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Johnson's Island Civil War Prison

Danbury, Ohio
County of Ottawa.
Sandusky Bay
National Register Number: 75001514
Resource type: Site.
Property type: Defense - military facility. The threat level was Threatened in
Congressional District: OH-9 Certified Local Government: NO
This NHL offers public access.
Please contact the NHL directly for visitor information.
Current use/information: Cemetery.

Statement of Significance (as of designation - June 21, 1990):
Johnson's Island, the site of an important Confederate prisoners-of-war camp during much of the Civil War, is located 2.5 miles northwest of Sandusky, Ohio, in Sandusky Bay. Johnson's Island was chosen because of its size (large enough to house the facility and yet small enough to be easily manageable), wood resources (mostly for fuel), and its proximity to Sandusky which would make provisioning possible. Because of its mission as the major depot for the confinement of Confederate general, field, and company grade officers, Johnson's Island assumes particular significance as a critical element in the war of attrition that brought victory to the Union. Although plots and conspiracies by Confederate agents operating from Canadian sanctuaries and Northern Copperheads to foment mass escapes came to naught, they compelled the Lincoln Administration to divert needed resources of men and materiel from more important theaters of the war.

In general the island outside of the Friends property and the Cemetery is undergoing extensive development and the character is likely to change from a rural setting to an exclusive wealthy enclave if development continues at the pace that is apparent. A number of empty lots around the island are for sale. Most of current development is on the far side of the island near the old prison site and consists of typical subdivision-style McMansion-sized homes on lots that are toward the interior of the island. On the water side of the streets around the former “high ground”, the developments are of the mega-huge variety that one might expect to see in Hollywood – very large and each with unique designs and expensive accessories such as cliff water access via spiral staircases. Approximately 60 acres on the inland portion of the island is owned by the Johnson’s Island Investment Group. Ostensibly they intend to protect the lands; however, there is currently efforts by some group members to develop portions of those lands. The long term outlook for these lands should therefore be considered under threat.

Johnson’s Island is accessed via a gated causeway that can be accessed by a code or by paying $2. The entire island is classified as the NHL; however, recent developments suggest that a reclassification of the boundary may be in order. With the exception of the Confederate Civil War Cemetery, from an NHL perspective, all the other property on the island is an archeological site at best. The main property’s consist of the Confederate Civil War Cemetery and the sites of the former Fort Johnson, Fort Hill and the former prison compound proper. All other land on the island is "supportive" property where there may have been external encampments and other ancillary activity to the prison. The following information is a synopsis of a discussion with Dr. David R. Bush (see contact information) ?The Confederate Civil War Cemetery is in good condition and well maintained by the Veteran’s Administration. A new very elaborate log home on a raised stone foundation sits across the street from the cemetery. A new typical upper middle class suburban style house is under construction diagonally across the street from the cemetery. The site of the main Civil War prison and the former Fort Johnson are owned by Friends and Descendants of Johnson’s Island Civil War Prison. The group is performing archeological excavation and recovery of these lands as funds permit. There is no current threat of development to these lands at the moment. The site of the former Fort Hill is developed and gone. The "highest point of ground" area of the island is now developed into mega-mansions the appear to be worth several million dollars apiece. Any archeological value has been lost; in fact the size of the developments in this area of the island (which is across the street from the Friends property) has change the character of the landscape of that portion of the island. The rest of the island consists of some open space and some older developments; some of these properties are being converted into ever larger homes. Any value associated with these lands is under threat of development. Dr. Bush indicated he was not supportive of making the complete island into the NHL when it was designated in 1990. Developments since then have changed the rural character of portions of the island.

Comments and questions about the database may be directed to NHL_info@nps.gov