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Put-in-Bay Dollar House Museum Open to the Public

2008-09-27

PUT-IN-BAY -- In the late 1800s, Olga Doller often snuck out to go dancing at the Put in Bay Colonial Hotel.

She got away with it until the night she fell into the stream outside her family's house and called for help.

Her father forbade her and her five sisters to marry. The eldest daughter, Fanny Doller rebelled and married an island boy.

Olga's and Fanny's sister, Daisy, couldn't handle living in the Doller House with her sisters, so she moved into the house next door.

These are all details their father, Valentine Doller, the first Put-in-Bay entrepreneur, likely didn't want us to know about his wealthy and accomplished family. The Dollars burned letters, diaries and most of the family photos, said Karen White, a Doller House tour guide.

"They were very private," White said. "They didn't want anyone to know any stories about them."

Local historians have pieced together what little information and family items, including portraits of Valentine Doller and Olga Doller, they can find to learn what the Dollars' privileged life was like.

The Doller House opened for tours this summer so others could learn about the family and Put-in-Bay island life during the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century.

Put-in-Bay Mayor Mack McCann's family bought the house three years ago with the intent of turning into a museum, White said. They decorated it with period furniture and antiques, some of which belonged to the Dollars.

"(The McCanns) recognize the value of this as a historic site," White said. "Many of the islanders want to keep as much as we can from the past. Even though we sell a lot of beer here, there's history, and people love history."

The yellow and gray brick and wood house was built in two sections -- one half is wooden, and the other probably was red brick until it was painted, White said. The brick section was added in 1883, she said.

A tower is located at a front corner of the structure, which classifies the building as Italianate architecture.

Valentine Doller, a German immigrant, came to Put-in-Bay in 1859 at the request of the island's founder, Jose DeRivera, White said. DeRivera had built roads and a school on the island, and he wanted Doller to open a general store.

The store was located in the building that houses Mossbacks restaurant and the Fish Bowl bar. There, he also ran the island post office.

Doller was enterprising, and he saw other ways to make money.

He started an ice business, where his workers would harvest ice from the lake and store it in a building, or ice house, insulated with sawdust until it could be shipped for sale. Blocks could be kept in the ice house for up to three years, she said.

He also owned the only public dock on the island, which is now where the Boardwalk restaurants and water taxi is located, White said.

"Every time someone docked there, he made money," she said.

Always looking for an opportunity, he invested in the luxurious island Victory Hotel that later burned down and is believed to have rented rooms in his home, White said.

He also operated a farm behind his house. The barn contains the original horse stalls.

The interior of his home reflected his wealth. One of the parlors features ornate wood carving, called fretwork, hanging from the ceiling and wooden desk, both of which belonged to the Dollars.

Upstairs, a gilded mirror with a marble base stands more than six feet tall. Next to it, a rare portrait of Valentine Doller hangs on the wall.

Each room is decorated to look as it did when he and his family lived there. Olga Doller stayed there until her death in 1974. One of the family's employees inherited it and sold it in 1978 to the Heidenreich family.

The Heidenreichs lived there until 2005, when they sold it to the McCanns. Harold Heidenreich left his mark on the property with a yellow gazebo in the back yard.

"He built it out of love for his wife," White said.

It includes murals depicting the Doller dock that is now the Boardwalk, the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812 and other island scenes.

After the tour, visitors can walk to the nearby Lake Erie Islands Historical Museum. The museum contains the portrait of Olga Doller, some family furniture and dresses.

These items were given to the museum after Olga Doller died, White said.

"We're working together," she said of the partnership with the historical society. "It allows them to have more traffic, too."

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