“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly back into the past,” writes F. Scott Fitzgerald at the end of The Great Gatsby. Chances are, he was picturing wooden boats. And if he pictured wooden boats, he perhaps imagined one that has since been repaired by Moes Marine Service in Vermilion, Ohio. And, if he had but known the story of Moes Marine Service, his last line might have taken a less melancholy turn in recognizing that while our present story grows from the past, it is equally one of present and future. Three generations of Moes men have worked at “the boatyard,” as the family refers to it, and here, in weekly installments, you’ll find the origin story of one of Vermilion’s great businesses.
A Swampy Start
Julius “Mike” Moes had been married only a week—in fact, was on his way home from his honeymoon—when he stopped to enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard. Not only was his marriage new, but he had been running his business, Moes Marine Service, for only three years. Still, it was late November of 1941. It looked entirely likely the U.S. would enter World War II, which had been raging for two years. And, unbeknownst to anyone when Mike enlisted, the attack on Pearl Harbor was only a week away.
Nearly a hundred years before, in the 1850s, the Vermilion riverfront was no more than “water lots”—swampy parcels of land. Alva Bradley, a ship captain with a house in Harbourtown, owned the water lot where Moes Marine Service stands today. Upon his death in 1889, his estate was allowed a certain number of years to determine what to do with the land. But when nothing came of it, the lot passed into the hand of speculators and had four different owners from 1904-1917.
Frank Moes, grandfather of the current Moes Marine Service co-owners, owned property farther up the river, and in addition to his activities as a farmer and as the operator of Moes Cider Mill (which was in business until the 1990s), he ran the Mississippi, a paddleboat that he had built and used as a ferry service to transport people from the train station to various campgrounds up river. Although he ran the ferry for only a year, the operation may have given him incentive to look for property on the river near town; in 1917, Frank bought the water lot.
Frank leased the lot to Ed Lamp, who was Vermilion’s equivalent to Paul Bunyan, and later to a man named Dubois, who was the area dealer for Dodge Watercars. At that time—around the late 1920s—other operations along the river included the fish houses, where the condominiums stand today, and a lumberyard in the spot that the Vermilion Boat Club pool currently occupies. In 1938, Dubois defaulted and Mike Moes, father of Moes Marine Sevice and of the current co-owners, began to use the property as a boatyard to work on wooden boats.
Now that you have the early history of the boatyard down, be sure to check back next week as we follow Mike’s adventures…
Editor’s Note: If anyone has any additional information, corrections or photos on this subject, please send us an email!