Back in 2007, Paul Malo announced in TI Life that Rexford Ennis was writing a biography of Charles G. Emery, who was one of the greatest promoters of the Thousand Islands at the beginning of the twentieth century. Paul provided a photograph of Calumet Castle, which he tinted for effect, and he also suggested that Rex would appreciate readers’ contributions of information, anecdotes, and old photographs that could enhance his project.
Now three years later the book has been self-published and is for sale in local book stores.
Let me begin by explaining that the book is exactly what I had hoped it would be. There is so much information that has never been published before and many important details.
Rex’s interest with Charles G. Emery began when Rex went with his father to Calumet Island as a young boy. That visit sparked a lifelong fascination with the man and the area. Rex describes the many questions that needed answering:
“Who was Charles G. Emery? Why did his descendants not take care of the castle? How did he make his money? How much money did he have?... What remains of Emery’s Hotel Frontenac? What kind of place was the Frontenac? Who were the guests? Were there any famous people?”
He goes on to say, “this book answers all these and just about any other question you can come up with about Emery, Calumet, or the New Frontenac Hotel.”
It has taken several decades to complete this quest, but Rex Ennis has pieced together the history from newspaper clippings, letters and books, as well as conducting dozens of interviews. He particularly thanks the staffs of the New York Public Library, the Rare Books, Manuscripts and Special collections at Duke University, as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick Collection, and the Oil and Gas Society in California. He also gives special recognition for assistance from the Antique Boat Museum and the Thousand Islands Museum in Clayton.
Much of what Rex found to answer his questions is new information. I, like most local historians, perpetuated the scant knowledge we had of Charles Emery. We wrote with confidence that Emery made his money from the Goodman Tobacco Company and as the treasurer of the American Tobacco Company. Rex informs his readers that Emery was treasurer when James Buchanan Duke organized the tobacco monopoly in 1889 and formed the American Tobacco Company. However, Emery only held that position for a few months. He did profit from the amalgamation of the tobacco empire, but he also went on to amass additional wealth promoting more than nine different areas of business including banking and insurance, mining, farming, shipping, manufacturing cars, air brakes and even making fine watch cases. He also was one of the largest land holders in the region and built a castle of his own on Calumet Island.
Emery was a founding director of the Thousand Islands Transit Company, whose boats provided transportation among the islands to cottages and hotels. In 1887 he invested in the St. Lawrence River Skiff, Canoe and Steam Launch Co. He also joined with his cousins to manage John S. Emery Co., one of the largest shipping firms in Boston, which had more than 130 vessels sailing to foreign lands.
Another company, Abendroth & Root Manufacturing Company of Newburgh, New York, manufactured steam boilers and pipes. In 1906 the company began building the Frontenac automobile. A year later the company sold one hundred cars for $3,500 each.
Each chapter describing these business concerns provides an insight into the man, his wealth and the business pressures of the day. Defending patents in the courts, working with unions and the economic downturns of the early 20th century are activities described in detail.
However, some of the most interesting chapters deal with the New Frontenac Hotel built on Round Island. The hotel was originally part of the Round Island Association and served as a meeting house. In 1889 it was purchased and opened as the Hotel Frontenac and a decade later Charles Emery purchased the hotel and adopted the logo: “Toujours Jeune” which translates to “Forever Young”.
Rex provides an incredible number of research nuggets that are considered gold for those researching the Thousand Islands and what we now describe as our Golden Age. Every aspect of hotel life on the River is described in chapters from “Construction” to the “Daily activities at the New Frontenac” and “Balls, Dinner, Theatricals, Music Fetes and Miscellaneous”. There are descriptions of the “Doctors”, “Policemen”, the “Orchestra”, the “Laundry” and the “Drug Store”. The list is long and ends with the “Fire” and “the Golden Age Ends”.
Perhaps a fitting way to end this review is to quote Rex. At the conclusion of the chapter describing Emery’s home on Calumet Island entitled: “An Island, a Castle and a Dream” is the following:
“The rubble of the once beautiful stone house remains on Calumet, the terrace with the stone stairway is there to testify to a different time and the dream of Charles Goodwin Emery. His dream that his family would have a place to come and enjoy each summer in the Thousand Islands ended. But one fact remains: Charles Goodwin Emery loved the Thousand islands! He must be laughing about one thing, his beloved stone house and Calumet Island which sold for $11,500 in 1950, was in 2008 assessed for $1,112,600 without a castle, The “Golden Age” is back!”
By Susan W. Smith firstname.lastname@example.org