During the summer, lots of people visit the Lake Erie islands at the southwest end of the lake. But there’s one island you can’t visit. It’s the site of a historic home and reserved for scientific research. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant recently visited Gibraltar Island and files this report:
During the summer, lots of people visit the Lake Erie islands at the southwest end of the
lake. But there’s one island you can’t visit. It’s the site of a historic home and reserved
for scientific research. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant recently visited
Gibraltar Island and files this report:
(sound of ferry)
Visitors taking the ferry to Lake Erie’s popular South Bass Island can see a castle-like
structure through the trees on Gibraltar Island across the bay. But they can’t go there.
The island is owned by Ohio State University and home to a research lab called Stone
Recently, a few reporters got to go where usually only scientists go.
(sound on boat)
Lab Director Jeff Reutter is taking soil samples from the lake bottom to show some of the
latest concerns about blue-green algae… an algae that’s toxic to some aquatic life and
makes drinking water taste bad. It’s been appearing more frequently and scientists think
the zebra mussel might be causing it.
(more boat sounds)
Researchers and students from Ohio State and elsewhere study invasive species,
pollution, shoreline erosion, and other ecological lake issues at the lab.
(sound inside castle)
The scientists who worked in the lab used to live in the structure next door, known as
Cooke’s Castle. The large home was built in the 1860’s by the family of Jay Cooke.
Cooke was not a scientist. He was a banker and investment broker, and he played a
major role in raising money for the Union Army during the Civil War. Cooke came up
with the idea of selling war bonds and raised a billion dollars for the Union Army.
Cooke bought the seven-acre Gibraltar Island in 1864 and had his summer home built on
it. Ironically, while the Union fund-raiser was vacationing on his island, Confederate
soldiers were imprisoned on nearby Johnson’s Island.
Retired Ohio State Administrator John Kleberg has been researching Jay Cooke. He says
Cooke was an avid hunter and fisherman, so Kleberg suspects he would be pleased to see
the science lab there today.
“There is a penciled correspondence where Cooke is complaining about the reduction in
the population of the fish, the bass specifically, I think, because people are net fishing,
you know where they’re taking too many fish out of the lake and the bass population
therefore is decreasing. And that’s not the way you ought to protect the bass population.
So obviously in that context he was sensitive about the need for conservation and how we
fish and how we protect fish populations. So I suspect he would be very pleased with the
kind of work that’s being done.”
Cooke’s daughter sold Gibraltar in 1925 to Franz Stone, whose family donated it to Ohio
Outside, the four-story limestone turret’s crenellated top gives the appearance of a castle.
The inner rotunda walls have held up surprisingly well over 140 years.
But after years of use, the building is in need of some major repairs. Lab Director
Reutter wants to renovate the 15 room building into a conference center.
“It’s interesting too, Cooke’s, one of his sons, was an amateur photographer, and we’ve
got great photos of how the place looked at that time, so obviously that’s our goal to take
(ambient sound inside castle runs underneath this section.)
The castle includes a spiral staircase and there’s a gorgeous wood-paneled library that
overlooks the bay…
Reutter: “So, obviously, this would be my office…” (laughter)
Ohio State University is looking for money to make renovations. But that’s proved
challenging. The castle will never be open to the public. Lab Director Reutter says that’s
not its purpose…
“Oh no, this would not be used for tourists, this is an education and an outreach facility,
so it would be a conference center but it would be for research conferences, education
conferences, Great Lakes management, this will never be open to the public.”
It’ll cost two and a half million dollars to make the renovations. If they can find the
money, Reutter and the university say Cooke’s castle will become an even more
important research center. One he expects to draw scientists to study the problems facing
the Great Lakes.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Grant.