A New Day at the Old Monticello

By: Wayne C. Strauss

Volume 14, Issue 6, June 2019

On Saturday, June 1, River Hospital held an open house for visitors to see the remarkable progress  on its Macsherry Building – formerly known as the Monticello Hotel – during the first phases of renovation.  Named in honor of the family who donated the building to the hospital in 2017, a sparkling new first floor and exterior now belie its true age. The old Monticello turns a historic page before our very eyes as hospital emerges from hospitality. And a truly iconic building of Alexandria Bay continues its storied history.

The Macsherry Building with River Hospital in the background. [Photo courtesy of Horizon Aerial Media]

The Macsherry Building – like River Hospital itself – is built on property previously owned by Mr. Harvey A. Cornwall. Mr. Cornwall was an original proprietor of the Cornwall Brothers Store and served as the first Clerk of Alexandria Bay when the Village was incorporated in 1878.  According to historical sources, Mr. Cornwall took “an intelligent interest in church and school matters” and “ever advanced the best interest of his town and its people.”

By 1923, the “New Monticello Hotel” had been built on the property, originally as an addition to the existing St. Lawrence Inn. In May of 1924 the Ogdensburg Republican Journal described the Monticello as “spick and span in its newness after but one season of use” and “without question one of the most beautiful hotels in the whole North Country.” The Monticello Restaurant, which also served as the dining room for the hotel, sat 150 people. The same article noted that the restaurant had “walls of yellow brick, ivory ceiling and cream pillars, crepe window drapes and electric light shades.”

1924 Postcard of the New Monticello Hotel, Alexandria Bay, NY. [Photo S. Smith collection]

By the 1950’s the Monticello had developed into a thriving and highly popular hotel. It was then owned by Mr. W. Grant Mitchell, who had accompanied President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King on the first crossing of the Thousand Island Bridge. An early proponent of Thousand Islands tourism Mr. Mitchell, then Executive Secretary of the Thousand Island Bridge Authority, once appeared on a New York City radio show with entertainer Arthur Godfrey. There, he presented Mr. Godfrey with a deed to one of the islands in recognition of Godfrey’s hit “The Thousand Islands Song”. Mitchell and Godfrey reportedly became good friends; and the Monticello soon hosted its own radio show broadcast over WWNY radio.

The Monticello continued as an operating hotel until the mid-1970’s when it was purchased by local businessman Patrick Simpson. It continued as a rooming facility until 1977, during which time it was inhabited largely by college students working summer jobs in Alexandria Bay. By 1979 Mr. Simpson had repurposed the bar portion of the building to serve as PJ’s Nightclub, complete with an open ceiling to the second-story bar and a sound system appropriate for the Disco era of the 1980’s.

“The place was great,” recalls Mr. Simpson. “During the Summers we were always busy. It was a popular spot!” He sold the building in 1988.

The Macsherry Building Under Construction. [Photo courtesy Purcell Construction]

But by 2017 the old Monticello had languished. Gone were its lavish days as a resort hotel and as a go-to night club. In that year it was purchased by Mr. Richard Macsherry to become a gift to River Hospital directly across Fuller Street.  Planning for the next phase began immediately, with rehabilitation started in Fall 2018. By Spring of this year, the former Monticello was reborn as a hospital facility, part of River Hospital’s “Hope + Healing” capital campaign. And renamed “The Macsherry Building”.

Now part of the River Hospital campus, the Macsherry Building will first be used for hospital administration and financial offices; and there’s plenty of room for additional growth. Stephanie Weiss, River Hospital’s Executive Director of Development, says, “Renovation of The Macsherry Building is the first stage of Hope + Healing’s tangible result.  The project includes creating new spaces for our emergency department and physical therapy facility, as well as our primary care capability and PTSD programs. River Hospital will soon include a new building, and we’ll be renovating our existing building.”

“There’s much more to come, thanks to the unwavering support of our generous donors.”

By Wayne C. Strauss

Wayne C. Strauss retired after 21 years as Vice President of Oppenheimer Funds in Rochester, New York. An attorney licensed to practice in the State of New York, Wayne also holds several securities licenses. He has served on the Board of Directors and as a Proctor for Rochester Area Mensa, and is currently a member of the adjunct faculty of St. John Fisher College in Rochester. An Eagle Scout and member of Toastmasters International, he spends as much time as possible aboard his boat “Convexity,” in the Thousand Islands. This is Wayne’s 7th article for TI Life.

Posted in: Volume 14, Issue 6, June 2019, News article, Places, Current



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