This story was originally published on January 22, 2019.
Castalia, Ohio, is home to The Blue Hole, which was a tourist attraction for almost a century. WKSU’s “OH Really?” finds out why it’s been off-limits to the public for the last 29 years.
“We went out and we tried to look for it. And we couldn’t find it,” says Catherine Kocina of Newbury. She’s still perplexed, and that’s why she asked “OH Really?” whatever happened to The Blue Hole? Her family tried to find it one day in the 1980s, when they were out for a drive near Sandusky.
“It’s not something that just disappears overnight. Never could find any information as to what happened – if it got sold, or what?”
The Blue Hole still exists, and has been owned by the Castalia Trout Club since the club was founded in 1890. The private club is near downtown Castalia, a village of less than a thousand people that sits 20 minutes southwest of Cedar Point. In the center of town is a restaurant, a gas station and a few businesses. In the late 1800s, there was a train depot.
“So when you had to change trains and go up to Fremont or Toledo, you had to wait a while. [People] would walk down a little ways, and there would be this giant blue hole," according to Paul Schoenegge of the Castalia Historical Society. And that’s how the Blue Hole became a tourist attraction.
From layover to tourist attraction
Eventually, there were picnic tables, lush vegetation, a concession stand and a gift shop. In the 1970s, Steve Sessler was working there selling everything from postcards to wooden shot glasses. Today, he manages the trout club.
“The Blue Hole is approximately 40 feet in diameter. Between 40 and 50 feet of depth. It’s an artesian spring – water comes from underground. It’s void of oxygen. Very clean, very clear. It’s very high in iron and calcium. That water fluctuates between 52 and 54 degrees all year long. Because it’s coming from underground, it’s cold.
“There’s a fence around the entire thing. [Visitors] would go around the entire Blue Hole. It was just a place for serenity. People thought it might have had healing powers at one time. A nice, quiet place to bring the family for a Sunday picnic.”
But in 1990, that all changed.
“The government passed the Americans with Disabilities Act. They were going to have to upgrade a lot of facilities to accommodate that. Which is good. But then, Great Wolf Lodge, Kalahari, those attractions started coming into the area. And there was just nobody coming anymore. So it was purely a financial decision – it wasn’t cost effective to keep it open.”
Today, Sessler says the cold water is perfect for his club’s fish hatchery. They oxygenate the water and use it to incubate about 30,000 eggs each year, keeping the streams stocked for members who come from as far away as Oklahoma.
There are still people who come to town and want to see The Blue Hole they remember. The stone entryway is still intact along Rt. 269, across the street from Shirley Smith’s house.
“It was interesting because they said it was bottomless. It was kind of scary for me as a kid. I remember my Mom was always careful to make sure we stayed back behind the rail and everything. People still today pull up to the gates, and we think, ‘how is it that all these people don’t know that it’s closed?’ But we did find out that this gate was used as a popular geo-caching site.”
But the people who aren’t geocaching – who’ve come to see the natural wonder they remember – still come by, too. Angie Wax meets some of them working at the gas station downtown.
“In the summertime, it’s almost two or three times a day. I tell them they can go to the state fish hatchery, which is down the road. At the back of the hatchery, there’s another blue hole.”
Another Blue Hole?
That’s right – there’s more than one Blue Hole. In fact, there’s at least a half-dozen -- including a few on private farms and the one at the state’s Castalia Fish Hatchery, which is only a few minutes away from the original tourist attraction. Andy Jarrett has managed the hatchery for the last 15 years, and says the holes are a phenomenon that have roots to the south, in Bellevue, Ohio.
“Seneca Caverns – it’s several stories deep – eventually gets down to what they call the Mystery River, which is the same underground river source. They’re all shared by the same underground river system. As far as size, ours is slightly bigger. A lot of people will remember the original as bigger, but most of them are remembering when they were 8, 10, 12 years old. So everything looks bigger at that point in time.”
The state fish hatchery incubates about a half-million eggs each year to stock 70 different lakes and reservoirs throughout Ohio and is open to the public on weekdays. And one other Blue Hole that’s open to the public is the large duck pond in the center of town. Like the others, it contains no oxygen. Jarrett says because of the constant flow of water up and down, it doesn’t have time to freeze.
Finding the original
But if you simply must see the original, there’s still a chance. The Castalia Historical Society holds a raffle each year starting in April. The 20 lucky winners get to visit the Castalia Trout Club and see The Blue Hole that people flocked to for much of the past century. If you'd like to find out more about the raffle you can contact the Castalia Historical Society at (419) 684-9710.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected because it originally indicated the lack of oxygen prevented the water from freezing.