Last month we told of the influence of Rev. Dr. Philemon H. Fowler, minister of the Utica Presbyterian Church, in recruiting families to settle in Westminster Park. It was through his influence that the Northrup’s and the Carpenter’s came to Westminster. This month we see Reverend Dr. Fowler inspiring another family of his congregation, the family of Victor Bell Stewart of Utica, to invest in the Park as well.
As early as 1877, there is evidence of a business arrangement between Rev. Dr. Fowler and Mr. Orville Chester Brown of Adams, New York. Mr. Brown visited Westminster properties and represented Reverend Fowler at a meeting of the Westminster Park Trustees in early May. The Trustees referred to Brown as the “General Agent of the Board of Directors”. In this capacity, Brown organized a train excursion from Utica to the 1000 Islands and Westminster Park on the Utica and Black River Railroad.
Among the Presbyterian passengers were V. B. Stewart and one of his daughters, along with thirty-five other Uticans. Rail cars were added to the train at Carthage to accommodate passengers from Watertown, Lowville, Carthage and other points in the North Country. The party, which then numbered 175, had an opportunity to hike the land, have an afternoon sail, and ferry over to Alexandria Bay for supper and a meeting with the Trustees. All were enthralled, but this was not Stewart’s introduction to the Park. More likely, he was there to join Brown in promotion of the community.
V. B. Stewart had participated in the founding of the Park from the earliest days. He was initially an “invited guest” at Board meetings. Within a short time, he became a member of the Board of Trustees, later serving as 1st Vice President for many decades. In 1878 Stewart worked with Trustee R. C. Collis of Theresa to organize the auction of the first sale of property lots. In the initial offering Mr. Stewart purchased Lot 644. Later he also purchased the western half of lot 641.
By the Summer of 1879, the firm of Binninger and Strainge of Dexter, NY had built a cottage for the Stewart family for the sum of $600. The cottage featured porches on the front and at the sides and a four-story tower. This style of cottage was a popular design in the early construction of Westminster Park. The Northrup’s cottage on Lot 769 was a twin of Stewart’s.
The Stewart’s first season in their new cottage was not without peril. In 1879 there is a report of an incident involving the steam yacht “C. R. Turner”. The yacht was carrying a party of excursionists from Westminster Park, which included two of the Stewart daughters, as well as six others. The ship ran up on a shoal near Taylor’s landing about three miles above the Bay. The passengers had to be rescued by the steamer, the “J. F. Maynard”. After returning the group to Westminster, the “J. F. Maynard” went back to the scene of the accident to free the C. R. Turner from the shoal. A dramatic afternoon for two young women who were new to the River!
In 1879 V. B. Stewart served as a member of the Building Committee of Westminster making decisions on the lease of the Hotel to R. F. Steele of Adams, the enlargement of the Hotel (adding sixty rooms), plans for a ferry house and a barn, and the “purchase of two islands just north of the Chapel in Canada waters.” In 1881, R. F. Steele concluded his arrangement as Hotel proprietor and sold his interest to the Harrington Brothers of Utica. The Harrington Brothers operated Yankee Grocery Store in a Utica building owned by V. B. Stewart. And so it went through the years. Stewart’s influence on the Westminster community was unmistakable.
Who was Victor B. Stewart? Stewart was born into a modest family on Potato Hill near Boonville. His family moved into Central New York where he was educated in public schools and developed the qualities that brought him success in life. As an adult, Stewart became President of Carlton Furnace Company, manufacturer of hot air furnaces, which later merged into International Heater Company, with a profit to Stewart. He reinvested his money in real estate and insurance companies. Stewart participated in local government as a Republican Alderman in Utica, was President of the Utica Chamber of Commerce, active in Utica Mechanics Association, and was a member of the Utica Lodge of Masons, as well as the Odd Fellows. Stewart was a member of the Westminster Presbyterian Church and a Superintendent of the Sunday School. One account described him as the most prominent citizen in Utica.
In 1856 Stewart married Martha Stewart of Oneida, New York. Martha was a charitable woman and held a position on the Board of Managers of the Faxton Hospital. She was a member of the Westminster Church and the New Century Club.
The Stewart’s had three daughters: Hattie, Belle, and Agnes. The family enjoyed many summers in the Westminster Park community. As the young women became adults, Hattie married J. L. Aldridge of Little Falls, NY. Belle married George H. Gere of Grand Rapids, Michigan; Agnes married Professor W. P. Shepard of Hamilton College, Clinton, NY.
Westminster connections ran throughout their lives. Belle unfortunately died at age 35, leaving a young daughter, Doris. When Doris married in 1914, the wedding was held in the home of her grandfather, V. B. Stewart, and the minister who officiated was Reverend Charles Frederick Goss of Cincinnati, Ohio, another Westminster-ite.
When Victor Bell Stewart died in 1916, many area newspapers carried the news. One quote published in several papers summed up his relationship to Westminster: “Mr. Stewart was a member and director in the Westminster Park Association from its organization in 1873, and built a cottage on the park. He had occupied it some portion of the summer every year since. He loved the St. Lawrence River and was to be found there every summer.”
During Stewart’s lifetime, his family enjoyed many happy outings to the 1000 Islands. One daughter in particular heard that well-known “call of the River”. That daughter was Agnes. When it came time to marry, Agnes chose an esteemed academic who likewise loved the river. In September of 1899, the Stewart’s announced the engagement of Agnes to Professor William Pierce Shepard of Hamilton College, Clinton, NY. (Side note: Rev. Dr. Fowler had been a Trustee of Hamilton for twenty-five years.) The couple were married in June of 1901.
William P. Shepard had graduated from Hamilton College in 1892 with high honors. He then studied in Heidelberg, Germany and received a PhD. multa cum laude in languages. Shepard returned to Hamilton College and took a position on the faculty as a professor of French, Italian, and Romance Philology with a specialty in the study of Provençal languages. His students deeply respected him, and his obituary noted his influence on American diplomat and jurist Philip Jessup, literary critic and writer Alexander Woollcott, and most especially, American poet and critic Ezra Pound. Ezra Pound dedicated his “Spirit of Romance” to Shepard. As his career progressed, Shepard became Chair of the Language Department at Hamilton College.
Agnes was prominent in Clinton and Utica social and civic activities. She continued her family tradition of being an active member of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Utica. She followed in her mother’s footsteps as a member of the New Century Club in Utica and served on the board of managers of the Faxton Hospital. She enjoyed social activities in the Clinton Monday Club and the Whist Club.
When Victor B. Stewart died in 1916, he left the cottage to Agnes and William Shepard. Although Agnes and William led active lives and traveled regularly to Europe on business, they continued to vacation at Westminster Park. Social columns show that the Shepard’s entertained Utica guests regularly in their cottage until illness and death prevented travel. The cottage passed out of the Stewart/Shepard family in the late 1930’s.
Thanks to Tom French for sharing his stereo view of the Stewart Cottage from his collection. Tom is the author of River Views; A History of the Thousand Islands in 3-D, a wonderful resource which can be purchased at the Antique Boat Museum and Ringer's in Clayton, the Cornwall Brothers Store Museum and Bay House Artisans in Alexandria Bay. People can also purchase directly from Mr. French at riverviews3d.com.
Linda Lewis Twichell, a fifty-six-year resident of Westminster Park, has collected historical information on the Westminster community since the 1970’s. Presently, her research focuses on the lives of the people who settled here in the last quarter of the 19th century, and the cottages they built. A book of Westminster Park, its people, and their stories is in the works. Be sure to check out Linda’s other historical research published in previous issues of TI Life.
Next month we will explore the participation of these Westminster families in the early days of the Angler’s Association.