Frequently Asked Questions about the history of Sandusky
The origins of the name Sandusky are murky, but two prominent theories turn up again and again. The generally accepted theory is that Sandusky came from a Wyandot word meaning "at the cold water," "cold water," or "there is pure water here" and pronounced San-doos-tee or Sandoos-tie. Some sources suggest it might be an Iroquois word.
Another theory is that the city was named after a Polish fur trader by the name of Antoni Sadowski or Jacob Sodowsky. According to family descendents, Sadowski traveled the nation, and while in this area, left his mark by naming the city. Some scholars question this theory.
Local history author Hewson L. Peeke had this to say about the origins of the name Sandusky:
There have been many claims that the name Sandusky was French or Italian or of some other foreign origin. In 1922 the author learned of a Judge J. M. Sandusky residing in Missouri and wrote him as to the origin of his name. His reply follows and will probably explain many similar claims.
The answer is of interest coming from the descendant of the Jacob Sodowsky, an almost legendary figure in the stories of the northwest, the early trader with the Indians, in whose name a considerable faction wished to find the origin of the name Sandusky. Mr. Sandusky, himself, places no credence in this theory, but shares the general opinion that the name is of Indian derivation.
“I am a son of William Sandusky,” he writes, “of Jessamine County, Ky., who was a son of Ephraim Sandusky, also of said county, who was a son of Jacob Sandowsky (or Sodowsky, as the name was then spelled) of Virginia. Jacaob Sandusky (or Sodowsky) was one of the seven children of Jacob Sodowsky, the original progenitor of the family in the United States, who came from Poland about 1730, and settled in Virginia, where he married the daughter of a Virginia planter. The seven children all moved to Kentucky. Jacob Sodowsky, the first, was a trader among the Indians in the vicinity of Sandusky Bay from which fact there is a tradition in the family that Sandusky bay derived its name from him. I think, however, that the name Sandusky Bay is of Indian origin.”
A map published in Amsterdam in 1720 founded on a great variety of Memoirs of Louisiana, represents within the present limits of Erie County a water called Lac Sandouske. There is also a map published by Henry Popple, London, in 1733, where the bay is called “Lake Sandoski.” A very probable account of the origin of the name is the tradition of aged Wyandot warriors given to General Harrison in the friendly chat of the wigwam from which it appeared that their conquering tribes in their conflict with the Senecas, centuries ago, having landed at Maumee, followed the lake shore toward the east, passing and giving names to bays, creeks and rivers until on coming to Cold Creek, where it enters the bay, they were so charmed with the springs of clear cold water in the vicinity that they pitched their tents and engaged in hunting and fishing, and by them the bay and river was called Sandusky, meaning in their language “At the Cold Water.” Butterfield gives a conversation of John M. James, with William Walker, principal chief of the Wyandots at Upper Sandusky, at Columbus, 1835. He said the meaning of the word was “at the coldwater,” and should be pronounced San-doos-tee. The Lower San-doos-tee (Cold Water) and Upper San-doos-tee being the descriptive Wyandot Indian names known as far back as our knowledge of this tribe extends.
The exact derivation of the name of “the road that runs,” is uncertain. Three Wyandot terms are at our service: Sahun-dus-kee, clear water; or Sandoostee, at the cold water; or Saundustee, water within-water-pools. The last name is applicable to the extensive marshes along the river, which are intersected by open water; while the other two would naturally describe the clear, cold water of the Sandusky basin springs, of which Castalia is the best known example. The early French traders called the river Sandusquet. By 1784, when Jefferson drew up his ordinance for the division, nomenclature and government of the western territory, the orthography was practically settled and he wrote Sandusky, suggesting that the district which this river drained by called Metropotamia!
The above text is from The Centennial History of Erie County, Ohio by H.L. Peeke, p. 53-54.
According to the 1915 Sandusky City Directory, “The new numbering system has been used on the first two blocks of Columbus Avenue, Jackson and Wayne Sts., and on East Market, East Water and East and West Washington Row, and on [sic] first two blocks on West Market and West Water.”
“The new system allows a number for every 10 feet in the business section one for every 22 feet in the residence section. When completed all east and west streets will be numbered each way from Columbus Avenue.” (page 12)
Prior to the change, street numbers began at the eastern edge of the city (at Meigs St.) and progressed from east to west through the entire city. For example, before the street numbers were changed, the Rush Sloane house, located at the corner of Adams and Franklin was 335 Adams. After the street numbers were updated, the address is 403 East Adams.
In 1865, Voltaire Scott and his father bought a two story frame hotel on the SW corner of Water and Wayne where Citizen’s Bank is today. The hotel was built around 1817, and was Sandusky’s first hotel. Scott established a small park across the street from his hotel, and in 1895 he worked to improve it by making it level with Water Street and accessible by steps on the other sides. In the center, he erected a pedestal of tufa rock, planted grass, shrubs and trees and laid sidewalks, all at his own expense under the supervision of the Park Superintendent. On the pedestal, Scott placed the statue of the Boy with the Boot, which was cast by J.W. Fiske Ironworks in NYC. Four other statues were installed, including water spouting dolphins and maids of the mist. Goldfish swam in the pond. In the evenings, Scott Park was illuminated by colored lights strung overhead and placed beneath the water, lighted fountains being a fairly new innovation at the time.
Voltaire Scott willed the contents of his park to the city, along with funds to maintain it. However, in 1924, the park was severely damaged by the tornado, and the statues were stored in the city greenhouse. In 1935, Scott Park was leveled and turned into a parking lot and the Boy with the Boot was given a new home in Washington Park. The statue was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
The Boy with the Boot was damaged several times by vandals in the 1990s. The original zinc statue was repaired, and an identical bronze cast was made. The original statue is on display at the City Hall building on Meigs street.
From the Widow’s Walk; a View of Sandusky by Helen Hanson and Virginia Steinemann, p. 84-85.
The original Second Empire style building was completed in 1874 anddedicated with a speech by Oran Follett in1875. This photograph shows what the building looked like shortly after completion. It included three figures of justice, mansard roofs and corner towerssurmounted by iron crest rails. On the top of the main tower is the four faced Seth Thomas clock plus an iron railing.
A belfry faced Jackson Street and contained the iron bell removed from the first courthouse, which was on Columbus Avenue, next to the original Sandusky High School.. The bell was removed during the 1936 remodeling and is now in the collection of the Follett House Museum.
The interior of the building in 1874 contained variegated marble mantels in some offices as well as elegant stucco work. Large bronze and gilt chandeliers hung in the halls. The corridors were floored with black and white marble tile, each one foot square.
In 1936 when the building was 62 years old it was remodeled by a WPA project and changed inside and out. Local architect Henry Millott drew up the plans which took over a year to complete.
With the change in facade, a new smooth limestone Art Moderne exterior covered the blue and white limestone and sandstone of the ornate Second Empire style of the original building. The old arched windows and exterior stone are still visible on the lower floors. The massive steps and porticos were removed from the three entrances and what was the basement area is now the first floor.
Adapted from From the Widow's Walk; A View of Sandusky, p. 24
If you look at a map of the original plat of Sandusky (roughly covering the area bordered by Water Street on the north, Meigs Street on the east, Shelby Street on the west, and, on the south, the area where today Columbusand Hayes Avenues intersect), you will notice diagonal streets which form a diamond-like pattern across the street grid. Commonly known as the Kilbourn plat, this original street plan is said to be designed incorporating the symbol of the Masonic order. Charles Frohman discusses it in his book Sandusky’s Yesterdays.
Another tradition, which has good reason to exist, is that when Sandusky was platted, the surveyor, Hector Kilbourn, imposed upon the regularity of the streets laid at right angles, the square and compass of the Masonic order. Kilbourn, a Mason, was the first master of Science Lodge, founded in Sandusky in 1818. Remembering that Monroe Street was the southernmost street, the corner of the square would have rested south of it, while Elm and Poplar Streets formed the ends of the square. Superimposed would have been the compass, down Miami [Central] and Huron Avenues, and projected to the central point at Market Street and Columbus Avenue.
(Pictured: Former Follett House Museum curator Helen Hansen holds a copy of an early map of Sandusky, comparing it to the Masonic emblem on the right.)
In October 1861, not long after the start of the Civil War, the federal government issued an order to establish a prisoner of war camp in the Lake Erie Islands region, to hold captured Confederate officers. Johnson’s Island was selected as the site for the prison because of its location (in Sandusky Bay, directly across from the city of Sandusky) and because the Army was given exclusive use of the entire island.
The first Confederate prisoners arrived on Johnson’s Island in April 1862, when about 200 Confederate officers were transferred from Camp Chase in Columbus. From that day until the last prisoners were discharged after the end of the war in 1865, a total of more than 10,000 prisoners passed through Johnson’s Island, the majority of whom were officers. The average population of the camp at any one time during the war was about 2000-2500 prisoners.
Today all that remains of the prison site is the cemetery, which contains the graves of about 200 Confederate soldiers who died while prisoners on the island.