“Crescent Tavern” – 1871-2022
Editor’s Note: The article below was written using a variety of sources, some of which conflicted with each other as to events, persons and dates. With no way to actually double check details, we have put together what we feel is the most logical information about the Crescent. We’d like to especially thank Bill Krejci, Susie Cooper, Joan Booker, Mary McCann, George Stoiber, Dottie Sweeney, Mack McCann and Dan Savage for their assistance in helping us write this story.
Put-in-Bay’s oldest commercial building, The Hunker House, was demolished in October. It was built in 1871 by Andrew Hunker on Delaware Ave. directly across from the east end of the Village Park. Known by longtime islanders as The Crescent, for the last 11 years it has been the home of T&J’s Smokehouse.
Although many mourned the loss, time had not been kind to the beloved structure in spite of much effort over the years to maintain it.
The name for the Italianate structure was the Hunker’s House when Hunker owned it. He had run a confectionery shop in Toledo before coming to the island and was the father of Admiral J.J. Hunker, who occupied Inselruhe, the large Steamboat Gothic home just east of the Monument. Andrew was also Put-in-Bay’s first mayor. Originally there were accommodations for 70 guests, but later additions doubled that number. The hotel had its own vineyard and fruit orchard for the home manufacture of wines, ice cream and cobblers. An advertisement stated the Hunker House had a fine beach replete with every convenience for both ladies and gentlemen bathers. (See copy of an early Hunker’s House promotional description below).
The Hunkers still owned the property in 1890 about the time James B. Ward, who was the manager of the Ballast Island Resort, leased the hotel and called it the Ward Summer Resort. Ward later went on to manage the second Put-in-Bay House. In 1900, Andrew Hunker died, and Ellsworth J. Myers and his silent partner, John H. Goodin, bought the property from the Hunker family. Solomon J. Campbell was running the property in 1903 with the name changed to the Detroit House, probably to draw the crowds being brought to the island by streamers from Detroit. Campbell didn’t stay long and later ran the Central Hotel, now the Country House next to Frosty Bar. Charles Riedling, the son of Frederick Riedling, a pioneer vintner on the island, began running it, but didn’t have much success and went bankrupt.
This brought T.B. Alexander into the picture in 1908. Alexander, who would be involved with the property for the next 26 years, renamed it the New Hotel Crescent. T.B. was a stage actor who came to the island about 1892 and married Edith Brown the daughter of John Brown, Jr., the son of the famous abolitionist. Before running the Crescent, he had hung wallpaper and did painting, plus he later became PIB’s longest serving mayor with 20 years in office.
Goodin, at some point, stepped out of the picture and Myers and T.B. became partners. It wasn’t long before a sizable four-story addition, “The Alexander” and later known as the “Crescent Annex,” was built on the east side of the original building, dramatically increasing the number of rooms. Between the Annex and the Crescent, a pavilion arcade was built to house several small concessions. This was all done to accommodate the large crowds expected to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie and the opening of Perry’s Monument two years later. Myers, who had his own suite in the Crescent, was more than likely the one with the deep pockets needed to finance the new addition with T.B. having the management skills to operate everything.
When Prohibition came to the nation and Put-in-Bay in 1920, things changed dramatically. Bessie Albrecht (later Defendiefer) worked as a waitress there in the late 1920s during Prohibition. Bessie’s two great nephews, Richard and Jeff Ramsbottom who both have homes on Put-in-Bay, recall the story Bessie told about serving people there who hid their bottle of hooch under the table while dining and leaving her a 50¢ tip. Bessie later bought a cottage on the West Shore from Norm Heineman, the owner of Heineman Winery. No one really talks about what happened on the island during Prohibition, but here we have the mayor of PIB/owner of the Crescent perhaps looking the other way when it came to the law of the land.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention Sue Snyder, a vaudevillian from the Actor’s Colony who played piano at the Crescent for many years. Part of her performance was putting paper bags over her hands and playing the piano.
Ellsworth J. Myers died in 1925. His widow then married a man named Edward W. Myers, perhaps related to Ellsworth. In 1934, T.B. Alexander retired, and the Myers ended up with the property. Ed’s wife died in 1939.
In 1936, Charles Stinson, a businessman from Tiffin, Ohio, was publishing the original Put-in-Bay Gazette “Down By Herman’s Bar,” located at the Crescent. Stinson was a close friend and business partner of Chick Linker. About midnight on July 30, 1939, Stinson dropped dead at the age of 54 of a heart attack in the lobby of the Crescent. Linker, the executor of Stinson’s estate, took over operations and was in full charge at the Crescent in 1943. Chick continued to operate the Crescent into the 1950s. According to George Stoiber, Chick never wanted to own the building because he thought it was too much of a fire trap.
A waitress who worked summers for Chick while in college in the 1950s was the late Phoebe Borman from Chapman Rd. She related a story about how hard she and the other waitresses worked to talk customers out of ordering the restaurant’s finest cut of beef cooked “well done.” When unsuccessful, upon receiving the order, the chief cook would barge into the dining room brandishing a meat cleaver, demanding “WHO ordered the New York Strip well done??” Also in the mid 1950s, people enjoyed Bingo and movies in the pavilion between the Annex and main building.
Milton Hersberger, the pilot who brought the famous Ford Trimotors to the islands, sold Island Air Service in 1953. Ed Myers died in 1954, and Hersberger ended up with the Crescent. Hersberger and Linker weren’t exactly on friendly terms, and when Linker heard about the new owner, he left the Crescent and ended up building “Chick Linker’s,” the bar/restaurant that is now the Boathouse.
In the late 1950s and most of the 1960s, Marty Poulder who had originally partnered up with Hersberger to buy the Crescent was the sole owner. The name was “Lighthouse Bar.” It was no longer the pride of Delaware Ave., which itself had seen better days.
Visionary Al Neff saw opportunity at Put-in-Bay and after buying the Colonial and renovating it, went out on a limb and his South Bass Island Co. purchased the building in the late 1960s. It was about this time that Dick Powers was hired to tear down the Annex. Al’s daughter Joan Booker, was tending bar there during the infamous July 4th storm of 1969. Jeff Koehler was also working security there when the electricity went out. In those days, the name of the Crescent was the “Wine House,’’ and wine could be purchased in plastic bottles so they couldn’t be smashed in the streets by reveling partygoers, a thing that had become a problem back in those days. Al also opened an arcade in the Crescent’s pavilion where island kids could hang out. The kids also enjoyed movies there, plus there was a jukebox inside. It was in the early 1970s that the Crescent’s beautiful back bar was dismantled, refinished and taken to the new Crew’s Nest bar in the old Friendly Inn. For much of the 1970s however the building sat empty. During the later days of Neff’s ownership, his twin sons, Bill and Bob, were known to have given away some of the furniture and other items from the upstairs rooms. One island family has a commode from the Crescent that is still used in one of their bathrooms.
Mary McCann (PIBHS Class of 1981) remembers performing a couple of plays, one Godspeed, in the building with Shawn Ladd (PIBHS Class of 1979) when her father owned the property about 1979 or 1980. Tom Eversole, a teacher at PIB School, was the director. While McCann owned the property, an Ohio Historic Inventory was done by the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, but nothing ever came of it as far as putting it on any historic register or taking other measures to preserve it.
The McCanns did not own the building for long and June and George Stoiber took over the building in 1981 and revitalized the aging building. George had worked as a busser at the Crescent years before when Chick Linker ran it.. For 30 years, The Crescent Tavern was famous for its prime rib and pasta buffets not to mention June’s desserts. Linda Mahony, today’s Candy Bar owner, with her young daughters, Karen and Amanda, in tow was the manager of the operation. Chris Krueger, the owner of the Surf Shop and Mojito Bay, had her first job at the Crescent Tavern in 1986. The Goat’s Scott Jackson had his first island job at the Crescent in 1988 working at the Smoker grill on the bar’s patio. Bret Klun, now the manager at the Keys, started working at the Crescent as a dishwasher in 1993. By 1997, he became general manager and remained so until Stoibers sold. Entertainment at the Crescent included the Maxx Band inside and Westside Steve on the patio. In the kitchen for many seasons were Dottie Sweeney (PIBYC Class of 1975) and Chef F, who now works at Frosty’s. Scott Sneller did maintenance on the old building. In later years, A new pavilion was put up on the rear of the property which for many years was used for all kinds of events. June’s sister Linda and her husband Jim Gegorski had their wedding reception at the Crescent, and several Ducks Unlimited banquets and one of the early wine festivals were held there, too.
The last owners to do business in the building were brothers Josh and Tim Niese who purchased the building in 2011 and renamed it T&J’s Smokehouse. They ran a country/western-themed bar and restaurant with an outdoor venue that featured a large bandstand and a popular mechanical bull riding machine.
This past season when the building changed hands to a group which includes Trenton Ave. resident John Blanke. It was Tim’s company, Innovative Excavating, that carried out the demolition work and by the end of October the Crescent property was vacant.
There are three interesting things that should be added to this story about the Crescent. First, the new owners were gracious enough to allow Dan Savage from the Lake Erie Islands Historical Society to go through the building and take items he wanted for the island museum. Included were several stained glass windows, window and door treatments and the wallpapered posters of T.B. Alexander from his early theatrical days. The back bar that was taken out of the building 50 years ago and used at the Crew’s Nest before being returned to the Crescent was also donated to the museum. It’s as if fate wanted the Crescent to be a bit of an organ donor so its memory would live on.
The second thing not found in any of the research about this story was exactly when the third-floor tower was removed. Even George Stoiber, who owned the building for as long as anyone, was not sure when that happened, but it was probably taken off sometime in the late 1950s when Poulder owned the building.
Thirdly, Bill Krejci, the author of “Haunted Put-in-Bay, wrote extensively in his book about the Crescent citing numerous stories of ghostly happenings. Perhaps the Crescent had at least three specters. The first would be the 4-year old boy who, as the story goes, drowned in one of the Hunker House’s four clawfoot bath tubs while his mother attended to another child. Back then, a room with a bath was a luxury. The second would be T.B. Alexander, whose old theatrical posters were wallpapered on the walls of a room overlooking Delaware Ave. Anyone who saw them can testify how almost spooky they were. And lastly, Charles Stinson, the owner who collapsed and died in the lobby, is a good candidate for the third. Where these ghosts will find new homes we can only speculate, but we are sure their spirits weep for the loss of the Crescent Hotel.
Putinbay.com is proud to present this Put-in-Bay Gazette article from the December 2022 issue.
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