The War of 1812 was a 32-month conflict between the United States and Great Britain. At the conclusion of the war, the United States and Canada signed the Porter-Barclay Treaty to firmly establish a clear international boundary line between the two nations. The agreement that was signed also determined the national ownership of the more than eighteen hundred islands located in the St. Lawrence River. After the boundary was agreed upon and accepted, the islands that were on the American side of the boundary line were, in turn, assigned to Jefferson County of New York State.
After a reasonable length of time, Jefferson County sold nearly all of the islands to Colonel Elisha Camp and an investment firm. Twenty-three years later two merchants from Alexandria Bay, Andrew Cornwall and Azariah Walton, paid $3,000 for nearly all of the islands on the American side of the boundary. Their consideration in making this purchase was to harvest the abundant quantity of trees native to the islands to supply fuel for the steam ships on the river. Nearly every island was covered with numerous mature trees located right along the shipping channel. It was a well conceived plan to supply the ships with fire wood to fuel their boilers.
The new owners of the islands planned to systematically strip each island of its native timber for the ever-increasing number of steamships moving passengers and supplies along the River. Their investment in the islands worked just as they anticipated. After a few years of stripping trees from the islands, the partners were ready to dispose of the barren islands that were no longer of any value to them. The next phase of their operation was to prepare a way to sell the stripped islands.
In order to motivate interest in these barren islands, Walton realized it would be necessary to make island ownership attractive. He needed to encourage an influential person to acquire one of the islands and hope that this might stimulate others to follow suit. Walton needed to find such a person and make it attractive to build a summer cottage on one of his barren islands, in hopes that others might follow. Getting the right person to get his plan in motion was the key to selling the islands.
Reverend George Rockwell, Pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church in Alexandria Bay was an important community leader. Rockwell was also a civil engineer who helped the village by laying out the property lines for Alexandria Bay that included a number of nearby islands as part of the village tax base. He was well respected, influential and a good choice to help Walton create interest in the islands.
Walton proposed a creative offer that he thought might be attractive to Reverend Rockwell. Walton decided to offer nearby Whortleberry Island (now known as Cherry Island) to Reverend Rockwell, for the sum of just one dollar, if he agreed to build a suitable summer cottage on the island within the following twelve months. Rockwell listened carefully to what he needed to do to acquire the island and decided to accept Walton's unusual offer.
Rockwell examined the island carefully and selected a suitable elevated site that he felt would be an ideal location for a summer cottage. The site overlooked the deep water shipping channel and faced Wellesley Island. Then he went to work designing a quaint two and a half story cottage that would face the channel. His boat slip would be located on the calm water side of the island facing mainland. Work on the new structure began in the early fall of 1854 and the cottage was completed by the following spring, well within Walton's required deadline. Rockwell built a splendid summer cottage on a seven acre island that was a free gift. In time the name of the island would be changed to Cherry Island and it would become one of the choice locations on the River. His attractive summer cottage, named Stuyvesant Lodge, was the very first island cottage constructed on an American Island. Walton's creative plan worked as he hoped it would. Interest in buying Walton's islands grew steadily and the building of island cottages became a popular trend on the river.
Rockwell enjoyed his Stuyvesant Lodge for several summers. Wisely, he also sub-divided the remainder of the island into additional building lots. The lots were sold and resold many times. Upon Reverend Rockwell's death, his remaining island property as well as Stuyvesant Lodge, were assigned to his daughter, Mrs. Hannah Townsend.
Today’s Stuyvesant Lodge
In 1917 the Garlock Brothers Construction built a magnificent summer home on the parcel of land at the head of Cherry Island. In addition they constructed a large boathouse with a superb second floor ballroom. Recently the boathouse was totally rebuilt and transformed into a spectacular summer home right over the water. Forty years ago, the former site of Stuyvesant Lodge had a new cottage constructed on the old foundation. On the channel side of the island is the magnificent, Casa Blanca, one of the most photographed homes on the River. At the foot of the island facing Alexandria Bay is the magnificent 57-room summer home, Ingleside, built for Nathan Strauss, the principal owner of Macy's Department Store in Manhattan. Today, these five summer homes share the beautiful seven acre island.
It has never been determined if Stuyvesant Lodge was razed or if it was lost to a fire. Sarah and James Easton owned Stuyvesant Lodge from 1886 to 1912 when it was sold to Nathan Strauss, Jr. In 1940 the property was sold and the owner later gave the property to the island's caretaker.
By Anthony Mollica
Anthony Mollica first wrote professionally in his teaching career in communications. Writing for pleasure evolved from his activities with the Antique and Classic Boat Society and the Antique Boat Museum as well as his life-long interest in the history of boat building in America. He has published articles in various marine periodicals including Classic Boating, ACBS Rudder, Gar Wood News, The Antique Boat Museum Gazette Annual, Motor Boating, Lakeland Boating and The Chris-Craft Brass Bell Quarterly. He is also the author of twelve published books, many of which are available in local book stores. In September 2010, TI Life reviewed Building Chris-Craft: Inside the Factories, a book he wrote with Chris Smith, a member of the founding family.
(See Anthony Mollica on our Publications page)