GrowthOttawa County

Public opening date set for Union Chapel Museum


CATAWBA ISLAND – The Catawba Museum at Union Chapel will open to the public on Saturday, June 16.Historical Society

The Chapel, a former non-denominational church established in 1888, has been an idle Catawba Island Township building since the early 1980s. The township spent the last 18 months renovating the structure so that it could be leased and operated by the Catawba Island Historical Society as a museum to preserve, protect and share the area’s heritage.

It will operate daily through Thursday, June 21. Thereafter, a Monday, Wednesday and Thursday schedule will be followed. It will be open on Saturday, June 30, and the second and fourth Saturday of each month thereafter until Oct. 27, the last day of its 2018 season. Daily hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Museum’s opening exhibit has been dubbed, “A Cool Way to spend a Hot Day.” It is dedicated to the ice harvesting industry that thrived on the Lake Erie shoreline and along Sandusky Bay at the turn of the 19th century. Before there were electric refrigerators, people relied upon winter ice cut from the lake to help keep food fresh. Cutting, storing and delivering ice was an important business providing cold-weather employment for a labor force that might otherwise be idle when demand for summer agricultural workers ended.

Catawba Island had two commercial ice houses; one near the site of the present Miller’s Ferry Dock, and one where the Catawba Island Club in now located. In addition, each of the fish companies had its own ice refrigeration facilities and local families sometimes shared smaller ones for personal use.

“We often forget things like serving an ice-cold beverage 150 years ago were remarkable tributes to ingenuity and hard work,” said Connie Batterton, museum curator. “Thanks to photographs and explanatory material on loan to us from the Hayes Presidential Museum in Fremont, and a collection of Medieval–looking paraphernalia with names like tongs, pikes, spuds and splitters, we can put that accomplishment into proper perspective. The Historical Society’s Catawba Museum at Union Chapel will definitely be an educational and entertaining place to ‘chill out’ this summer!”

Catawba Island Historical Society was born in a log house nestled behind the Ottawa City General Store at the junction of Northwest Catawba Road and East Porter Street. The owner of the General Store and log house, local historian Don Rhodes, had invited several friends one fall evening to advise them he was closing the store permanently. He took that occasion to also ask for help relocating historical treasures he had collected and displayed there for decades.

By the following January, a Board of Trustees had been created, application had been made to form the Catawba Island Historical Society as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, and exploratory discussions had begun with the Township about using Union Chapel as a museum and cultural center.

An agreement was reached in the summer of 2017 for CIHS to lease the Chapel following extensive renovation of the 130-year-old structure by the Township.

Union Chapel Museum

The transformation was complete last month, and the process of setting up the Grand Opening exhibit is well underway.

A brief opening ceremony and ribbon cutting will take place at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 16. The public is invited to attend. Parking at the museum is limited but opening day permission has been obtained to also use the Miller Boat lot at the junction of Ohio 53 and East Porter Street. It is a short walk to the museum from there.

Thanks to community support in the form of membership subscriptions to the Catawba Island Historical Society, there is no admission charge to visit the museum. The organization will launch its 2018 membership drive concurrent with the public opening. Annual CIHS memberships are $25 or $100. A lifetime membership is available for a one-time investment of $1,000. More than 100 individuals, businesses and organizations have already joined; over half at the lifetime level which CIHS calls its Council of Nabagon.

CIHS is recruiting volunteers to serve as guides and to generally help the museum get up and running. If you are interested in participating, contact Batterton at 419-967-5363 or via the Historical Society’s web page at You can also contact her on Facebook.

Craig Koerpel is president of the Ottawa County Historical Society,