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Lake Erie Islanders: Herman Rehberg of Middle Bass (and William Rehberg)

 

Sketches from the 1917 History of Northwest Ohio 

(reference 4a in the Bibliography)

HERMAN D. REHBERG. Through the enterprise of certain individuals, industries were founded many years since on the fertile islands lying in Lake Erie, on the coast of Ohio, which have become vastly important and from which large revenues are realized by the landowners. Perhaps no one man deserves more credit for much of the prosperity now existing on Middle Bass Island, than the late William Rehberg, who not only was one of the first permanent settlers but is distinguished as the pioneer grape grower, setting out the first vines on Middle Bass. This was not only the foundation stone of his own fortune but of an industry that now profitably engages, during the season, the activities of the majority of the permanent residents. His only son, Herman D. Rehberg, is one of the substantial and representative men of Middle Bass at the present time.

William Rehberg, locally known as “Count”, Rehberg, and quite possibly deserving the title, was born in Mecklenburg, Germany. The name of his father was John Rehberg. Prior to coming to the United States, in 1854, William Rehberg had become a skilled gun and locksmith and for some time he continued work at his trade at McCutchinville, Ohio, where he lived for a period, and at Cedar Point, but it is probable that this kind of work was done as a recreation in those days, because it was of such superior mechanism and such fine finish that considerable time must have been consumed in completing such artistic work as shown by the samples that are carefully preserved by his son. One of these is a particularly heavy rifle, beautifully inlaid with silver, originally completed with a flint lock but later changed to more modern form. It was ordered by an Indian chief but the latter never appeared with sufficient money to pay for it and fortunately it never left Mr. Rehberg's possession. That he did not give constant attention to his trade is inferred because he so soon became identified with other undertakings in the new land in which he had decided to make his home.

First, Mr. Rehberg made trips among the islands and ere long went into the fishing business at Cedar Point. At that time Middle Bass Island was owned by Mr. Rivera and it was from this capitalist that William Rehberg purchased fifty acres on the western part of Middle Bass, known as Sugar Point, on account of the groves of sugar maples growing there. This tract of fifty acres was the first purchase of land made by any settler on Middle Bass. Mr. Rehberg brought his family with him and their residence was established on January 19, 1858.

Later, in partnership with Andrew Wehrle, George Cowell and John Lutes, he purchased the whole of the island comprising about 850 acres, but he retained his original purchase of fifty acres as his homestead. One object in locating here was because of the fine fishing facilities and as soon as well established he started a fishery of his own, continuing the industry as a private enterprise for many years and giving employment to a number of men.

The purchase of the island proved an excellent business investment for the discovery had been made that the soil and climate of these islands was extremely suitable for fruit growing, particularly for grape culture, and in a comparatively short time the owners of the whole of Middle Bass were able to dispose of the land profitably in small tracts of ten, fifteen and twenty acres, for vineyard purposes. On his own tract Mr. Rehberg made the first experiment on the island, bearing abundantly, some from the very roots that Mr. Rehberg planted with such hope some fifty years ago. His success gave great encouragement to others and soon the grape growing industry was well founded. In 1869 he erected the first wine cellar on the island and started pressing his own grapes, producing a product that carried his name favorably all over this section, making at that time from 10,000 to 20,000 gallons annually. He continued in the business until within a few years of his death when he and son practically discontinued the pressing of grapes.

When Mr. Rehberg built his wine cellar he erected a public hall above it, but soon found it inadequate and enlarged it in 1875 and put up the present commodious building with modern facilities in 1874. When the Toledo & Lake Erie Fishing & Boating Association was organized, he gave them land on Sugar Point for their clubhouse site, and later, when it became a popular resort for the families of the club members, he divided several acres there and sold lots for cottages to individuals, thus making the present Middle Bass Club location the exclusive territory it now is. He was deeply interested in everything that advanced the good name and prosperity of these islands. A democrat in politics, he took part in all local matters because of his public spirit, and he served on the school board and was the first trustee of Middle Bass.

In family life William Rehberg measured up to every standard and happiness ever prevailed in the domestic circle. Three children of the five born reached maturity, they being: Mary, who is the widow of John Runkel, of Middle Bass; Herman D.; and Ida, who is the widow of August Schmidt, of Sandusky, Ohio.

When the Rehbergs came first to the island it was so thickly wooded that no space was large enough on which to erect a cottage and Mr. Rehberg was obliged to cut down twenty-two trees before he could get a spot large enough on which to build his cabin. On this place his wife died in 1897 and his death followed in 1899 and they were laid to rest on the home grounds on Middle Bass in his family vault. He was a member of the Order of Druids, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and belonged to the advanced branches of Masonry, was already honored with the thirty-second degree and had he lived one year longer, would have received the unusual thirty-third degree.

Herman D. Rehberg was born in Sandusky, Ohio, June 2, 1857. During his father's life he was closely associated with him and at the age of seventeen years was practically in charge of the hall his father had erected. Since his father's death he has continued the vineyard but has done comparatively little wine pressing, disposing of the grapes from his eighteen-acre vineyard as they are picked. In 1893 he bought the homestead and grows other fruit than grapes and raises general farm crops on a part of the land.

In 1882 Mr. Rehberg was married to Miss Pauline Hoover, of Port Clinton, Ohio. In 1884 he purchased a 10-acre orange grove on Drayton Island, situated in the St. John's River, Florida, but has reduced his acreage in this fruit to six acres, having lost considerably in the venture when the unprecedented "freeze" killed so many of the orange-growers' trees. Politically he is a democrat and has served on the board of education and in other public offices. He is a man of wide business experience and keeps thoroughly informed not only of outside markets but of doings and conditions all over the United States, having visited almost every interesting section at one time or another during the winter seasons. He visited California in 1882, before he married. An echo of Civil war days may be found in the family history. The father of Mr. Rehberg and his sister Mary were passengers of the Philo Parsons at the time the vessel was captured, when the plot formed to liberate the Confederate prisoners held on Johnson's Island, came so near success. No injury was incurred by either Mr. Rehberg or his daughter.

 

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