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In 1999, a young mother, spending the summer on Grenell with her four young children, decided she needed some adult interaction. So she made a pitcher of sangria, invited her neighbors to bring appetizers and Sangria Sunday was born.
The tradition is now twenty years strong. There is no master plan. Someone volunteers to host a Sangria Sunday, the news spreads via word of mouth and everyone shows up. Sangria Sundays are open to all island residents and their guests. The first few years, Sangria Sundays were mostly hosted on the north side of the island, but last summer, the south side Sangria Sundays out-numbered the north side.
As social as I like to think we are on Grenell, our social events can't compare to social events of island residents one hundred years ago. Islanders a hundred years ago were party animals. Here’s a peek at social events of the 1890s.
LET'S GO TO THE HOP
I always thought a hop was a dance party from the 1950s. Boy! Was I wrong! The newspapers of the 1890s are filled with articles announcing hops. There were regular hops (sometimes weekly, others nightly), dress hops (get your ball gown and formalwear ready) and I even found one announcement for a matinee hop. Look at these descriptions about hops from newspapers of the time:
“The initial society event of the year occurred at Thousand Island House’s Saturday night hop when over one hundred graceful dancers whiled away the evening hours to the beautiful music furnished by Schaub’s Thousand Island House orchestra.” (Daily on the St. Lawrence, July 20, 1891)
“Regular hop at the Thousand Island House this evening. To accord with the taste of the majority of the dancers the program is to consist mainly of waltzes and two-steps: however, by making a request of Mr. St. John some extra square dances may be added.” (Daily on the St. Lawrence, July 15, 1893)
“Last evening witnessed one of the most enjoyable events of the season at the Thousand Islands, on the occasion of the dress hop at the Westminster. From nine till twelve o’clock, the parlors and piazzas were filled with a gay throng of dancers and promenaders and in fact, the hop was attended by many of the swell society people of the Thousand Islands resorts. Music was furnished by Lewis’ orchestra of six pieces and despite the heat, men and maidens were attracted to the ballroom to dance to the perfect time two-steps and waltzes.” (Daily on the St. Lawrence, August 12, 1893)
Most of the time, the hops were organized by the hotel. Sometimes guest committees were formed to take charge of decorations, which often included lavish floral displays. Other times hops were put on by private individuals staying at the hotel. Most hotels on the River had their own orchestras who were retained for the entire summer season. The regular order of dances was usually listed as thus: Schottische, Waltz, Polka, Waltz Lanciere, Extra Waltz, Polka Extra, and Waltz.
A German, short for German Cotillion, is sort of a dance party with games. I liken the dance part to something akin to a square dance, where a caller—referred to as the Master of Ceremonies leads the dancers through various sequences called figures. After the dancing portion of the evening, the participants retired to the parlor for games, which by today’s standards seem to be more suited to the middle school set. Prizes were often given to the “winners,” but the losers would have to suffer “forfeits” which I can only describe as an adult version of truth or dare.
“The guests of Westminster Park gave the initial German of the season Wednesday night at the hotel. Fourteen couples participated and under the able leadership of Mr. McCreery executed a number of interesting and novel figures. The German began promptly at 8:30 and ended with the reverse basket figure at 10:30." (On the St. Lawrence, August 11, 1893)
Garden Parties were also popular social events at the island resorts at the end of the nineteenth century. Thousand Island House in Alexandria Bay and the Frontenac Hotel on Round Island were two hotels that hosted lavish garden parties.
“Ices will be served and the Thousand Island House grounds will be profusely decorated with Japanese lanterns. An elaborate display of fireworks will be made during the evening. (Daily on the St. Lawrence, July 27, 1891)
Nearly a thousand people attended this garden party at the Frontenac in 1891:
“Never in the history of Round Island as a summer resort has an event occurred there equal in beauty and grandeur to the one last evening – the first garden party of the season. The big Frontenac was resplendent with lights, and the variegated lights in rows from the ground to the tower and strung among the trees on the lawn in front of the hotel made a beautiful effect indeed. (Daily on the St. Lawrence, August 19, 1891)
“The first garden party of the season was held at the Thousand Island House Tuesday evening and was a most successful and brilliant affair. A large platform for dancing was erected in front of the hotel. It was tastily trimmed and lighted with numerous incandescent lights. The merry dancers presented a gay and picturesque scene. Prof. Steubgen’s excellent orchestra rendered some very choice music during the evening”. (On the St. Lawrence, July 20, 1894)
ANY EXCUSE FOR A PARTY
Parties weren’t exclusively for adults. Many hotels held parties for children as well. Nor were the parties always held at night. I found descriptions and announcements for Hammock parties, watermelon parties, a Terpsichorean party, polka dot parties, and spook parties.
A Thousand Island Park Hammock Party was described like this: “A Dozen hammocks were strung, and in each hammock a young lady seats herself. Numbers are drawn, and the young men of the party seat themselves in the hammock which their number calls for. Conversation on a certain subject, which is specified beforehand, is taken up and concluded at the ringing of a bell. The young men change hammocks until the entire round. A vote is taken, and the lady and gentlemen adjudged the best conversationalists are awarded prizes.” (Daily on the St. Lawrence, August 1, 1891)
Another popular daytime party was the Watermelon Party. The host procures the largest watermelon he can find. The guests guess as to how many seeds are in the watermelon. The melon is sliced, eaten, and the seeds counted.
The Crossman House in Alexandria Bay issued invitations for a Terpsichorean Party in 1893. Terpsichore was one of Greek mythology’s nine muses, the muse known for ruling over dance while she played her lyre. So . . . a dance party.
Polka Dot parties were also very popular in the 1890s. Polka dot fabric and clothing was all the rage. Participants were asked to dress in polka dot clothing.
Spook parties were also popular. Guests were invited “to come as spooks and dress in a manner to suggest that they have just arrived from the spirit world.” One Spook Party featured after-dinner speeches where all present had to relate a personal experience about the supernatural world.
DANCING RELUCTANTLY PERMITTED AT THE COLUMBIAN HOTEL AT THOUSAND ISLAND PARK
Quite a brouhaha erupted in 1892 when the Columbian hosted it’s very first Hop.
“For a week back it had been whispered about that a hop would be given at the Columbian sometime soon, but the residents of this good Methodist resort could not be convinced that such was the case. A regular ball was to occur within the sacred precincts of Thousand Island Park, that park which was a few years ago a Methodist camp meeting ground and whose by-laws positively forbid dancing, card playing, and other modern vices. Never before this year has there been any dancing at all at the Park.” “Many good old Methodists held up their hands in holy horror but the younger and more carnal-minded generations were delighted and said they could see nothing ‘naught; about it at all.” (Daily on the St. Lawrence, August 19, 1892)
So there you have it. Partying in the 1890s was a big deal! The hops, Germans and garden parties were lavish events for the social elite to see and be seen. By comparison, our Sangria Sundays are low key, sort of like old-fashioned Sunday dinners where we go to reconnect with our island family.
By Lynn E. McElfresh, Grenell Island