Sunday, May 27, 2018
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Real Estate

Historic Put-in-Bay mansion’s treasures going up for auction

Islanders eager to walk back through time before sale

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    Tiffany lamps are among the items for sale. See more on A3 and at

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    An early bathtub in the attic at Inselruhe, a home built in 1875 for Minnie Monroe on South Bass Island, May 31.

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    A human pelvis is among the items found while preparing for a sale at Inselruhe, a home built in 1875 for Minnie Monroe on South Bass Island.

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    The house exchanged hands just a few times, and items inside represent each generation dating back to the 1800s. Among the key items are a ship’s compass, Tiffany lamps, and various other nautical-themed items.

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    Dan Savage takes a closer look at a photo of Rear Admiral John Jacob Hunker, that will not be for sale at Inselruhe, a home built in 1875 for Minnie Monroe on South Bass Island.

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    Seven Gables, next door to Inselruhe, a home built in 1875 for Minnie Monroe on South Bass Island, May 31.

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    Items for sale at Inselruhe, a home built in 1875 for Minnie Monroe on South Bass Island,May 31.

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    A table full of Lladro, fine Spanish porcelain, that will be for sale at Inselruhe, a home built in 1875 for Minnie Monroe on South Bass Island, May 31.

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    Inselruhe, German for ‘island rest,’ was built in 1875 for Minnie Monroe and her husband, John Jacob Hunker.

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    Dan Savage takes a closer look at a compass made by Kelvin & James White LTD, Glasgow, Scotland, that will be for sale at Inselruhe, a home built in 1875 for Minnie Monroe on South Bass Island, May 31.

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PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio — The three-story white house just past Perry’s Victory Memorial is somewhat of a hidden gem, but its contents are the real treasure.

Inselruhe, which is German for “island rest,” was built in 1875 on South Bass Island, just steps away from Lake Erie. The Steamboat Gothic home changed owners few times, and many of its original furnishings are still inside.

Minnie Monroe and John Jacob Hunker received the property from her parents, who lived next door. Items inside represent each generation dating back to the 1800s.

“People on the island are frantic to get in this place,” said Dan Savage, director of the Lake Erie Islands Historical Society. “There are very few people on the island today who have ever been in it.”

VIDEO: Interview with Dan Savage, director of Lake Erie Islands Historical Society

Those looking to own a piece of history soon will get the opportunity when nearly everything inside the house goes on sale later this month. 

The owners, siblings of the Buttrey family, are looking to sell the property to someone with more free time. The asking price is $1.7 million.

Mr. Savage has sorted through the entire home, and the museum will receive a percentage of the sales. 

The museum is interested in buying Inselruhe and making it a tourist destination.

First occupants

James B. Monroe was a member of Toledo’s elite and experienced tremendous success in the railroad industry. His daughter and only child, Minnie, married Mr. Hunker, who was a decorated rear admiral in the Navy. They received the house as a wedding gift and used it as a summer residence.

Mr. Hunker’s father, Andrew Holland Hunker, was a wealthy businessman from Toledo. He built the Hunker House, which was the first hotel at Put-in-Bay.

“J.J. Hunker was very involved in the Spanish American War,” Mr. Savage said. “He sunk a boat in Manila Bay in Cuba. And he was also in the South Pacific.”

President William Howard Taft was a close friend of the Monroes and visited Inselruhe numerous times. The family had a special chair made to match the rest of the furniture for the notoriously large president.

IN PICTURES: Mansion’s treasures going up for auction

When her husband died in 1916, Mrs. Hunker moved next door to her parents’ house. They had one son together, but he moved to California as a young adult and did not return.

Cincinnati businessman Frank Miller purchased Inselruhe in 1937 with the original furniture, collectibles, antiques, and Hunker family documents still inside. Mr. Miller and his wife, Ruth, kept the house in pristine condition.

“Ruth Miller became somewhat of a scholar on the Hunkers, and she went through and started dating what years [pieces of correspondence found] were written,” Mr. Savage said. “They didn’t throw anything away.”

The Millers placed the home on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Scott and Linda Buttrey took their children to the island every weekend in the summer by sailboat. The family enjoyed it so much, they bought the house next to Inselruhe.

The Millers and Buttreys became friends, and eventually Mr. Miller approached Mr. Buttrey about buying Inselruhe in the late 1980s.

“It all came about because Frank loved the way my dad loved his house,” said Jen Blumensaadt, Mr. Buttrey’s daughter. “When Frank sold the house, he wanted to sell it to someone who would care for and love it as much as his family did.”

Ms. Blumensaadt and each of her four siblings spent summers at the house growing up. She said finding an owner who will appreciate the house as much as the previous owners is key, and believes the museum would be an excellent fit. However, no sale of the property appears imminent.

“All of our summers are full of memories sitting on that front porch watching the world go by,” Ms. Blumensaadt said. “So many people came by. My parents pretty much had an open-door policy.”

Sorting history

When Mr. Savage began rummaging through Inselruhe last September, the rooms and attic were so packed full of items that he had trouble moving around.

Dishes, glassware, and nautical artifacts are scattered everywhere. And that’s just the first floor.

“It’s a lot of fun for me because the history of the area fascinates me,” Mr. Savage said. “Pricing isn’t the hard part; it’s finding enough space to put everything.”

Walking through the home is like walking through history. Each owner added to the collection but never subtracted.

Certain items will be kept or preserved, including about 3,000 letters of correspondence between the Hunkers and Monroes. Mr. Savage said he hopes to have someone comb through them and perhaps publish the letters.

“A lot of it is from the South Pacific,” he said. “They traveled everywhere: China, Australia, Europe. But for some reason, it all ended up back here. Their son never came back for any of this stuff after his parents died.”

Mr. Savage also discovered the original blueprint and floor plans for the home, which are in near-mint condition. A 1928 Ford Model A will also be kept, but it could be put in a later sale.

The estate sale will run 10 a.m.-5 p.m. June 15 to 17. Shoppers can walk through the house and see all items for sale June 14 from 6-8 p.m. for $50. Pickup is 10 a.m.-2 p.m. June 18.

No sales will be made prior to June 15. Customers will rip off tags from items they wish to buy. A complete list of items can be found at a week before the sale.

Among the key items are original chairs to the house, a Schwinn bicycle from the 1950s or ’60s, original telephone and pump organ, ship compass, bald eagle and American flag stern adornment, Tiffany lamps, a 1980s Rolls-Royce convertible, and a Naval chest used by Mr. Hunker.

Mr. Savage is doing most of the pricing himself, although he requested prices not be published.

“We’ve done a lot of research,” he said. “Put-in-Bay memorabilia brings a lot of money. There are a lot of avid collectors. A lot of this ’40s and ’50s stuff is what people go crazy for.

“It’s really a time capsule, and there’s nothing left like this on the island. Nobody really took anything away from the house since 1875.”

Ms. Blumensaadt said she never took the time to rummage around the attic or search through drawers she walked past each day, which led to her discovery of Mr. Hunker’s high school diploma.

“It was kind of amazing to me because you don’t really take the time to look at what you’re sitting on while you’re living in it,” she said. “You miss what’s right in front of you. I was absolutely amazed when I started going through the house and pulling things out.”

Contact Jay Skebba at:, 419-376-9414, or on Twitter @JaySkebbaBlade.

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