Put-in-Bay Hotel History The Hotel Victory The Grandest Of Them All

When you visit Put-in-Bay, you will probably have a list of important places to visit during your trip. This list will probably include the location of the Battle of Lake Erie, the Perry’s Monument, family-friendly attractions at Put-in-Bay, and the Hotel Victory site. The Hotel Victory is now a historical site on the island and a huge conversation topic- even though it burned down over 100 years ago. Before the fire, it was the largest summer hotel in the world. 

Put-in-Bay Hotel History – Hotel Victory – Once the largest Summer Hotel in the World!

During the late 1880s, Put-in-Bay had two main businesses- winemaking, growing grapes, both contributing to a growing destination for tourists. A businessman from Toledo by the name of John Tillotson, came to the island and proposed to construct a 625-guest-room hotel deep in the woods on the southern end of South Bass Island and would name the Hotel Victory. On Sept 10, 1889, the anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie, he and the investors along with 8,000 people in attendance witnessed the laying of the cornerstone. 

Hotel Victory Construction

The hotels’ location was a 100-acre site overlooking Stone’s Cove. 21 acres would be utilized for the hotel and grounds while the rest was subdivided into small cottages. Toledo architect E.O.Falls designed the hotel utilizing a Queen Anne style and it was three-stories-tall. The building included multiple dormers, turrets, and towers. This design was created selected to make a bold impression on the tourist traveling to the island from the mainland on the steamer ships. 

The central section of the building measured 600-ft. By 300-ft., a three-story building with high corner towers creating an enclosed courtyard. Attached to the hotel were a grand dining area, employee housing, and a kitchen. During the construction project, workers installed 16.5 acres of flooring, 16,000 sq. yards of carpeting, 7.5 miles of baseboard, 7 acres of shingles, over 1 mile of wainscoting, 2,500 windows, 1,7000 doors, and heating systems powered by steam.

The hotel featured its own electric generating system which provided power for three elevators, with call buttons for each room and 6,000 light bulbs to light the hotel. The construction project was awarded to George Feick, from Sandusky, and the project started with a sawmill and planning mill constructed on the site. Guests first arrived in 1892, while workers were still busy completing some areas of the hotel.

When completed, the dining room (115ft. By 85ft.) could seat 1,200 people, which still holds the record on South Bass Island for being the largest restaurant. A 10-table billiard hall, an assembly room for conventioneers, a ladies lounge, a lobby, private parlors, a wine cellar, a greenhouse, shops, a barbershop, a 30-ft long bar with a soda fountain, a newsstand, bellboy stations, and a photography darkroom. 

Hotel Victory had hundreds of chairs, tables, beds, nightstands, and many other furnishings. The most modern equipment for the time could be found in the spacious kitchen. Likewise, the hotel heat was provided by steam. Attractive landscaping surrounded the building along with a boardwalk featuring areas to stop and enjoy the views of Lake Erie. There was even a “Trysting Place” which was a rendezvous for romantic couples. However, the developers soon realized there was a need for transportation for the hotels’ guests. A trolley line was built from the downtown docks to the front of the hotel, with a stop half-way at the caves. 

Put-in-Bay Hotel History- THE HOTEL VICTORY OPENS

During the construction, the budget was exceeded by an estimatedv$28,000,000 in the current days’ money, but that did not prevent the hotel from a grand opening on July 21, 1892. It was bankrupt however by September and closed. 

The Victory hotel reopened in 1893, but again was closed by August for financial problems and would remain closed for the next two years seasons. In 1894, a Toledo News’ reporter wrote, “The immense structure is not simply a hotel, but the home to June bugs, rattlesnakes and bugs. The windows are so thickly covered with June bugs that it’s impossible to see through them, and view Victory Park – J.K. Tilloston’s dream – is today a cow pasture. A match or cigar stub is carelessly thrown near the structure could start such a fire as was never seen before on the island.”

The Victory hotel and its contents were sold in late 1895 at a local sheriff’s auction. The grounds and the hotel sold for over a half-million dollars and the furnishings sold for over two hundred thousand dollars. Without the debt, the hotel reopened on July 20, 1896. With bigger promotions to attract new customers and conventioneers the customers returned. One of the guests was the widow of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. 

The work on the interior work was completed and the Victory hotel officially entered its glory years. A few years later, a 30-ft wide and 100-ft long, covered, lake water swimming pool named the “Natatorium” was built. The pool was the first to permit men and women to swim together in Put-in-Bay Hotel History and the country! 

In 1899, C.W. and J.W. Ryan purchased the Hotel Victory and appointed T.W. McCreary as the general manager, who reenergized the hotel. Before the purchase of the hotel, there was a smallpox outbreak in the United States. In 1898, five mild causes along with one serious case were discovered amongst the mainly “colored” help. John Bohlander, a doctor on the island, quarantined 200 guests and 250 employees at the hotel. This was successful and it would only allow for 27 mild cases. 

Fortunately, there was only one fatality, when an employee was diagnosed and ran off from the building and jumped off the cliff, and died on the rocks below. 

McCreary not only had a genius for promotion but was also the “perfect host”. An advertisement for Put-in-Bay Hotels ran that reads “where dew is unknown” and “the hay fever sufferer’s haven.

When the 1900 season began the change was noticeable. McCreary became the longest-running manager at the Hotel Victory, which experienced the peak of its popularity and success during his 1899-1907 tenure. McCreary’s unceasing publicity efforts established the Hotel Victory as THE PLACE to stay, making it worth the higher rates the hotel charged to meet its costs and offset the fact that it had a short season. He was also great at attracting group meetings to supplement the usual crowd of tourists arriving on the Put-in-Bay Ferry. McCreary also touted many activities, entertainments, and safety measures taken to ensure the comfort and entertainment of guests.


For the guest, the hotel had a dentist, in-house physician, a tailor, a dark room for photographers, a manicurist, a ladies’ shop, an ice cream parlor, a barbershop, and public baths. Likewise, a livery with “pleasure wagons,” a telegraph office with long-distance telephone access, a stenographer, and a laundry room. For activities, the guest had the option to take a “constitutional” on the grounds, to go for a swim, to ride the water toboggan, to go on moonlight hayrides,

Tolley parties, enjoy sunset watch areas, or to go fish (and have what you catch cooked for you), and the benefits of “Strontium Spa Water” directly at the spring, supposedly in the lobby. The water from the spa was claimed to be the greatest of the hotel’s attractions as it was supposedly the best remedy for bright’s disease and helped with Paddock disorders. 

The Victory had its own symphony orchestra and bands of musicians employed throughout the season. Likewise, there were children’s parties and dances in the ballroom. The hotel also had the option to get a “behind the scenes” and visit the hotel kitchen, pantry, storeroom, cold storage, and wine cellar or investigate any of the other workings. The guest was also able to leave the grounds and enjoy the rest of the island had to offer.

Put-in-Bay Hotel History – The Winged Statue

McCreary hired Alfons Pelter, a well-known German sculptor to design the Victory Monument for Hotel Victory. At 22-ft high, the bronze monument featured a winged woman holding a wreath in one hand and a staff in the other. The “Winged Victory” monument was surrounded by a stone balustrade, the ruins of which can still be seen today. At the unveiling ceremony, Vice-President of the United States, Charles W. Fairbanks in 1907. However, in 1907, McCreary died in 1907, leaving Colonel B.G. Doyle to take over management. But in two years the hotel closed again.

Put-in-Bay Hotel History – The Final Years

In 1911, a Chicago newspaper reported that the hotel was a neglected, decaying “haunted” place. Meanwhile, rumors had started over the hotel being reopened under new ownership, but that was short-lived. There was a small remodeling effort but it quickly went under because of money. During World War I, the E.M.T. Automobile Company in Detroit purchased the hotel and began the remodeling process before the Flanders Realty Company in Detroit brought it. Flander is reported to pay $40,000 for the hotel and on top of that, $100,000 on remodeling before it reopened in 1918.

The new owners priced the rooms at $1.50 and above as it was marketed as a getaway for Army and Navy men on leave during WWI. This brought in new customers and hopes were high until in 1919 a Chicago group run by Charles J. Stoops purchased it and took out a $250,000 mortgage. But there was barely any increase in business with the post-war economic boom and rumors of the closing came back. 

Put-in-Bay Hotel History – The Hotel Victory Burns

Shortly after the dinner hour on Thursday the 14th of August in 1919, a fire started in the northwest corner of the third floor. Less than 40 guests were able to escape unharmed. While the fire was happening, looters came and stole many of the personal items left behind by the fleeing guest, with some hotel furnishings and anything of value. Within an hour, the entire building was an inferno and the fire department decided to focus on saving nearby structures. The flames, shot more than 75 feet in the air, lighting up the sky, and could be seen as far away as Sandusky, Toledo, and Detroit.

There are reports of the ashes landing on Kelley’s Island. By the next day, there was nothing but foundation ruins. The damage is estimated between $500,000 and $1,000,000 or in today money $7,400,000 to $148,000,000. There were rumors of it being set up to collect insurance on the building, but there was little insurance and the fire was supposedly caused by an electrical problem. This was the end of the Hotel Victory and earning its place in Put-in-Bay hotel history. 

The Last 100 Years of Put-in-Bay Hotel History

There is a lot of speculation of what could have been in the hotel had never burned down. Mackinac Island, in Michigan, has the Grand Hotel which opened a couple of years before Hotel Victory. It too suffered some hard times, but it still proudly standing to this day from an era that started 130 years ago. Over the years, the hotel has been visited by U.S. Presidents and First Ladies, Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, celebrities, and dignitaries from all over the world.

There have also been movies filmed at the Grand Hotel. If the Hotel Victory not burned, would it have achieved glory in Put-in-Bay Hotel History? But with its history of financial problems, Prohibition, and the Great Depression it may have not survived those events. It is nice to imagine the what-if of golf carts parked outside, while visitors tour the grounds or have lunch in its dining hall. It could have been a glorious attraction for the Island just as the Grand Hotel has been for Mackinac Island. 

For more information on Put-in-Bay Hotel History, there is a binder with photos and even more information about the Hotel Victory located at the office at the South Bass Island State Park. Likewise, you can always visit the Lake Erie Islands Historical Society Museum downtown behind the Put-in-Bay Town Hall where there is a special display with Hotel Victory memorabilia, photos, furniture, and other items and information on Hotels At Put-in-Bay 

This museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. There are also island history books that help tell the story, plus there are articles and photographs on the internet. Islander Barbara Allen Cooper also wrote a booklet about the Hotel Victory’s “Winged Victory” statue. Be sure to look for your best deals on hotels at Put-in-Bay on the visitor’s bureau website visitputinbay.org