In November of 1875, articles appeared in newspapers across Northern New York State, announcing the intent of the Presbyterian Church to develop a new religious summer community at the foot of Wellesley Island. A stock company was formed to raise capital.
During 1876, funds were solicited, but little progress on the community was made. 1876 was America’s Centennial Celebration and a United States Presidential election year with a hotly contested race; (Tilden vs. Hayes). Several early Westminster developers were busy with political events in their own community.
However, the Trustees of the Westminster Park Association continued to meet to further plans. Capital was to be raised from the sale of stock, the sale of lots, and later a small property tax. When $20,000 of stock was sold by August of 1877, newspapers reported that negotiations for “the purchase of the five hundred acres for the proposed park… also the ‘Isle Mary’ or ‘Picnic Point’” 1 were finalized with Captain Horatio Nelson Throop and his wife, Mary L. Throop. This deed was not recorded until 1879. Frank A. Hinds, Engineer, of Watertown, (later a lot owner) was engaged to survey the land and lay out the lots, avenues, and public spaces. Progress continued.
In 1877, many excursions were offered to the Thousand Islands, featuring free boat rides, meals and entertainment - all designed to entice people to invest in the project. The plan was simple: attract citizens who would purchase lots, build cottages, and vacation in Westminster Park.
In the prospectus of the Westminster Park Association published in April 1878, the plan for the sale of lots was revealed:
“The surveys of the Park grounds were completed about the middle of November, (1877) and the map hereto attached presents the results. The trustees invite an examination of its features in the full belief that the work entrusted to the engineer has been faithfully and properly executed. It is the intention to have an opening sale of lots on the 22d day of May 1878. The precise date of such sale has been fixed so that all parties may be informed of the time on which said sale occurs. At least one week’s time will be devoted to this sale. Before that time an appraisal of the lots will be made, and parties who desire to purchase will be allowed ample time for examination and selection. Where no competition arises in the sale of any specified lot, the same will be sold at the appraisal; in other cases, the parties will bid for the choice. This course appears to be the only one not open to objection.
Arrangements have been made with the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg and the Utica & Black River Railways for free passage to and from the Park of all persons who may be purchasers of lots at such sale.”
This quote is from the prospectus:
Westminster Park Association of the Thousand Islands; Syracuse, NY; Truair, Smith, & Bruce, Printers and Bookbinders, 1878
(We note J.G.K. Truair of the Syracuse Journal’s attendance at the May 31, 1877 meeting of interested parties at the Thousand Islands House drawing room.)2
As the date for the lot sale approached, R. C. Collis, Secretary and Philemon H. Fowler, President of the Westminster Park Association placed ads in New York State newspapers outlining terms of the sale. The Park was to be open to all for the two weeks preceding the sale so that interested parties might inspect the properties. The Association will provide maps and lot appraisals. Lots sold to the highest bidder with these terms: 25 per cent down, the remainder in quarterly installments of 25 percent from the date of the sale.
Free transportation to the event was offered via the railroads. The sale was even advertised as far as NYC in the “Brooklyn Daily Eagle”, April 18, 1878
The Rome Daily Sentinel, Rome, NY, 5-28-1878, carried an amusing account of the excursion to the lot sales from the city of Rome.
“Last week’s excursion to Alexandria Bay and Westminster Park drew out a large number of the substantial representative people of Rome. The greater portion of the party left from here on the 1:40 PM train Tuesday, on the R. W. & O. R. R… Altogether there were over fifty Romans at the Bay and the Park- a delegation considerably larger than that from any other city.
Conductor Pangburn smiled sweeter smiles than usual at finding himself accompanied by so goodly a number of his fellow townsman. If he dulled his punch on the thick excursion tickets and strained the muscles of his right hand and arm, he was unconscious of it until after he left the Romans at Watertown Junction en route for Cape Vincent. As he has not been seen around with his arm in a sling it is assumed that he continues right along to “Punch, brothers, punch with care,
Punch is the presence of the pomengare.” (illegible)
It would perhaps be violating confidence to tell all about the manner in which the Romans amused themselves on the way. Most of the gentlemen went alone- that is, they did not take their wives or their lady friends with them. They illustrated, as best they knew how, the adage that ‘when the cat is away, the mice will play.’ …(Some) made anxious inquiries for copies of the latest edition of “The Rome Sentinel”. Several copies were found among the excursionists and passed from hand to hand, until the latest news had been learned all through the train. At Kasoag there was a rush among the young men of the party for the domicil (sic) of the railroad employee who is father of triplets, and curiosity was satisfied by a sight of the three urchins and their maternal parent. The most vivid reports of the scene were brought by lawyer Baker and Prof. Nelson. At Richland, Syracuse and Oswego excursion cars were added to the train. A ride of less than three hours from Rome in the fine coaches of the R. W. & O. R. R. which are now nowhere excelled, brought the party to the Junction and in four hours Cape Vincent was reached. A stiff breeze was blowing from the north. The penetrating qualities of the wind were not realized until after the “Island Belle” with its load of human freight on deck, had passed the Carleton Island, on the way down the river. Then the passengers began to exhibit red nozes (sic) and blue lips. They buttoned their overcoats, drew their shawls around them, and one by one crept down into the cabin and other places of shelter. Judge Bliss found a warm berth near the cookstove. There he and Messrs. Higgins, Smith, Wardwell, Orton and others defied the breezes from the north, told Sunday School stories and were happy. Treasurer Rand, Jonas Armstrong, J. R. Edwards and others, who had by this time experienced a keen appetite, inquired into the resources of the Belle’s pantry, and were rewarded with the discovery of crackers and cheese to which they proceeded to secure lawful title. Forthwith there was a disappearance of the products of the bakery and the dairy. (This item entirely escaped Darwin C. Pavey and the cheese reporter who were afterwards found at Alexandria Bay. Otherwise the improvement in the market would have been accounted for to the world.) In a little over two hours ride from Cape Vincent, Alexandria Bay was reached. Most of the Romans enlisted at the Crossmon House. A few stopped at the Thousand Islands House. No complaints were entered against either hotel. Fare and beds were good and charges reasonable.
Wednesday morning early, the ferry-boat “Ione,” which is to ply regularly between Alexandria Bay and Westminster Park began its trips.3 The distance across to the park dock is less than a mile. The dock is connected with the park by a walk and drive-way twenty feet wide and a thousand feet in length. It is already known to the readers of the ‘’Sentinel’ that Westminster Park is located on the easterly end of Wells Island-being the island on the westerly end of which the Methodist or Thousand Island Park is located. The new park embraces about 500 acres. It lies directly opposite Alexandria Bay on this side and opposite Rockport on the Canadian side. The St. Lawrence at this point is between three and four miles wide. Nowhere are the islands of the river more numerous and nowhere is the scenery more attractive than in this vicinity. Westminster Park affords a variety of sites for cottages, so that all tastes may be suited. The lower peninsula is high and bluffy, affording views in all directions. Facing Rockport is a gradually sloping beech (sic) from which a fine outlook is gained, and the shore is very accessible for rowboats or fishing craft. All the great extent of water frontage there are attractive spots to say nothing of the interior of the park and it were useless to attempt any detailed discription(sic) there. Of the character and makeup of the Park Association we have heretofore spoken. A great amount of work has been done by the association since last September, when the first move to improve the plot was begun. Miles of driveways winding hither and thither have been laid out and graded. A large boarding house, located on a sightly spot is nearly completed. The foundation of a handsome chapel is laid on Mount Beulah. From the tower of this chapel, when completed, the view of the surrounding country, as far as the eye can reach, will be unobstructed, and cannot prove otherwise than grand. A ferry slip is to be built on the shore east of the boarding hall, and a dock at which Canadian steamers will touch, is to be put in on the northerly side. With these, the convenience of access will be all that could be desired. It is the policy of the association to make the park attractive in every way possible. Nature has done much to this end and art will do much more.
Most of the visitors spent the forenoon of Wednesday in looking over the ground and criticizing lots, with a view then or thereafter to select a site for a cottage. Promptly at noon the public sale of lots began, Stephen Bordwell, of Watertown, acting as auctioneer. The lots were called in numerical order and when the number was reached which suited the fancy of a visitor he make it manifest by announcing that he would take the lot at the appraised value. If others wanted the same lot, the contest proceeded in the usual way of auctions. The number of lots on the list was 1073 and the prices as appraised, ranged from $20 to $200 a lot. With so large a quantity of lots, and good locations so numerous, there was not much occasion for competition. In no case was there any spirited strife for a particular lot.”4
The Watertown Times, May 23, 1878 reported that the competitive bidding was for lots 146, and lots 7, 8, and 9. Lot 146 was purchased by George H. Sickels of Albion, New York. Lots 7, 8, and 9 were awarded to Higgins and Wardwell of Syracuse.
Syracuse Daily Courier 05-28-1878 reported purchasers from their contingent: “Charles Hubbard, H. C. Brower, A. W. Palmer, Dr. Fairchild, A. L. Johnson, J. I Atwell, L. W. Hall and others”. They did say the Rome group purchased a fair number of lots at high prices.
The Utica Herald recounts thirty-five persons left Utica yesterday morning to be present at the sale of lots on Westminster Park. As many more boarded the train at Boonville and Lowville.”
Other accounts of the sale reveal interesting details:
A number of accounts told of brisk and breezy weather on the day of the sale. The auction started promptly at noon. It was held in the reception room of the Landing Place. Auctioneer Bordwell was stationed above the crowd on a stand. Some say bidding was brisk. In other accounts, we read of reports of prospective bidders, feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about the choice of lots. A boatload of latecomers arrived aboard “The Rambler”. The auction was interrupted so that the opportunity to view lots might be extended to these men and women. It resumed at 4 PM. Some interested parties decided to postpone purchases until summer so that they had time to reflect on the qualities of the lots before investing.
Spirited bidding produced the sale of seventy-five lots on May 22 and May 23rd. By June 11th, 1878, over a hundred lots had been sold.5
Note the original seal of the Westminster Park Association of the Thousand Islands from the Twichell deed. The design was described in the By-Laws of the WPA:
“Article 15: The common seal of the Association shall be engraved upon a suitable plate, and the device shall be an island with three pine trees on it in the centre, and the word ‘St. Lawrence’ upon the island, the whole surrounded with the words Westminster Park Association of The Thousand islands.”
And so we are left to wonder: who built the first cottage? The definitive answer is unknown to date. It was reported that Sisson and Fox, merchants of Alexandria Bay were on the scene in mid-June of 1878. They reportedly had “two large cargoes of lumber and shingles arrive” on the Park for the building of cottages to be used as investments.5
I am sure more information will reveal itself in time.
1. Watertown Re Union, 08-16-1877
2. Watertown Re Union, 05-31-1877
3. “The Ione” was built by E. Bertrand, Master Shipbuilder of Clayton.
4. The Rome Sentinel, May 28, 1878. www.fultonhistory.com
Note: Augustus Kessinger, editor of the RDS, purchased a lot at the sale.
5. Watertown Times: 6-11-1878
6. Pulaski Democrat; June 13, 1878
© Linda Twichell 2018
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 already published in TI Life.
Comments (As posted on old TI Life Site)
Comment by: Susan Mathis
Left at: 9:57 AM Friday, June 15, 2018
Very interesting! Thanks for sharing.
Comment by: Carol Spack
Left at: 3:19 PM Friday, July 27, 2018
Thank you for your research and article. I am an antique map collector and dealer. Last week I purchased an antique map titled "Map of Westminster Park, Thousand Islands, St. Lawrence River" in New York and the other day I began looking for background information about this map on the web. Your article is such a gift! Thank you.
The example I have does not have a date. I wonder whether you extrapolated that the map was published in 1878 based on the newspaper articles that you quote. The New York Public Library dates the map, also in its collection, to 1880.
As it turns out, I have multiples of this map. They are on offer if you know of someone who would like to own one. The maps are in excellent condition and appear to have been rolled up and stored from very early on. The price for one of these maps is $175.00. I am in Framingham, Massachusetts, U.S.A. and will wrap and mail the map to an interested purchaser. I can also email a high resolution photograph to you.
This spring I published my first antique maps web site: www.spackantiquemaps.com. I may be reached by email at email@example.com and by telephone: (508) 820-9100.
The island sounds absolutely beautiful. I happen to like islands. Perhaps I will be able to get myself up to your area for a visit now that I understand so much more about the island where Westminster Park is located.
Comment by: Linda Twichell
Left at: 2:32 PM Saturday, August 4, 2018
Hello, Carol. I would be interested in seeing the high resolution photograph you mentioned to compare to the maps I have. I did not take the date from newspaper clippings. I have a number of sources that date the map to 1878. My guess is the NYPL used the 1880 date as an approximation.