By Mina Herrick King © 1990. Published by Jay A. King, Cincinnati, Ohio
[Editor’s Notes: a) Additional photographs and maps have been added by the Editor of Thousand Islands Life. These are identified in each caption. b) Names of ships and/or have been placed in italics. (See Thanks for “ Things I Remember”, TI Life March 2010)
Things I Remember: Chapter 2 – Remembering the River
I learned the value and the beauty of the St. Lawrence River as I was growing up. It became a big part of my life. I recall an uncle saying that no other rivers compared to his home river. And I found that to be true as I traveled along the Mississippi, the Rappahannock and James in Virginia, the Susquehanna, Missisquoi in Vermont, and Schuylkill in Pennsylvania. They were all muddy and not as clear and clean as our St. Lawrence.
We kept our two skiffs in the boathouse when we were not fishing or visiting other islands. Sometimes we went to Number Nine Island or to the Wagners at Dingman Point where they owned and operated a farm.
A point of land on the Scriba farm owned by George Kring, was bought by the State of New York for public picnics. We often took the skiffs there and enjoyed many picnics. We often took the skiffs there and enjoyed many meals with friends. There was a new pavilion with a log table, fireplace to cook the meals, restrooms and other picnic tables scattered throughout the woods. There was also a large dock on the deep end of the river side for the larger boats when they arrived.
The Holmes Brothers in Redwood stopped there one time with their boat on their trip to Ogdensburg to pick up about twenty-five passengers who were anxious to see the Barnum and Bailey Circus which was to be in town that day. Several from the Bay were also on the boat, among them were Mrs. Frank Lyman with her two sons, John and Gould.
The trip was good but all were disappointed as the big circus tent could not be set to hold. No one saw the circus that day, but did see the big parade.
Many people benefited from the convenience of the big boat as it would have otherwise been a much longer trip by horse and buggy.
We had two very good doctors to care for the sick. Dr. Grant Madill was in the Ogdensburg and Dr. Cornell in Brockville. Since Dr. Cornell’s office was near the wharf it was a short walk to his office. My grandfather had a bad hand and went often to see him. I went with him a few times as he didn’t care to go alone. He would drive to the Day family’s farm, leave his horse, put up a flag on a pole and the boat would come into their dock and we were on our way to see his doctor. We usually ate at one of the hotels first.
The Holmes brothers, Wallace and Gilbert, were busy with Riverside and the Island Belle which carried a lot of freight as well as passengers on weekdays. There was also a Sunday excursion for those who enjoyed boating on that day. We often went on Sunday afternoon for a trip around the island. Only fifty cents was charged for most of the afternoon on the Island Belle. The Riverside made a trip down river to Morrisburg to see the start of the rapids.
In the very early years of the River, many important men came, admired the river; and built their summer homes and hotels here. Colonel O.J. Staples constructed the Thousand Islands House in 1873 on a beautiful spot on the river where his guests could enjoy the view and the many boats that passed each day. The hotel boasted five floors to house 700 guests, with parlor suites, telegraph office, barber shop, reception and reading rooms, a barroom, fifty bathrooms, a public dining room, long hallways leading to the veranda. The hotel was greatly illuminated and was nice to see from the river. At the rear of the hotel was an old tree covered with wire to make a home for several monkeys. This was a very popular tourist place. But in 1937 it was razed and was soon to be replaced by the E.J. Noble Hospital.
Another hotel, the Crossmon, was founded in 1848 by Charles Crossmon. It was also very popular, as Alexandria By eventually became widely known as a tourist resort. William beadle was in charge of the bake shop. John Polini of New York City was in charge of the kitchens. W.P. Gorham was in charge of the dining room as head waiter. The Rocky Mountain Burros were a side attraction for the children of the hotel guests. However it was demolished in 1962.
I remember there being many beautiful flower arrangements on many of the islands where I was a child. But times seem to change many things on the river. But it cannot change the river itself. I hope it may rush on in its beauty forever.
George C. Boldt was another important man who came to the river with much love in his heart for his wife. He began building the castle what remains famous to this day for his wife. After the event of her death, he called a stop to the construction. To this day much of the castle remains in a state of repair. This castle will always be an important part of my life as some of the stones from my father’s farm were scowed there and are a permanent part of the construction. As a child I enjoyed watching the heart shaped light beaming high above the castle.
When the river froze over in the winter months, we had to move our boathouse across the ice to a better location which was onto the shore land of the Springers. The floor was removed so the boat could rest in the water. One spring we built an addition onto the boathouse to accommodate three people for sleeping. A kitchen and a wood stove for cooking was also added. We thought we were in paradise.
It wasn’t long before other families brought their boats and made grand use of the beautiful river. We found all of the most inviting places to have picnic dinners. Pitch Pine Point on Grenadier Island was our favorite as it had a good sand beach in a small bay where we could wade in the water. I remember the Buelle family while there. As we ate and talked, we learned of the hardship they had with their milk. The cheese factory was at Brockport ]Rockport[) and would not take their milk on Saturday or Sunday. So the family had to make their own cream and butter every weekend in order to have it fresh.
We took our little motor boat to Seven Isles which was owned by General Bradley Winslow. His wife was a cousin of my mother’s. It was nice to go over the bridges connecting the Isles. We also had picnics at Mary’s Island State Park which could only be reached by boat as well.
Up until 1921 the Kring Point State Park was reached only by boat. But this was changed and a road was made from the main highway to the park. More roads were built through the park and more bathhouses, restrooms, wells drilled, cottages for campers to use. A Large concession building was also constructed. A carekeeper’s home and many more commodities were provided to make it one of the most popular parks in this region.
Many unions, church picnics and other big events were held there. The first pavilion is now gone and many nice spots for a family to enjoy have been saved for campers to use.
My uncle, Cheesman Herrick, purchased an island which was joined to Cedar Island by a foot bridge, we often made a boat trip to visit him, and always wondered at the vastness of Dark Island as we passed through that area and saw the tunnel from its dock that found its way to the main building. This island is now owned by a religious organization, and services are held each Sunday there during the summer months.
To me the Thousand Islands are more beautiful in the Clayton and Alexandria Bay areas. Castle Rest was once owned by George M. Pullman, of the Pullman palace care fame. He once held a party there for General U.S. Grant and General Sherman. My mother, although she was only sixteen years old, and her father attended this big event. They passed through the reception line and shook hands with the honored guests which include Grant’s son and Brigadier General Horace Porter. President Grant carried on a conversation with my mother, asker her name and eventually introducing her to his son, Fred.
I must not forget one of the best hotels on the river, the Marsden. It contained the first bank in the area. And it was owned by the Cornwall Brothers: Andrew, Charles, John and Harvey. They also had the stone store by the river dock where all of the big steamships landed. This was a big attraction. We were allowed to be on the porch of the store so we could see the big boats come in unload their passengers. The Kingston and Toronto came each day. The hotel porters, mostly negroes, assisted the tourists with their baggage to the hotel of their choice.
The annual Grange Day was held each year at Thousand Island Park, usually in late July or August. We drove to Alexandria Bay with horse and buggy and then stabled the horse and took a boat to the park. This one time we went on the Castinet because of the great number of people to transport. There were several boats always at the dock, ready to take people to and from the park. Everyone took a picnic lunch and was prepared to stay the whole day in the tabernacle. The annual Grange Day meeting sere very educational for everyone interested agriculture. There were speakers from far away who gave very interesting speeches. We learned a lot from them. I remember when there were 30 active granges in Jefferson County.
Also every year there was a water carnival at Alexandria Bay. There were sports, boat races and races on the street and alongside the water. All kinds of contest were run on the water.
One contest consisted of attempting to walk along a well greased long pole that was suspended over the water to recover a tag fastened at the end. This stunt was tried mostly to young men in bathing suits and bare footed. They tried to walk to the end and get the tag which would give them $5.00 or $10.00. This would to on all day with many trying, but failing.
One Sunday afternoon a group of us from Goose Bay went by horse and buggy to the St. James Hotel for dinner. We tied our buggies at Adolpas Akerman’s barn and then went to the dock to board the St. Lawrence for a moonlight rip. The high powered searchlight on the boat allowed us to see all of the beauty of the islands. We all seemed to have a good time growing up on the river. We took many trips on the various boats that were so popular then, and are now gone. There was the Castinet, American; and in later years, the Rapids Prince and the beautiful Quebec for trips farther up the River.
My husband and I made the trip down the rapids to Montreal twice. One in 913 and the last time in 1947. The first trip being on our honeymoon and the second to celebrate our happy married life together for thirty-four years. In 1947, while in Quebec, we obtained a guide to show us the most important parts of new and old Quebec and the Plains of Abraham. We then boarded the boat again and left the St. Lawrence River and went up the Saguenay, stopping at Murray Bay and Tadoussac, and old Indian town, then to Bagotville, Quebec for overnight.
We were on this trip for three days and it was beautiful, but was so different from our St. Lawrence. There were rocks on each side of the river and scarcely a tree or a blade of grass to be seen. The boat itself was like a modern hotel with all the conveniences as well as entertainment at night. We were very much pleased to have taken two trips on the same boat. Rapids Prince, as it was the very next year that it caught fire and burned.
The Thousand Islands Bridge was dedicated on August of 1938. My father had watched its progress from the very beginning and was able to go almost daily to see how things were going. But he passed away in May of that same year before the bridge was completed. We all went to the dedication, as this would have been his wish. This was a bid gay for us as we then knew that we could reach our neighbors more easily and hoped that our friendship would always be a good one.
We became interested in another project on the river and that was the building of dams to do away with the rapids so the big ships could navigate all the way to the Great Lakes and northern ports. Large cargoes of a variety of goods from all freight countries now had access to these ports. This was a formidable task and many jobs were open to help build the dams and locks.
A new railroad was built to get the material for the construction to the site. Milo King, Albert’s brother, was a retired railroad engineer for this temporary railroad. We often went down to see him as well as to view the progress of his new bridge. We also went over to Canada to watch houses being moved, and also a cemetery, in order to clear the way for the seaway.
We made many trips to the seaway with guests who stayed in our home. Each time we went we saw something new and different. Things were changing. The pleasure boats became fewer as the big touring boats became popular. The larger boats – Kingston, Toronto and Rochester, were the only transportation the tourists once had to get to the islands. The Rapids Prince changed in that it became both a passenger and ferry boat to get the passengers back and forth to Canada and the Bay.
I say flow on our river ever grand and serene,
With shores beautiful, rugged, rocks with grass so green.
May it never cease or be stopped on its course to the sea,
Bringing harmony to nations and peace to keep us free.
The Thousand Islands Bridge and Dedication Day
It must have been around 1935 when the United States and Canada decided to discuss the building of a bridge across the river to help the people of both countries become better acquainted and friendlier. After the location was discussed it was agreed that the best and nearest place was at Collins Landing, which is about three miles from Alexandria Bay. The bridge and to reach from Collins Landing to Wellesley Island, then connect with the highway via a smaller bridge, this joining the United States with Canada. Other brides, including suspension bridges, also had to be constructed. In total, a series of five bridges were built.
The Thousand Islands Bridge is a suspension bridge crossing the channel. It is 4500 feet long, 800 feet of which is over the land. It has 350 feet of side spans flanked by 1500 feet of viaduct approaches. The bridge was built 150 feet above the river so that the navigation of the river could increase and large ships would be able to pass under the bridge without difficulty.
On August 18, 1938, all had been completed and was ready for the dedication. It would be a “celebration of 100 years of peace and good will between the two nations – 1838-1938.” The dedication program was held at the highway bridge. I was able to attend this impressive ceremony, along with my husband, my mother and our four children: Marion, Harry, Jay and Vernon. Two of the boys were only seven and five years old at the time, but they do remember. A very large crowd attended from both countries making it difficult to get close enough to hear everything. Luckily, we were able to get there early enough to enjoy most of it. We had the honor of seeing our own president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, along with the other notable people who had a part in this ceremony.
Russell Wright was in charge as chairman for Canada. The ceremony began at three o’clock with a Brockville Band playing “God Save the King.” There was an invocation by the Reverend John Plunkett, a pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Watertown; an address by The Honorable Herbert H. Lehman, Governor of the State of New York and an address by the Honorable Albert Matthews Lieutenant Governor of Canada.
Following this, the Right Honorable Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada, spoke. And the last address was given by our President Roosevelt who was introduced by U.S. Senator Robert Wagner. Two children, one from Canada and one from the U.S. had the privilege of cutting the ribbon to open the new bridge. A benediction was given by the Reverend John Lyons, a bishop from Canada. And to conclude the ceremonies the Fifth Artillery Band of The US Army played, “The Star Spangled Banner.”
At the nearby yacht club, a dinner was prepared for the bridge officials and invited guest. Prime Minister King was the only one who could attend of the noted men. The club gave him a twenty-one gun salute. The mangers of the yacht club noted that his was the first time that anyone had been greeted by the club in this manner. The Prime Minster changed from his business suit into a more formal attire for an enjoyable evening of dining and dancing. In the ballroom was an impressive replica of the Thousand Islands Bridge.
By Mina Herrick King © 1990 Jay A. King, Cincinnati, Ohio