As I sit bundled up in my apartment waiting for the bomb cyclone storm to hit Northern New York, I’m thinking about all the awesome things I experienced in 2017, which is odd to say since 2017 seemed overall craptastic. Last year I started a new and interesting job as a reservist with FEMA. So basically, FEMA sends me and other reservists wherever we may be needed after a disaster hits the country. Since June, I’ve been living in Sacramento, California where I’ve had many opportunities to see much of what the State has to offer and watch in horror as California has been in an almost constant state-of-emergency because of the devastating wild fires. Thankfully, Sacramento has not been in the way of the fires but it still has been a shock to see and read the daily news about the fires while I’ve been in California.
In comparison, since living almost my entire life in Northern New York I’ve never had to really think about wild fires or be worried about them. We get the occasionally, seasonal flooding, which happened this past May and it was worst than normal; and our winters can be brutal. Since arriving home on December 22nd for a holiday vacation, the warmest it’s been was 26 degrees Fahrenheit….for comparison purposes, water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
As you can imagine, with the wild fires and flooding that California has faced in the past year, work has been super busy and stressful, meaning I haven’t been able to spend as much time as I would like on this history, adventure, and preservation blog. While working and living in California has been very different than what I’m use to in New York, I was able to visit a lot of amazing places that I plan on sharing on this blog in the new year- most of those places have been away from the wild fires.
Right now though, I want to share the one awesome consulting project I had time for, which was a Part 1 of the Historic Preservation Certificate Application for the Wellesley Hotel located in the community of Thousand Island Park.
Over the summer on my first break home from California, I spent two days in the Park, researching and photographing the Wellesley Hotel, as well as visiting old friends. Side Note: I’ve been working on odd projects in Thousand Island Park since I interned there during the summer of 2013.
To complete a Historic Preservation Certificate Application, it’s very much like a National Register nomination: basic information on the property is needed, as well as a detailed building description and a statement of significance (AKA: Why #ThisPlaceMatters). If a property is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it makes the job a little bit easier. In the case of the Wellesley Hotel, the property is part of the Thousand Island Park Historic District, which means the documentation for the application has to show that the individual property contributes (historically, thematically, etc.) to the historic district. Long story short, the Wellesley Hotel does contribute to the historic district of the community. I’d like to even push it so far as to say the entire Thousand Islands region.
The following are some snippets of the writing I did for the application for the Wellesley Hotel as well as photographs I’ve taken of the property over the years.
Description of Property
The Wellesley Hotel, in the community of Thousand Island Park, in the township of Orleans, Jefferson County, New York, is a highly intact 3 ½ story wooden frame structure with neoclassical elements, constructed in 1903 as an annex to the Columbian Hotel. There is a small 1-story addition located within the crook of the “L” shaped plan; this addition appears to be original to the property. The hotel occupies a central location at the corner of Rainbow Street and St. Lawrence Avenue within the historic community of Thousand Island Park; listed in the National Register of Historic Places 1982. The most prominent feature of the Wellesley Hotel is its two-story wrap-around veranda that extends from the south facade to the entirety of the east facade. The veranda on the first floor has Tuscan columns that support the roofed second story porch that extends into a balcony on the east facade. The interior of the Wellesley Hotel follows the original floor plans with the first and second floors currently in use. Elements seen with the historic hotel include pressed metal ceilings, hard wood floors, a brick fireplace on the first floor, a central staircase that leads to all floors including the attic and basement, and inter-connected rooms on the second and third floors. Since its construction, the Wellesley Hotel’s exterior has had some changes. The east facade porch and balcony were removed sometime from 1930’s-1980’s; it has been restored since then. There has also been the addition of fire escapes, which are currently in the north and west facades of the building. Other exterior changes include a wheel chair ramp that has been added to the north facade, along with a loading dock that leads into the one-story addition in the back. The interior has remained virtually untouched. The first and second floors have been restored and are currently used as a restaurant, with rooms on the first floor being used as hotel rooms and rental spaces to local businesses. The third floor and attic are currently not used and are in need of restoration. The Wellesley Hotel is in good condition with the only alterations to the property being general maintenance throughout the years; the restoration of the east facade porch has been done to using historic photographs to match the original porch. The maintenance changes and restoration of the east facade porch do not detract from the overall integrity of the Wellesley Hotel in terms of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.
The Thousand Island Park Historic District (1982) contains an outstanding concentration of substantially intact late nineteenth and early twentieth century resort architecture. Embellished with elaborate and often unique details, the closely grouped structures in the planned campground represent a significant phase in the history of the internationally recognized resort community in the upper St. Lawrence River. The neoclassical Wellesley Hotel contributes to the significance and context of the Thousand Island Park Historic District because it harkens back to a time when the community was a summer resort destination. The Thousand Island Park was founded in 1874 by Reverend John F. Dayan as a Methodist summer camp. The Thousand Islands region began to evolve into a summer haven for vacationers escaping the dirty industrial cities such as Pittsburgh, Boston, and New York City. Through the years the community as a whole has survived through a number of difficulties including: devastating fires, financial hardship during the Great Depression, and the effects of both World Wars. Today, the Thousand Island Park Historic District maintains its historic character with the Wellesley Hotel as the heart of the surviving commercial block of the Thousand Island Park.
Thousand Island Park
In the early 1870’s the Thousand Islands gained national attention, when George Pullman, the developer of the Pullman sleeping car, invited President Ulysses S. Grant to his summer home on “Pullman Island,” located close to Alexandria Bay.1 News that the President of the United States had visited the area put the Islands on the map as an elite tourist destination for the upper and middle classes throughout the 1880’s until the early 20th century. Tourists and summer inhabitants of the Thousand Islands began to be grouped together under the term, “summer people,” referring to the fact that they only lived in the area during the summer months.2
The Thousand Islands and other similar summer resort areas grew in popularity during the Gilded Age for a number of factors. Reasons for the interest in summer vacation spots like the Thousand Islands, included the rise of industrialist capitalism; concerns for health and social issues within inner cities combined with the romantic movement and the celebration of nature; and rapid improvements to modes of transportation of railroads and steamboats.3 The Thousand Islands offered many opportunities to enjoy nature such as fishing, hunting, and boating. Entire families would visit the region, who would engage in more social activities, such as cruises on private yachts and dinner parties at local hotels like the Frontenac and the Columbian.
Not all people came to the islands for fanciful vacations, a number of summer people visited to attend Methodist or Baptist summer camps on a number of the islands. Thousand Island Park was originally one of those revival camps founded by Methodist Reverend John F. Dayan in 1875. Methodist revival camps in the early 19th century lasted one-two days and were located in the backwoods. After the Civil War, these types of church campgrounds and meetings were shunned by the churches because there was not enough teaching or rational thought. The Methodists moved towards more permanent and elaborate campgrounds that offered an extended camp meeting for specific purposes; this was in part inspired by the Methodist churches establishment of colleges throughout the country. An example of this new type of summer campground was the Chautauqua Institute located near Jamestown, New York. The Institute was established as a center for training Sunday School teachers.4
As early as 1867, Reverend Dayan began thinking and planning a summer camp in the Thousand Islands, with the camp’s main focus on encouraging interactions between the peoples of the United States and Canada 5 It was not until 1872, that Reverend Dayan really began to form his ideas and for two years worked to gain support for the project from various people. In 1874, Dayan was ready to get the approval of the plan from his colleagues and superiors. At the spring meeting of Methodist leaders in Carthage, New York at the Northern New York Conference of the Methodist Church, Reverend Dayan garnered enough support to a plan an excursion in the Thousand Islands in August of 1874. The purpose of the visit was to find a site for the future camp grounds. The visit happened as planned with 50 clergymen and laymen from both Canada and the United States meeting in Alexandria Bay to find a site. The large group really only viewed one site, Victoria Point, located on Wellesley Island- today known as Westminster Park. It was concluded by the group that another visit would be needed to explore other sites. A committee of 11 were chosen to view other locations and to establish connections with the ship routes and rail lines. The second visit occurred in September of the same year. This time the smaller group found the perfect spot. It was located also on Wellesley Island, just on the opposite end of the island away from Victoria Point.6
Within the first year of existence the Thousand Island Camp Meeting Association had not only purchased the land on Wellesley Island but they had constructed a “dining hall,” a shop and warehouse, a trustee’s office, and constructed a tabernacle tent. The Association decided to sell lots 40×80 feet to subscribers and those interested in purchasing a lot within the community. The first lots were sold June 9, 1875 and all were sold, meaning more of the land had to be surveyed and created into more lots to sell. Lot owners established shelters, mostly tents but a number of the lot holders built crude cottages. Attendees of the summer camp had opportunities to listen to daily sermons, lectures, and attend meetings.7
From there the Park community grew steadily and was transformed from a “tent city” to a permanent village of residences. During the 1880’s the Park saw management changes and a shift in focus from a campground to a Christian summer resort. Other developments within the community signifying this shift included the Thousand Island Camp Meeting Association changing their name to the Thousand Island Park Association in 1879. Then in 1881, Reverend Dayan resigned from the Thousand Island Park Association and that same year the Association began planning for the construction of a grand hotel. The Park newspapers also reflect these changes were in the 1880’s advertisements could be seen for schools such as Bordentown Female College, Ives Seminary, Syracuse University, and Cazenovia Seminary, along with advertisements for the Pulpit Bible. These types of advertisements slowly gave way to those for hotels, Dey Brothers Co. grocery store, and Watertown Boat and Canoe Co.8
Hotels in the Park
The construction of the Thousand Island Park Hotel lasted from 1881-83 and was designed by architect Noah Dillenbeck. The hotel was four stories tall with a three story colonnade surrounding the hotel along with a central tower with a mansard roof. The hotel had a Second Empire Style feel to it with its mansard roof, bracketed balconies, and french windows. This hotel lasted until August 21, 1890 when it burned down within 45 minutes, killing one person and destroying 13 other buildings. The Association decided to rebuild the hotel and by 1892, the Columbian Hotel was open for business on the same site as the previous hotel. The Columbian was designed by Syracuse architect, Archimedes Russell. The hotel was also four floors and could accommodate 300-400 people. While the Thousand Island Park Hotel had a distinctive architectural style, the Columbian did not and had a picturesque castle feel to it.9 The Thousand Island Park Hotel and the Columbian were two of the many hotels dotted along the Thousand Islands offering accommodations to the growing numbers of summer people.
The popularity of Thousand Island Park as a summer destination meant the Columbian was frequently packed with guests. By 1902, the Park Association had already begun to discuss and plans for another hotel in the community. A 1902 news article in the Watertown Reunion, estimated that the new hotel would be completed during the summer of 1903 for $15,000 and would be located on the site of the New England Dining Room.10 The Hotel Wellesley was completed in June of 1903 and located at the corner of Rainbow and St. Lawrence Avenue, diagonally from the Columbian adding to the commercial center of Thousand Island Park.
The Wellesley Hotel was different in appearance from the Columbian’s picturesque castle. In the documents related to the Wellesley, the architect is never named but they were inspired by the neoclassical style that was in vogue throughout the nation after the Chicago World Fair. The three-story structure’s most prominent feature is the wrap-around porch veranda on the first floor with a balcony porch above that supported by Tuscan columns that also wraps around the south and east facades. There are Georgian prototype dormers spaced around the roof. The Wellesley Hotel added another 40 rooms for guests to rent during their stay in the Park.11 The Association leased the hotel to Mr. and Mrs. W. P. Rogers, the first proprietors.12 The first floor of the hotel consisted of a main entrance on the east facade to the hotel that lead into the hotel’s lobby with main access to the upper floors, along with a dining room and parlor. Within the first year of the hotel being opened, the first floor of the Wellesley Hotel was used for the 22nd Reunion of the 14th New York Heavy Artillery in 1904.13
The Wellesley Hotel does not feature often in the local papers but it can be assumed business was as usual during the summer with both the Columbian and Wellesley Hotels being in operation in the early years of the 20th century. All of that changed on June 9, 1912. In the mid-afternoon, a fire had broken out in the store of H. H. Haller. What exactly caused the fire is unclear since the shop actually was closed for the day because of a funeral. The fire quickly spread and grew beyond the capabilities of the Thousand Island Park residents and fire brigade. The Columbian Hotel caught fire, spreading the flames through the eastern portion of the community. By the time the flames had been put out by the efforts of the residents and the help of Clayton and Alexandria Bay’s fire departments, the Columbian was completely destroyed, along with Haller’s store, three schools, a chapel, and 98 cottages. 500 people were homeless and the losses in the community were estimated at $500,000.
It was reported by local papers that the hotel would be rebuilt and that there would be “a better Columbian than ever next season.”14 Even with sensationalized news about the fire and the fact that the “…fire practically wiped out this famous summer outing place,” as stated in 1912 article about the disaster entitled “Terrible Holocaust,” the community survived and so did the Wellesley Hotel. In local papers, it was reported that the Wellesley was saved by the quick thinking of 17 year old, Paul Crouch, who stayed on the hotel’s roof, wrapped in wet blankets, to shovel off burning shingles. Crouch was finally relived by other residents and was unconscious for several hours after; Crouch did survive.15
A year after the fire, the Wellesley Hotel had minor renovations, to equip and update portions of the structure with to follow newly established fire code requirements including fire escapes and ensuring the doors would swing outwards.16 The hotel continued to be the main hotel at the Thousand Island Park, the Columbian was never rebuilt. The Columbian fire marks the beginning of the slow decline of not only Thousand Island Park but the region as a premier summer destination.
Throughout the 1910’s the Thousand Islands saw a decline due to a variety of reasons, including multiple large fires that destroyed a number of the popular hotels, such as the Columbian and the Frontenac on Round Island. These hotels were at times considered the social center of the Thousand Islands and after they burned in 1911 and 1912. The growing popularity of the automobile and lack of good roads to reach the Thousand Islands also negatively affected the region. The automobile allowed people to travel freely and not be limited to one area during the entire summer season. The deaths of the wealthiest summer people, including George Pullman, helped add in the lack of interest in the Thousand Islands. Political issues also put a damper on ability and means to visit summer resort areas especially World War I, which put an end of the popular steamboats because of government uses and shortages of supplies. This was followed by the stock market crash of 1929 and followed by the Great Depression that followed.17
In 1922, the Thousand Island Park Association made plans to build another floor to the Wellesley Hotel that would have added an additional 20 rooms. It is unclear what happened but the addition was never constructed given that photos of the Wellesley only ever show it as a three-story structure.18 This also indicates the financial problems the region was facing and the decline of vacationers during the summer months. The Wellesley finally closed for good in the early 1930’s during the Great Depression. The hotel was only used for special events and occasions during the years until the 1980’s when it was finally reopened by James A. Finger. The opening of the Wellesley Hotel allowed the property to be used again for accommodations and as a restaurant.19 Since then the Hotel has remained in business owned by the Thousand Island Park Corporation and leased to proprietors to run the hotel and restaurant.
The Thousand Island Park was listed as a historic district because the community is an outstanding collection of substantially intact late nineteenth and early twentieth century resort architecture. The Wellesley Hotel has been a landmark within the community of Thousand Island Park since its doors first opened in 1903. The hotel highlights the past and the changes the summer community went through as a Methodist summer camp community that evolved into a premier summer resort. Thousand Island Park as a whole reflects the historic changes that occurred throughout the entire region from 1870 to 1915, a period that is known as the Gilded Age. The Wellesley Hotel is in every way, a significant part of that story, surviving terrible fires and the community’s economical hardships, to exist today as the last remaining Gilded Age hotel within Thousand Island Park and the region as a whole.
Fast forward to today, the Part 1 of the Historic Preservation Certificate Application was officially approved by the National Park Service in November 2017. This means that should the owner of the Wellesley Hotel move forward with their plans on renovation of the upper floors of the Hotel, Parts 2 and 3 of the Certificate Application would need to be completed. Those parts are in regards to the actual proposed work through documentation of the current conditions of the Hotel and then the Hotel after the work has been completed.
1Susan Smith, The First Summer Peoples: The Thousand Islands 1650-1910 (Erin, Ont.: Boston Mills Press, 1993), 82.
2Laurie Ann Nulton, “The Golden Age of the Thousand Islands: Its People and its Castles” (M.A. diss., Georgetown University, 1981) 10.
4 Helen Jacox and Eugene Kleinhans, Thousand Island Park: One Hundred Years, and Then Some, A Centennial Year History; with “The Study, Architecture of Thousand Island Park,”by Paul Malo (Valhalla Printing Co. T.I.P. N.Y.., 1975 by the Centennial Book Project, Thousand Island Park, New York), 27.
5Jacox and Kleinhans, Thousand Island Park, 27.
7Jacox and Kleinhans, Thousand Island Park, 29.
8Jacox and Kleinhans, Thousand Island Park, 78.
9Jacox and Kleinhans, Thousand Island Park, 223.
10“Another Summer Hotel to be Built at 1000 Island Park,” Watertown Reunion, July 26, 1902.
11Jacox and Kleinhans, Thousand Island Park, 223.
12“Improvements at Thousand Island Park,” Watertown Reunion, June 10, 1903.
13“A Successful Reunion Veteran’s of 14th Heavy Artillery at TI Park,” Watertown Reunion, July 16, 1904.
14“Terrible Holocaust,” Watertown Re-Union, July 13, 1912.
15“$500,000 Fire Sweeps Thousand Island Park,” The Summary, July 13, 1912.
16“Better Protection: Fire Marshall Issues Sweeping Mandate,” Cape Vincent Eagle, June 19, 1913.
17Susan W. Smith, A History of Recreation in the 1000 Islands, (St. Lawrence Islands Nation Park: Parks Canada, 1976), http://www.oliverkilian.com/ecology/thousand-islands/island-insights/recreation/recreation.html#Hotels and Resorts (accessed August 8, 2016).
18“The Hotel News,” The Hotel World: The Hotel and Travelers Journal 95 (1922), https://books.google.com/books?num=13&id=aNVLAQAAMAAJ&q=thousand+island+park#v=snippet&q=thousand%20island%20park&f=false (accessed August 9, 2017), 25.
19Roswell P. Trickey, “Hotel, Closed 30 Years, Opens,” Watertown Daily Times, August 25, 1984.