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Alexandria Bay in Years Past

The date of the first settlement of Alexandria Bay, I am not aware of, but it must have been in the early 1800s when the great landholder Leray arrived in this territory to take over land. It is believed that he named it Alexandria after his son Alexander.

Nevertheless, a better location could not have been selected to start a settlement, as this seemingly is the most beautiful part of the St. Lawrence River — with its numerous islands and the depth of water sufficient for large ships to dock with the cargo they carried. In those early days much was done by boats. The building of the new town at first may have been slow, but in a short time homes and stores of all kinds were constructed in the village.

I believe the well constructed stone building by the Cornwall Brothers, John, Andrew, Harvey and Charles, was one of the oldest of business places to be erected on the waterfront. Their good dock for the boats was very important, and much in use by the public.

In my young days we did enjoy a trip to the Bay as there was much for us to see and this store was a big attraction for us. Our parents would bring in ten or twelve dozen eggs to use as part payment for the needs of the family. Although the price of eggs was very little — $.12 or $.15 a dozen, it all helped and the store liked having fresh eggs to sell.

With no cash register on the counter, it was amusing to see the money that had paid for your bill put into a little basket; and by pulling a cord it was sent to the cashier, who was in a little elevated booth, to take care of and then send back the change and a copy of the bill. At this time I recall Mary McDonald taking care of this. She later became Mrs. Frank Moore. Frank Lyman and George Cornwall were busy as clerks; and in the summer they had many customers, so more help was needed. Charles Cornwall would then help out.

On the riverfront of the store was a nice porch which was an ideal location to watch the arrival of big passenger boats, and to hear porters from the various hotels calling out the name of their respective hotel. As by now there had been two large hotels built. The Crossmon in 1848 and the Staples in 1873. My mother was sixteen years old when she attended the opening of the latter with her father. This was a big event for someone her age.

As years passed, more hotels were erected in the vil­lage. The Marsden, St. Lawrence, St. James and The Bay View House on Walton Street. As the tourists increased each year, these hotels were well filled. This was quite an accomplishment for the town, as more residents were given work and new homes were built. This in turn caused many kinds of new stores to be placed into operation and thus supplying the needs of the people.

Some of the stores were: Walter Fox, Cornwalls, later Frank Lyman's with Gladys Hunt, Beatrice Ellis and Frank Moore as clerks. Frank Giffins, Benone Thompson, Tinker Thompson; Lewis Dobbins Groceries, Sam Miller's Meat Market; Vrooman's Groceries, Nathaniel Leonard's Bakery and Fred Swan on Walton Street. Also there was Fred Batchelder's and Nellie Ayoup's.

There was also construction and contractors: Mr. Sim­mons, J.B. Reid and son, Ralph, who built the new Catholic church to replace the old one on Crossmon Street. Mechanical work was done by Mr. Cranker and his son at Mill Point. I had heard that he even made a gun once. The Kelletts, and Charles Garlock were in the little basket; and by pulling a cord it was sent to the cashier, who was in a little elevated booth, to take care of and then send back the change and a copy of the bill. At this time I recall Mary McDonald taking care of this. She later became Mrs. Frank Moore. Frank Lyman and George Cornwall were busy as clerks; and in the summer they had many customers, so more help was needed. Charles Cornwall would then help out.

On the riverfront of the store was a nice porch which was an ideal location to watch the arrival of big passenger boats, and to hear porters from the various hotels calling out the name of their respective hotel. As by now there had been two large hotels built. The Crossmon in 1848 and the Staples in 1873. My mother was sixteen years old when she attended the opening of the latter with her father. This was a big event for someone her age.

As years passed, more hotels were erected in the vil­lage. The Marsden, St. Lawrence, St. James and The Bay View House on Walton Street. As the tourists increased each year, these hotels were well filled. This was quite an accomplishment for the town, as more residents were given work and new homes were built. This in turn caused many kinds of new stores to be placed into operation and thus supplying the needs of the people.

Some of the stores were: Walter Fox, Cornwalls, later Frank Lyman's with Gladys Hunt, Beatrice Ellis and Frank Moore as clerks. Frank Giffins, Benone Thompson, Tinker Thompson; Lewis Dobbins Groceries, Sam Miller's Meat Market; Vrooman's Groceries, Nathaniel Leonard's Bakery and Fred Swan on Walton Street. Also there was Fred Batchelder's and Nellie Ayoup's.

There was also construction and contractors: Mr. Sim­mons, J.B. Reid and son, Ralph, who built the new Catholic church to replace the old one on Crossmon Street. Mechanical work was done by Mr. Cranker and his son at Mill Point. I had heard that he even made a gun once. The Kelletts, and Charles Garlock were in the hardware business which was later taken over by Sterling and Royal.

As time passed, a few restaurants were to be found throughout the village. We often went to Reuben White's on James Street for ice cream. Mrs. Sheppard and her daughter, Ethel Pearce, had a small restaurant. We used to keep them in a good supply of eggs.

Not far from the river was an open air market of fresh fruit and vegetables. I believe a Mr. Long from Oswego was the owner. It was a grand place from which to select various fruits as he had a very nice display.

The first bank was located near this fruit stand in the lower part of the Marsden hotel. The Cornwall Brothers were connected with this bank and Charles Putnam was a cashier there for a long time. As this bank was not adequate for long, a new building was constructed not far from the Cornwall store and it had office space on the second floor, which was soon occupied by Clinton Wiltse and Bert DeYoung law firm.

The other apartment was taken by Dr. Francis Gillick, a young dentist who had moved from his Theresa office where he had a good practice. I had some dental work done before he married Corinne Alton, a nurse.

She was a pupil of mine in the sixth grade at Antwerp School where I had been assigned to practice teaching in 1909. There were other dentists eventually — Dr. Bigness and Dr. Lantier.

There were also clothing stores that I remember well: Samuel Guerrieri and Jacob and Isaac Friedman. They used to travel the country over with a covered wagon and two horses, supplying folks with all kinds of wearing apparel.

A Milliner store was essential for the ladies as we had to have a hat for each outfit of clothing in order to keep up-to-date. Mrs. Lefever and Poppy Winslow had a shop on Church Street opposite the Hartman Block. These ladies could make hats for whatever you wanted. Summer flowers and ribbon, and in winter and fall, mostly velvet on felt trimmed with a nice ostrich plume and feathers. I remember having a small bird attached at the side of a green felt hat with wings spread as if it were ready to fly.

I do also remember Calvin Wilson and his small store on Walton Street. He and his family lived upstairs. His wife, Mary, and daughter Allie, were friends of mine. My mother grew up with Mary Merrill when they were young. So this was our place to visit whenever we came to the Bay. And they would come to us since Mr. Wilson had a horse to drive.

There was a blacksmith shop, photography, one barber shop, Haas and Houghton furniture. A good friend of my grandfather had a shoe cobbler shop and leather repair. While my grandfather delivered the butter and eggs and chatted with his friend, I was allowed to go and watch the lights on nearby Heart Island.

The island itself looked like a big heart in the sky. And the lights were so beautiful that my youthful eyes could not watch it long enough.

There are many craftsmen around these days, but I remember Chauncey Wheeler. He was a riverman who made beautiful duck decoys. His art was much in demand, especially in the fall of the year.

The spiritual needs of the residents of the Bay were not forgotten, as some of the earliest buildings were churches: St. Cyril's Church, Methodist, St. Lawrence Episcopal, Reformed Church of the Thousand Islands. Only in recent years was there a Baptist church erected on Bolton Avenue.

Fraternal orders also came into being. A Masonic temple was built on James Street. The lower part was used for stores and at one time the only drugstore was Cook and Marshall's. The upper part was used for the lodge room and the meetings for Masons and Eastern Star. In the early 1900s, the Odd Fellows were organized and built a hall for their newly organized lodge. It was given the name of Hopewell. My father was a charter member as he had already joined an Odd Fellows Lodge in Brier Hill. Their hall was on the second floor and the lower floors were rented to the town clerk and The Thousand Islands Sun early in the 1900s.

It was about this same time that the Odd Fellows built their new building. The upper floor for their hall and the lower and basement was to be rented. This helped pay some of the large debts they had acquired. The ladies organized a Rebekah Lodge and they all worked together to get the debt paid off. Mildred Pickert was Noble Grand when I joined. There were other members like Lydia Avery, Elsie Brown, Ethel Pearce, Clara Brennan, Mrs. Charles Spencer, and so many more that I wish I could mention.

In a short time I had two young sons added to our family, and for living in the country I didn't care to leave them at night. I had no regrets whatever for getting a demit card, for at this time I enjoyed Jay and Vernon so much that I preferred to be with them in their baby years.

The fraternal order, G.A.R., The Grand Army of The Republic, was made up of Civil War veterans. It is long gone now, but my grandfather was one of them and he faithfully attended all meetings and marched in all of the parades.

The Redwood American Legion named their post in honor of Ivan Suits and Richard Hunter, who both lost their lives in battle. Each post constructed a building to be used for their meeting and rented it out to the public when they were in need.

My husband was a town assessor for several years and after the field work of property was completed, each assessor had to have a copier. So I became my husband's copier. Other copiers were: Ruth Walton, Laura Simpson, Bertha House, Margaret Spies, Marion Comstock, and Frieda Spies. Other assessors at that time were Lewis Dobbins, Harold Simpson, Claude House and John Spies. Our hours were long and ardous from nine until four every day for one month. We copied the assessment roll for several years in the Legion Hall of Alexandria Bay.

Education has always been one of the important things in any town. I think the first school building may have been built on Rock Street. A new building was later erected on the corner of Rock and Church Street. Later, as the population grew and more space needed, the new school was built on Bolton Avenue. My father had moved to Alexandria Bay and was much interested in school affairs. Soon he was elected to the school board. After the building was completed, a new school principal was found, Del Lyman, and the only secretary for the school was my sister, Ivah (Bigley). She had a big job to do, but she managed to do it and well.

We had several good doctors in town: Dr. Campbell, Forsythe, Cole, Sampson, Gokey, Lukins, Louis Hartman, Robinson and a doctor with the name of July. One of the good surgeons was Dr. Mantle.

I recall when my sister, Edna, and I were about ten or twelve years old. My father, mother and sister, Arloine, were making a trip to Montreal down the rapids on an excursion trip, but the two of us had to stay in the Bay. We stayed with a family who had an apartment on the third floor of the Henry Hartman block. We had two flights of stairs to run up and down.

With no plumbing in the apartment we had to go down the stairs to reach the outside toilets. Depending on how many were in a family determined how many holes their toilet would have. We made many unnecessary trips to the backyard just so we could see all that was going on in the St. James kitchen. And we could almost see Mr. Ackerman's livery stable and the horses there.

Each morning we were at the front windows early to see the donkeys brought from the pasture to the Crossmon for the day for the tourists to use. At night they were taken back again. Another thing to do early in the morning was to take a container to the front door for the milk that Charles Kavanaugh delivered. After a few days of village life we were happy to go back to Goose Bay.

We traveled many times up and down the river in our motor boat, the Iva B. I was the pilot of the boat. It easily carried ten people. Several times I would attempt to get onto the deck to prevent a heavy bang on the dock. My father warned me that some day I would do that once too often and go overboard. I disobeyed him and did it my way. We were about to enter the boathouse after a trip to the Bay when a heavy wind carried the boat past the door. I slid off and got a quick bath in Goose Bay.

We always visited Seven Isles in late summer or fall. It was owned by General Bradley Winslow and his wife Poppy who was a cousin of my mother. We packed a lunch to have them join us in a picnic dinner while we ran from one island to the other — as they were all reached by a bridge. Since Poppy took care of the cottages and served meals all season, this was always a special treat for her.

[Editor’s note:  Chapter 4 will be posted shortly.]