Storybook bridges. Broomstick Castle. An historic boathouse and an idyllic summer retreat called The Folly.
This is Fairyland Island, a place that finds its name in both its natural beauty and folklore. Fairyland is not too far from another island on the St. Lawrence River famous for its Boldt Castle: Heart Island.
It evokes another era of the Thousand Islands: the Golden Age of the late 1800s and early 1900s when millionaires built grand summer estates and castles, cruised in steam yachts, played tennis and held formal parties on the island’s manicured lawns.
“It’s just another world,” said Peter Charron, the owner of the residence known as The Folly as he steers his boat towards the island with its towering French poplar trees in the Manhattan Group of the Thousand Islands.
The three-bedroom summer home with its fireplace, double pine staircase and airy veranda surrounded by gardens of hydrangeas is a dreamy island retreat. It was featured last year in Elle Décor magazine as the getaway of its previous owner, a New York City interior designer.
Charron and his wife Catrine, of San Francisco, fell in love with the island and the residence built in 1870 while scouting Thousand Island properties two years ago.
“I saw Fairyland and I just loved it,” said Peter. “Fairyland is just the best name ever. It’s magical.”
Peter, who automates port authorities all over the world, is a native of Ogdensburg who had spent his childhood summers swimming and fishing in the Thousand Islands.
Catrine initially said: “Nothing on an island,” recalled Peter with a chuckle. They first looked at properties on Bostwick Island and Grenell Island but were enamoured with Fairyland’s Folly. It’s easy to see why.
“It’s completely impractical,” said Peter as he took me on a tour of the island’s winding paths leading to Broomstick Castle, a distinctive home with turrets perched over the river’s edge, the ruins of the original Fairyland residence, and over a bridge to Estrallita Island’s Estrallita.
“They’re the real deal,” said Peter. “They’re really special homes.”
The Folly was originally built as a gentleman’s guest lodge to its neighboring Estrallita, a grand summer estate. Men would retire there after dinner to smoke cigars and drink brandy by the fireplace. There was no kitchen in the original structure which is set back on two acres. One has since been added to the summer home.
Now it is the island escape of the California couple, their young daughter Cosette and two Dalmations named Henry and James.
“I think of it as a child’s paradise,” said Peter.
It is said Fairyland’s tranquil charms cured a sickly little girl who had to be carried onto the island one summer over a century ago. She left healthy and rejuvenated after a summer. That is believed how the island got its name.
The fairy tale of Fairyland was first told in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in the late 1800s in a story called ‘Summering Among the Thousand Isles.”
The writer described the Thousand Islands as a “Lotus Land” and a “real land of dreamy forgetfulness.” The article’s author extolled “the wondrous beauties of this lovely archipelago” featuring illustrations of Wellesley Island’s Thousand Island Park, Alexandria Bay and Fairyland Island. It also recounts the story of a wealthy family from Ohio that brought an “invalid daughter to the islands in an almost hopeless search for health.”
“Each season sees Fairyland grow more and more suggestive of its even more appropriate name,” the author observed.
The Hayden family of Columbus Ohio made their fortune on horse collars when they purchased Fairyland, which is now only a pile of rocky ruins on the island.
Peter Hayden bought Fairly around 1869. He and his two sons; Charles Hayden and William B. Hayden built three large homes on the island including nearby Estrallita and the remains of Fairyland just behind Broomstick Castle.
Peter's wealth came from hardware manufacturing and inventing the "modern horse collar". His sons became prominent Ohio bankers and continued to run their father's business, Hayden Saddlery.
Today Catrine, a native of France who works for a marketing agency in the Bay area, has become a Thousand Islander, collecting archival information and vintage postcards of Fairyland Island.
“You wonder what a person from France is doing in the Thousand Islands,” she said with a laugh.
A quick glance from the porch of The Folly provides the answer. “Everything surrounding it is beautiful,” Catrine said. Like all good fairy tales, Fairyland Island is quietly true.
By Kim Lunman, email@example.com
Kim Lunman is a member of our TI Life team and lives in her hometown of Brockville. Kim is the recipient of a National Newspaper Award for feature writing and received a National Newspaper Award citation of merit for enterprise reporting. She received a Southam Fellowship for journalists at University of Toronto's Massey College. Kim was also was nominated for a Michener Award, the highest honor in Canada for public service journalism. Kim produced several articles for local magazines in the past two year. Her work is always popular.