Lost Lake Erie: Island Mail Delivery

How did mail delivery on the Lake Erie Islands differ between the 1800s and now?

In the 1800s and through the early 1900s, the United States Postal Service delivered mail to the Lake Erie islands by boat. Delivery became especially treacherous in the winter as mailmen crossed the frozen water on an ice yacht — fitted with sails, sled runners and oars — that could convert from sailboat to rowboat to ice yacht to sled, depending on conditions. 

Postal workers even sometimes had to force the boat through the ice using pike poles and oars to break it up, or get out and drag their boat along. A trip that took 20 minutes in the summer could take eight hours in the middle of winter.

Mail is flown to the islands year-round by Griffing Flying Service, which picks up mail from the Port Clinton, Ohio, post office in the morning and flies it in a small plane to Kelleys, South Bass, Middle Bass and North Bass islands. Sometimes the mail is delayed by fog or snow that causes low visibility. But the islands are rarely without mail service for more than a few days.