Kelley’s Island History

Kelley's IslandKelley’s Island is the largest American Island in Lake Erie off the coast of Northern Ohio. Carved out of Limestone around 10,000 BC, Kelley’s Island was originally home to several Native American Indian tribes. They left behind several carvings in a large stone on the southern coast, which today is known as Inscription Rock. The first white man to inhabit what was simply known as “Island Number 6” was a French pioneer known only as Cunningham. He lived peacefully with the natives of the island until a disagreement between them caused an uprising which forced Cunningham to flee the island, but not before he was injured in battle. After succumbing to his wounds, the island became known as Cunningham Island.

During the War of 1812, Cunningham Island’s western shore became a military post. Shortly after the war, the last of the Native American inhabitants left the island. This opened up several attempts to settle on the island.

Around 1830, Irad Kelley, a resident of Cleveland, was transporting goods via sailboat when a storm forced him to seek shelter behind Cunningham Island. Seeing the potential value of the land, he and his older brother Datus began purchasing land parcels at $1.50 an acre. By 1840, the Kelley brothers had acquired the entire island, and changed the name to Kelley’s Island. They expanded the island’s docks to export limestone, fruit, and red cedar lumber. The village’s various industries hired a number of immigrants, many of whom would work on the island during the summer and return to their homeland during the winter.

Today Kelley’s Island is home to around 300 residents, and is also home to farms, restaurants and a winery. It remains a popular tourist and vacation spot; accessed via ferries; private plane and boats.