Home to some of the earliest archeological evidence of native habitation, Bay Township was one of the original settlement locations of Ottawa County. Samuel Hollingshead, a soldier from Pennsylvania, having served in this area in the War of 1812, “favorably impressed with the soil and climate,” returned in 1824, and was later the township’s first trustee. It is the home of Winous Point Shooting Club and Marsh Conservancy, which traces its roots to some of the first conservation efforts in America. Today, Bay Township has many of its original farms, while still maintaining its place as an attraction for hunting, fishin and enjoying wildlife.
At the mouth of the Toussaint River, a combination of rich soil and marsh makes up most of Carroll Township. Abundant wildlife attracted its first settlers, mostly folks of French origin from Quebec, and part of the area was once known as “Frenchtown.” Among them were Anthony and Jane Jeremy, whose hunting, trapping and farming skills were shared with new arrivals in need of learning the art of survival. Today, among its many farms stands the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant, while continues to be an attractive and popular locale for hunting and fishing. The Magee Marsh Wildlife Area also attracts thousands of birders, especially during the spring migration season each May.
Erie Township lies just west of Port Clinton. Though part of the Great Black Swamp, the 1820s saw the arrival of Maryland Quakers who moved inland from the coastal wetlands and found land made arable by drainage of the Portage River and La Carpe Creek. Rich soil was conducive to growing wheat, corn, and oats, and massive oak trees produced acorns that provided feed for hogs. Much of the coastal land was drained in the early 1900s to make way for Camp Perry, which served multiple purposes through two world wars and the Cold War, and today is a National Guard post, and has been home to the National Outdoor Rifle & Pistol Championships for decades. Attached to it is the Erie Proving Ground, where over 70% of the artillery ordnance used by the Allies in World War II was tested. In the southern region of the township lies the village of LaCarne.
With much of Erie Township taken up over the past century by Camp Perry and the Erie Depot, its only cohesive residential community has been LaCarne. It is thought to be named for a French settler of that name, although no known record has been found. LaCarne serves as a population center for an area that was turned into an agricultural community in the earliest days of Ottawa County. A colony of Quakers arrived from Maryland in the 1820s and settled near the Portage River, taking advantage of the river’s drainage to begin cultivating arable, rich soil. Abundance of oak trees provided acorns as forage that supported large herds of hogs. Upon clearing the land, they found the soil conducive to producing high-yield crops of wheat, corn, and oats, which they found a market for at mills in Sandusky and Lower Sandusky (later Fremont). La Carne today remains a small residential community surround by farms typical of a rural area.
Little Portage River Wildlife Area:
The Portage River, the primary drainage system for Ottawa County, was historically the main transportation route for both goods and people. The Little Portage is a tributary that joins the main river a few miles west of Port Clinton. The first settlers, some of them former soldiers from the War of 1812 who fell in love with the area, found this marshy land teeming with wildlife and, where arable, rich for cultivation and raising of livestock. It is today a 407-acre wildlife area off State Route 53 on Darr-Hopfinger Road. Two hundred twenty-three acres are marsh and 75 acres uncontrolled wetlands while 80 acres of upland are meadow and brush land. Most of the marshes are shallow, with a few channels that have been created by construction of dikes. It is maintained by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Magee Marsh & The Black Swamp Bird Observatory:
The Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, named for early 20th Century businessman John Magee of Elmore, is located along the Lake Erie Shore in Carroll and Benton Townships. Magee, realizing the folly of his original plan to drain the area, turned it over to waterfowl hunting and trapping of muskrat. In 1956, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources established the Crane Creek Wildlife Research Station for the study of wetlands, and then, in 1970, the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center. Today, the area is the destination of birders from all over the world, especially during the two middle weeks of the Month of May, the height of the migratory season. Over 70,000 people visit the Magee Marsh annually.
Oak Harbor Village:
Adolphus Kraemer, Toledo merchant, foresaw development of the Great Black Swamp in 1838. Pulling up stakes, he moved to interior Ottawa County, purchased land, and opened a store at Hartford, then a saw mill. He soon launched a major local industry that would ship high-grade lumber to distant markets. The town was later renamed Oak Harbor. As land was cleared of massive trees, water drained, and rich soil turned over to farming, Oak Harbor was transformed into a center of agricultural commerce. It maintains its status today as a cultural and commercial center for the middle of Ottawa County.
Adolphus Kraemer, a Toledo merchant, recognized early on the potential of what was to become Salem Township when he uprooted his substantial Lucas County holdings in favor of developing the lumber industry in the vast stand of hardwoods in the Great Black Swamp. A town called Hartford was originally platted in 1835 along the Portage River, that was later to become Oak Harbor. Although Kraemer’s vision of a metropolis that would rival Cleveland or Detroit never materialized, Oak Harbor and the area around it became a bustling community, home to lumber mills, and barrel and basket factories. Trees as much as six feet in diameter were harvested, and their wood floated downriver to Port Clinton, from where the sought-after product was shipped all over the world. As the land was cleared by deforestation, agriculture replaced lumber, and Salem Township thrived from its rich soil. Today, Oak Harbor remains the center of a culture made up of hard-working folks in the farming, manufacturing and service sectors.
Toussaint State Wildlife Area:
Hunting , trapping and fishing play a big role in Ottawa County’s history. These activities attracted indigenous people to the area over millennia, later attracted the first Europeans, and eventually brought the first permanent settlers, who were of mixed Ottawa and European heritage, from Canada. The Toussaint River and the shallow marshes that it slowly drains are today known as the Toussaint Wildlife Area. The marshes vary from one to three feet in depth. More recent building of dikes accounts for some deeper channels. Today the Ohio Department of Natural Resources manages the area, maintaining both wetlands and open water. The west side of the river is the marsh area, and the east side provides popular angler access.