hill for a picnic.
“It was a nice place,” she said of the island.
At the height of the island’s activity, the southeast corner of Girty’s Island featured the resort, which included a bowling alley, beer garden, shooting gallery, food stands, a bathing beach, an ice house, a ferry landing and a baseball field with a grandstand.
Voigt Camp spoke about the two-lane bowling alley and Kiessling presented a wooden, two-holed bowling ball with engraved initials that was salvaged from the island. Kiessling said the bowling ball was discovered at a local antique shop.
Both presenters also said many of the area municipalities had baseball teams that would travel to the island to play games. A beer garden was included on the island, but Voigt Camp said this led to a disagreement between owners.
“My great-grandpa Fred bought the island with his brother, Henry, and Henry sold his share to Fred a few years later because he didn’t approve of the beer being sold on the island,” she said. “Fred thought: ‘Every German place should have beer.’”
The island measured at approximately 40 acres, even though only 32-34 currently remain. Half of the island was designated as the resort, while the other half — on the east end toward Napoleon — was used for farming.
The resort was in operation from 1899-1906, and then, until 1912 it was used for group events such as picnics.
In 1913, a flood swept away most of the island surface, resulting in the land primarily being used for farming from that point. The family’s scrapbook has newspaper clippings from the 1913 flood, which stated the island’s ice house floated down the Maumee River and crashed into the Napoleon bridge and wrecked a pier.
“After it closed in 1912, they formed a summer home camp,” Voigt Camp said. After that, the presenters said Fred Voigt sold the island to family, who sold it back to him later. He later sold it to Voigt Camp’s father, who then sold it to a realtor in 1924.
Kiesslinger said Fred Voigt’s purchase was made for $2,000, which included four rowboats and two sets of oars.
“After we sold it, it went to various people again, and it ended up back, today, to the state, and this time it sold for $35,000,” she said. “There’s kind of a price difference there.”
The land was farmed into the 1960s, at which point the state turned into a wildlife preserve area, which it remains classified as to this day.
Kiessling said she never had a chance to visit the island until a couple of years ago thanks to locals who transported her family members.
“We found some of the foundations, and found the old well,” she said. She added some of the steps from the stone cottage were still on the site at that time and the foundation to the ice house is still there. “It was nice to see that it was actually there.”
The event also included a reading of a first-hand account of activities on the island. See Thursday’s edition for part two of this feature, which includes Voigt Camp reading a passage written in 1988 by her great aunt, Dorothy Voigt Rakestraw.
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