Crystal-Cave
Ohio Life

Crystal Cave, Put-in-Bay

Heineman Winery offered tours of what it bills as the world’s largest geode to stay afloat during Prohibition. You can still check it out today. 

Geodes are a common childhood fascination: Ping-Pong-ball-sized orbs with a dull brown appearance that are just a hammer swing away from revealing a glittering, crystalized interior. Many remember holding such a wonder in their hands as a kid, but Dustin Heineman grew up walking through one.

Heineman is co-owner and part of the fifth generation of the family-owned and -operated Heineman Winery in Put-in-Bay. In 1880, his great-great-grandfather Gustav Heineman emigrated from Germany to Ohio, where he took a job at Golden Eagle Winery on Middle Bass Island before striking out on his own eight years later.

“[He] jumped over [to South Bass Island], bought a piece of property, planted some vineyards around it and then had a winery,” Heineman explains.

Ten years later, the vineyard required more water, and it was during the 1897 excavation of a new well that Gustav and his crew discovered what the family calls the world’s largest geode.

“They broke into this beautiful cavern,” says Heineman. “They figured out that they had something pretty unique.”

Today, the cavern is known as Crystal Cave and measures 40 feet in diameter. The Heineman family originally mined some of the minerals inside as a way to widen the space and generate some extra income.

“They sold a lot of it to fireworks-makers,” Heineman says. “When you burn that mineral, it burns red.”

Much of the geode remains as a tourist attraction and actually helped buoy the family business during Prohibition. At one point prior to alcohol being outlawed, 17 wineries operated on South Bass Island. Today, Heineman Winery is the only one left.

“We managed to survive, No. 1, because of the cave,” Heineman says. “Gustav and his son Norm would have been the two that kept the winery afloat during Prohibition because they were giving tours of the cave and making grape juice.” 

978 Catawba Ave., Put-in-Bay 43456, 419/285-2811, heinemanswinery.com

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