Nathaniel Amos Hadden, a successful Sandusky businessman, built a home for his wife, Marion, and his family. In 1870 Hadden bought two acres plus lakefront property from his father-in-law and built the first summer hotel on Catawba Island. Catawba's summer tourist business was booming in the 1870's as the mothers and children of wealthy city families came to enjoy the lake and cool breezes. Travel was by steamboat to the fishing dock near Catawba Point, or by rail to Gypsum, and Port Clinton, with jitney service to the hotels. Sadly, on March 13, 1872, Hadden's hotel burned to the ground with substantial losses for the family.
SunnySide Tower History
A Treasured Farmhouse Circa 1879
By 1879, Hadden was able to buy 55 acres on the west side of Catawba and built the original Sunnyside Tower family farmhouse. His children loved to climb the winding staircase from the third floor to the tower, and in later years, they followed rambling corridors that led to dead-end crannies created as additions to the house. The huge living room was known for the concerts given by accomplished pianists who were members of the Hadden and Duteher families. In 1892, Marion Hadden organized the Catawba Ladies Afternoon Club. More than 10,000 fruit trees were planted at SunnySide, one of the first orchards to have a "soup house" building to house the equipment needed to mix the newly developed fruit sprays. Rocks, removed from the land so that it could be cultivated, were stacked by hand to make the tall stone walls that ran along the Stonehenge Road.
The house was one of the first on Catawba to have electricity, supplied by a gasoline-driven generator; a basement boiler produced steam heat. Hadden tried many new ideas while developing SunnySide, but when he died in 1893, his family left the area and the house stood vacant and unattended. Meanwhile, Nathaniel's son, Clarence, married Florence Christianson from Oak Harbor, whose sister, Marie, married Almon Rhodes of Toledo. The sisters had worked together summers in the island orchards, and the Rhodes made the move to SunnySide. Marie decided to call the farm SunnySide Orchard, the name of Washington Irving's residence on the Hudson River, and she modeled the tower on the house after one on Irving's home. As the farm and orchard business grew, they were able to provide rooms for seasonal farm help and other roomers. In the 1920s, after they expanded the house, there were 28 rooms with two bathrooms. The inn prepared many family-style chicken dinners in the hot kitchen on twin cast iron stoves, while Lincolns and Mercedes pulled up bringing guests to play the slot machines in the lobby. The lovely Marie Rhodes died in 1942 and many of the rooms in the home were converted to small apartments for servicemen from Camp Perry as tourist business ended with the war. In the 1960s the Rhodes family sold SunnySide Tower and majority of acres. The inn, now known as the "Ghost House," stood unoccupied and weather-beaten with much of the interior destroyed, until Marie Rhodes' great-great-grandson, John Davenport, and his family purchased it in 1987 and started making "drastic" renovations and updates including 7.5 bathrooms. John opened Sunnyside as a Bed & Breakfast in 1996. In 2014, Peter Stokes and Julie McKenna Stokes assumed ownership and now operate the property as a very popular vacation rental venue for family reunions, corporate retreats, and other group gatherings.
The enchanting history and unique tales continue on...so, come to SunnySide Tower to get THE-REST-OF-THE-STORY in person from Owners/Innkeepers Peter Stokes and Julie McKenna Stokes. Create your own bit of history with family and friends...and START A NEW TRADITION AT THE TOWER!
Revised from original story written by Shirley Koth, THE NEWS HERALD.