The Founding and Plotting of Port Clinton
In 1824, DeWitt Clinton, a famous statesman of New York and so-called “father of the Erie Canal”, proposed to establish a canal from the Portage River to the Ohio River at Cincinnati. Huge tracts of land were bought in this area but Horton Howard of Columbus owned 1,212 acres most desired at the head of the proposed canal. General William Lytle, the Surveyor-General along with DeWitt Clinton envisioned a town on the mouth of the Portage River.
Ezekiel Smith Haines, stepson of General Lytle, purchased the 1,212-acre tract of land for the sum of $4,000 dollars, and it was duly recorded on November 26th, 1827. The village of Port Clinton was thus established on this site, named in honor of New York Governor DeWitt Clinton. Surveying and plotting of the town was begun and completed in June of 1828.
The towns plot and the entry made by Ezekiel Haines is recorded in the books of Sandusky County (Ottawa County having not yet been formed) dated June 16, 1828:
“I do hereby certify that I have subdivided a tract of land at the mouth of the Portage River in the County of Sandusky and State of Ohio into a town plat and have called the said subdivision Town Plat Port Clinton, and do declare the streets and alleys as designated on the plat annexed; the space embraced between Perry street and the Lake, and extending from Jefferson street to Washington street, is to remain open forever, with the privilege of wharfage to the owners of lots fronting on Perry street, and embraced between said Washington street and Jefferson street; the space called North Park is to be appropriated to use and enjoyment of all the residents of the Town as a Public Park; the lots designated for the different churches and the Court House, Council Chamber, Mayor’s office, and jail are to be appraised to the several purposes as soon as may be required for respective uses; subject however to forfeiture and reversions if not occupied as such within the space of five years, or in case they should cease to be occupied for the several purposes designated for the space of two years, with the buildings that may have been erected thereon., The lots designated for the Custom House and Exchange, City Hotel, Bank, and Masonic be reserved for further appropriations; and for my own use and benefit the ground in front of Perry street, from Fulton street to Canal street, except as above excepted, is also reserved together with the exclusive privilege of Ferries between said Canal and Fulton street and Wharfage on the whole space except in front of the lots between Jefferson street and Washington street; the Wharf and Ferry privileges opposite to all streets running to the lake are also reserved.”
“E.S. Haines (seal)”
“Attest” “H. Harmon” Sixteenth day of June 1828
Relocating the Portage River’s opening to Lake Erie
A copy of the original plat is also recorded in Ottawa County Transcribed Records, Volume 1, page 78, and Ezekial Smith Haines signed the dedication of this plat on June 16, 1928. The plat map itself was recorded on the 17th day of August 1831. As originally laid out Port Clinton extended from the west line of Canal Street (renamed Harrison Street in 1929 because the Canal was never built), to the east line of Fulton Street and from the Lake to the south line of Sixth Street. This old map shows the entrance to the harbor was directly opposite the alley between Washington and Adams Streets while the south bank extended almost to Fulton Street. It was this easterly current of the river responsible for our sandy beaches.
The river essentially remained in that location until the 1870s when work began to reroute the mouth northward. The 1837 edition of The Ohio Gazetteer and Traveler’s Guide describes Port Clinton and states, “…it is expected that other appropriations will be made for building piers”. However, the first work didn’t commence until 1867, 30 years later. The first survey of the area was conducted in 1867. In January 1868, an Army Corps of Engineers report proposed rerouting the river mouth similar to what exists today by cutting across the sandbar at a cost of just under $90,000. In addition, because the original lighthouse (on the site of today’s Garden At The Lighthouse restaurant) was not suitably located for the new river mouth, consideration for a new lighthouse was suggested at this time. However, the same report also states “The wants of commerce and navigation do not seem to warrant the expenditure at the present time of the amount of the estimate.”
The summer of 1877 saw the beginning of the east pier but, by the end of the fiscal year, “…very little had been accomplished”. The 1877 report indicates, ”For the present, a clear way of 150 feet will be left open to enable vessels to use the old channel, the latter to be built across and closed up at some future time”. In 1878, a new sandbar had begun to form across the outside the end of the new piers. The bar was removed but returned by the next year. Longer piers were still needed and the work was done during 1879. It was also, in September 1879, according to the Army Corps’ report, as work continued, the opening in the old channel was finally closed forever. By 1881, aside from being bulked up, the piers were finally in their permanent position.
In 1895 the record is clear that the Port Clinton Water Works was built on fill dirt at a cost of $43,158.07. By 1898, trees and other vegetation had begun to grow on the new land formed on both the north and south sides of the mouth. The intentional rerouting of the river opening allowed the build up of sediment and dredge since 1867 between Jefferson and Adams. The land east of the new Water Works plant remained marshy on old maps.
In 1915 much of the debris dredged from the new river channel had been placed in the old channel. The old channel and its sandy beach had become a marshy area without the water flow. While the land had begun to build up naturally, this still created stagnant and disease laden pools. East Perry Street residents along with general citizens began to raise objections. As well, the Army Corps Of Engineers became concerned. This would be remedied with further landfill and would be the beginning of Waterworks Park.
People living today, born and raised in Port Clinton, shared their memories with me. My dad born in 1926, as a young teen (1939-1940), remembered the area between Perry and the pier at that time being marshy with cattails growing right up to Perry Street. He said he would trap muskrats there and then, laughing out loud, he proclaimed that was “Bare Ass Beach”! The boys would climb out the rocky pier for skinny-dipping.
Fifty to sixty years after the river mouth was rerouted and Perry Street had been moved northward, the old river path had become stagnate and marshy. In 1949, the city began a campaign to fill in the area.
Interviews indicate that dumping occurred on the Water Works Park property from the 1930’s to the early 1970’s. Two companies including Standard Products, a rubber products manufacturer, and the Fish House, fishery, were mentioned as two companies that contributed to dumping material in this area. According to interviews, the City of Port Clinton also used the site to dispose of construction debris, pavement from street repair, and landscaping waste.
A detailed and entire history of the river is presented in this YouTube video by the Ottawa County Historical Museum and Chuck Grindstaff. Many thanks to Chuck Grindstaff at the Ottawa County Museum for the extensive history of the Portage River and some very rare photos of Port Clinton.
The Relocation of Present Day Perry Street
Perry St. originally ran south of its present location all the way to Maple St. The front parking lot at Lakeview Park is the old Perry St. The old tree line runs that distance as well. At Fulton and Perry, look to the right, there are rows of trees, Perry Street was between the trees.
In the early 1930’s Perry Street residents requested that the shoreline be moved northward due to a problem with flooded basements. Perry Street residents were given a say in where the street was to be located and they requested 100 feet farther north onto fill dirt in the shoreline marshes. At the time, the local newspaper called it “the new super highway.” The relocation was done in 1939-1940 using fill dredged from the lake, possibly the river and when you enter Port Clinton on Route 163, just past Christy Chapel Road, look left, there’s a big hole in the ground with campers and trailers.
Thanks to the following resources: 1)Heritage of Port Clinton, Ohio; edited by Barbara J. Bailey. 2)The Ottawa County Historical Museum. 3)People of Ottawa County; Ottawa County Historical Society. 4)The History of Ottawa County, Ohio and its Families.