Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Blarney Island, Grass Lake
Blarney Island in Grass Lake is one of the most unusual bars in the world, since you can only get there by boat. It also has a reputation for boisterous partying.
In the beginning, there was Shorty's Place, also known as Rohema. This resort, like so many others on Grass Lake, offered boat ride tours of the lotus beds. Shorty built his place about 1906 when the waters were unusually low. The change in water level created a small peninsula which jutted into the lake.
Here, Shorty's "Rohema" is shown from the waters of Grass Lake looking back at the resort clearly on land. This real photo postcard was made about 1910.
This beautiful colorized postcard view of the lotus beds gives a sense for what the fuss was about. People flocked to see the lotus beds which covered vast acres of Grass Lake. The flowers still grow on the Chain, but are limited to "no wake zones." The best time to see the blooms is in July.
A slightly later view of Shorty's place, about 1915. It is difficult to tell from this view, but Shorty's is still on land.
Some historians have identified "Shorty" as Shorty Shobin. Though in local papers of the day articles referred to him simply as "Shorty." In 1908, the McHenry Dam was built across the Fox River and the water levels began to rise. A paper reported that the dam was "blasting [Shorty's] hopes... Each day he watched the water increasing on his domain."
This photograph taken of Shorty's Rohema is a rare close-up of the resort, and the man on the porch may be Shorty himself. If so, it's the only known photo of Shorty in the Museum's collections. An unidentified woman is standing next to a rowboat planted with flowers.
It is not clear at what point Shorty sold his business, but by 1923, the name Blarney Island is in place with Jack O'Connor as the proprietor. Some have claimed that Shorty lost his resort to Jack O'Connor in a poker game. O'Connor's original resort reportedly burned down and he used Shorty's former site to start his business anew.
This picture postcard from about 1925 gives an incredible perspective of Blarney Island across the lotus beds. Today, the area around Blarney Island is open water.
Locals claim the water level did not rise high enough to create the resort "island" until 1939 after the Stratton Lock and Dam was built, making historians realize that a lot of information has been lost to time. Why would O'Connor call his establishment Blarney Island in 1923 if it was still on land?
This close-up of O'Connor's Hotel Blarney shows clearly how the resort is built on pylons. Again, there is a rowboat planted with flowers, very reminiscent of Shorty's Place, and probably a popular gardening decoration of the time.
The spring thaw of 1952 nearly destroyed the entire building. Ed Walters, the owner at the time, decided to rebuild and used remnants of the original structure to maintain Blarney Island's history.
Blarney Island still exists, and is open everyday, but remember, you can only get there by boat!