Point Vivian, New York (Updated Text)
Yesterday and Today
By Richard W. Randall, President
Point Vivian Park Association, Inc.
History of Point Vivian began in 1877, when a group of investors from Evans Mills, NY where interested in purchasing land along the St. Lawrence River for the development of a small community of summer residences. During this period, the opening of the “Crossman Hotel in Alexandria Bay and a few years later, President Ulysses S. Grants visit to the area heightened national awareness to the 1000 islands. Also, increased accessibility to the area by steamships and railroads to Clayton, NY would explain why investors would find this area as a promising opportunity. Hotels and cottages were springing up along the river at a rapid rate with tourists flocking to the area.
The land the investors selected was called “Houghton Point”, which was owned by Captain W. H. Houghton. It is a peninsula situated on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River about two and one-half miles upriver of Alexandria Bay, and down river of the Thousand Island Park. The land had a long and promising section along the river which was optimal for a dock but was mostly rock and woods.
In October of 1877, the investors had a survey prepared of “Houghton Point”, by H.L. Scott Engineer. A map was created dividing the area into 40 lots plus reserving some land for public areas. Scott at about the same time made a couple of copies of the map on cloth. Today one cottage member has an original cloth version of the map. It can be surmised that one member of the investors was chosen to negotiate the deal for the land.
On November 24th, 1877, George Ivers and his wife Eunice, purchased the 7 and 57/100 acres of wooded land from William H. and Maranda Houghton for $500. Using the map prepared by H.L. Scott the lots were divided amongst the investors as follows with each lot being numbered 1-40.
George Ivers kept eight of the lots for his wife and daughter Belle and the remaining lots were sold to the other seven investors. The lots were sold in groups of four with George Ivers and J.J. Kinney claiming two groups of four each. J.J. Kinney paid $100 for his eight lots to Ivers and the rest paid $50 for four each. The original records of the transaction indicate the following individuals were the investors and which lots they received.
George Ivers and daughter Belle claimed 8 lots. (1, 14, 16, 21, 22, 26, 33, 36) $100
J.J. Kinney 8 lots. (7, 15, 23, 24, 30, 35, 39, 40) $100
Dr. L.E. Jones 4 lots (2, 3, 5, 8) $50
E. Hungerford 4 lots (4, 6, 19, 32) $50
Issac Wood 4 lots (9, 20, 28, 31) $50
Rezot Tozer 4 lots (11, 13, 18, 25) $50
O.Barnes 4 lots (10, 12, 17, 38) $50
Mr. Woods 4 lots (27, 29, 34, 37) $50
The 40 lots were divided with each lot having an undivided 1/40th, part of all roads, dock, avenues, parks and other public grounds identified on the map. The lots also included in the deeds the right of way for teams or otherwise over the private road from the public highway. The private road was a dirt road across the “Houghton” farm. It is notable that other communities that developed over the same period of time often had a strong religious connection with a‘church’ or site for religious gathering. There is no record of a place of worship being planned for Point Vivian. It seems the major focus was to purchase real estate to build summer cottages.
Unable to find documentation on the name change to Point Vivian, word of mouth, passed down to Louise Gaylord Cooke, Historian of Point Vivian, was that George Ivers daughter Belle renamed the land from “Houghton’s Point” to Point Vivian. It is said, Belle believed “Vivian” meaning “happiness or liveliness”, was a better description of the area. Louise said, Belle was reported to be a young lady about 38, on the night of July 16, 1884, when she and a young man went out for a rowboat ride. In those days skiffs or rowboats and passenger steamers dominated the river. The boat Belle was in was struck by the “Rothesay”, a passenger steamer. The lady’s body was not recovered until the next day. Her four lots were inherited by her father George Ivers. Soon after Mr. Ivers sold his cottage and went to Marlboro, Mass., to live.
On August 26, 1884 an addition to Point Vivian was made when C.W. Austin and others purchased 9 lots from Joseph Houghton on the northeast side. These lots are referred to as the annex.
In 1884, the investors made a decision to form a “Capital Stock Corporation” as the means to govern the Point Vivian community and the “common property”. The “common property” was exchanged for an equal membership share of the Corporation. The intent was to give the authority to manage the “common property”, without restriction to the Point Vivian Park Association Executive Board. It is important to note that the property owners chose to create a Capital Stock Corporation as opposed to any other form of organization. The Capital Stock Corporation was run by an association with officers and three trustees which were elected by the members. A copy of the articles of incorporation follow:
“The Association was formed for the purpose of erecting and maintaining summer residences at Point Vivian on the St. Lawrence River, Jefferson County, New York. The object of this Association shall be the maintaining and improvement of said Park, its dock, avenues, parks, roads, ice-houses, and the doing and maintaining all needful things necessary to promote the sanitary surroundings of said Park. The Capital Stock of this corporation shall consist of the equal and joint interest of each cottage and lot owner on said Park in all avenues, parks, public grounds and other property belonging to the Association as noted on the H.L. Scott map. The Point Vivian Park Association filed and received approval for the Corporation. The trustees and officers were responsible for all common areas of the Park, including the roads, ice-house, docks, etc.
In 1909 the cottage owners with property identified on the H.L. Scott map, signed a document that continues the requirement to be a member of the association and to share in association fees, to run concurrent with the original 40 lots regardless of current or future ownership of the lot.
By the early 1900’s Point Vivian had a diverse group of property owners, a well with plentiful water, dock house, boarding house, ice house, two stores, a Pavilion and a Post Office where the mail was received by ship daily during the season. It had one of the longest docks on the river and received daily service from the steamers, such as the “Thousand Islander”.
The Point was known for the magnificent 200 foot dock that allowed safe and easy docking facilities for the early steamers. In the late 1800’s people would stop what they were doing to go down to the Dock house area to see steamers arrive and drop off cottage owners with their baggage and look forward to mail delivery. Unfortunately, over the years valiant attempts to rebuild and save the dock from the ravages of the river failed and it fell into the river.
The location of Point Vivian became one of the most desirable on the river. From the dock house you have scenic views five miles up the river and two miles down the river. In fact, it is so desirable that in 1961 the Coast Guard gave serious consideration to the purchase of property here for their new station.
In 1915 it was possible to get a job at Point Vivian running the store and having dock privileges. The sum of opening the store and dock privileges was $25.00 for the season. The jobs included:
- Opening and running the store from June 20th until Sept. 10.
- Keep the grass mowed around the store and keep the store clean.
- Take the lines from all boats arriving at the dock.
- Deliver all baggage to the cottage (for a reasonable rate)
- To go to ice house and deliver ice to the cottage
- Open the ice house and dispense ice two and one-half hrs/day.
- Deliver the mail, arriving from boat (assuming it made it as it was tossed to the dock from the boat and did not end up in the river.)
- keep the lanterns filled and lit at night.
Today the cottages at Point Vivian are still different and unique. Some have the historic look and remind you of earlier times, while others have been modernized and reflect latter times. Just as in the earliest times at Point Vivian, some cottages were grand in scope and others were more modest, this remains to be true today. Cottages today reflect the changes that individual owners find important that allow them to enjoy the river more than just seasonally. Some of the cottages have been in the same family for a good part of the one hundred and thirty-four year history of the Point while other cottages have new owners creating their own history. Most cottages are occupied seasonally but a few cottage owners enjoy the year round beauty of the area. They all share the common goal of a place to stay while enjoying the beauty of the St. Lawrence River and the 1000 islands area.
Over the years, the needs of the cottage owners changed and so the ice house, boarding house, stores and Post Office all closed. The magnificent dock, even with many restorations, did not survive the constant pounding of the river. The roads have become wider but not necessarily better. There is only so much you can do when the land under Point Vivian is granite and has been for a lot longer than one hundred and thirty four years. The road to the highway has been paved and taken over by the county.
The Dock House and Pavilion look much the same today as they did in the 1800’s and early 1900’s respectively. Over the years they had been painted, new roofs applied and even some reconstruction. The lower level of the Dock House was used as a store, ticket office and even an apartment for the storekeeper. In 1975 a major repair was done and the lower level was opened but the top remains as it was. The Pavilion represents one of the many projects of the Point Vivian Women’s Improvement Club. It was built around 1914 with the downstairs having a store and a post office. The upstairs has always been called the pavilion. Many parties, suppers and meetings have been held here over the years and continue today. The Dock House and Pavilion, as seen from the river, are the most recognized landmarks of the Point. Today the Dock House is just as scenic as in 1900. You can still see long distances up and down the river but instead of skiffs and steamships we now have yachts, cruise ships and ocean liners traveling within feet from the Dock House.
Today the governance of Point Vivian remains a corporation with the members as share holders. The Point Vivian Park Association is governed by a President, Secretary/Treasurer and six Directors (Trustees). It was in 1972 that the number of trustees was changed from three to the current number six. The annual meeting still takes place in the Pavilion in August and has done so since 1915. The purpose of the association is the same today as it was in 1884.
During the past 134 years, the Association dealt with many of the same issues. A review of the early meeting minutes indicate that roads, lights, mowing, waste removal and collection of dues dominated the minutes in the early years and they continue to do so today.
By Richard W. Randall, President, Point Vivian Park Association, Inc.
Background material from Louise Gaylord Cooke