Dog Tales from Days of Yore

By: Lynn E. McElfresh

Volume 14, Issue 11, November 2019

We’ve all seen a boat fly by with the family dog standing perched on the bow like a bowsprit, keeping watch for his master at the helm. Dogs and the River seem to go together. I love seeing dogs in boats, on kayaks, even on paddleboards. But as I troll through the newspaper archives I see that dogs and the River has been a tradition for over a hundred years. I’ve found some interesting “Dog Tales” I’d like to share.

I love seeing a dog on the bow of a bow like a bowsprit


Castle Francis is the first location of an interesting dog tale. Reverend M. W. Chase bought One Tree Island back in 1884. I have read accounts that referred to it as Lone Tree Island, but you get the idea—small island, one big tree. The island is situated about a quarter-mile from Thousand Island Park and across the channel from the Rock Island Lighthouse. Reportedly, the very tall and old tree served as a landmark for sailors for over a hundred years. The locals were horrified when the reverend had the tree cut down to make room for a fancy, turreted cottage, which he called Castle Francis.

Dogs have been a part of island life for decades. Ruth Gray with her dog Terry in 1930s.

According to an 1890 account in the Ogdensburg Journal, the reverend’s dog swam between Castle Francis and Thousand Island Park once or twice a day carrying mail to and from the island. Mail was delivered twice a day back then—hence the reason for two trips. No mention was made of what sort of dog but my guess is it must have been a retriever.

Dogs are an integral part of island life.


Our next tale comes from Round Island. In 1891, Mr. E. H. Myers, a bank president from Carthage, who had a cottage on the island, brought a dog-cart to the island so his St. Bernard could take Myers’s children for rides around the island. Round Island had a nice track for carriage or pony carts which ran the length of the island. Unbeknownst to Mr. Myers, his St. Bernard strayed onto the steamer New Island Wanderer one afternoon during its regular afternoon stop at the Round Island dock.

The large dog cruised down River aboard the steamer and patiently watched passengers board and disembark as the New Island Wanderer stopped at Grenell Island Park, Thousand Island Park, Point Vivian, St. Lawrence Park, Westminster Park and finally Alexandria Bay. There, the dog disembarked and wandered around town. Meanwhile, back on Round Island, Myers and family are frantically searching for the dog. The dog and owner were reunited that evening. The article doesn’t say how. Perhaps the dog took the returning steamer back to Round Island. Two years later, it was reported that Mr. Meyers now brought a pony to the island, which “struck out boldly for liberty.” Round Island is only a mile long and an eighth of a mile broad, but the dignified bank president didn’t have an easy time catching the animal which seemed to enjoy his own waywardness.” Hopefully, Mr. Myer’s children weren’t as wayward as his dog and pony.


Our last tale is from my very own Grenell Island. An 1892 On the St. Lawrence article describes a very unusual dog relationship but I need to back up a year to explain.

Our last story pair pairs a dog with a monkey on the Pullman Hotel dock.

The management of the Pullman Hotel was looking for a way to draw attention to their relatively new establishment. They had a small ceremonial yacht canon on the dock and would signal to steamers as they passed. While the canon fire attracted the attention of passing steamers, it was not popular with the cottagers, as it shook napping gentleman from hammocks, roused babies from their slumber and aggravated nearby fisherman, who insisted the constant cannon fire was frightening away the fish. A petition was circulated and the canon was removed. The next year, the management acquired a monkey. It was quite young and became very attached to a dock hand’s dog. The newspaper describes it like this: “The little monkey at Grenell Island is an object of much amusement to tourists. When a boat approaches the dock in front of the Pullman House, the passengers crowd to the side of the boat to watch the antics of this their little barbarian cousin. He is a good-natured simian and plays with the little pup, without ever allowing his angry passions to rise.”

By now most dogs have left the island and are back in the “non-island” world. This was always a rough transition for our cocker spaniel, Ginger.

Ginger our cocker spaniel loved the island best of all!

She would get so depressed she would hide behind the toilet all day, refusing to eat or go outside—even when I shouted, “Squirrel.” Chasing squirrels was her passion but even a frolicking squirrel couldn’t lift her spirits the month after returning from the River. I kind of understand. Home is nice, but Island Life is grand. Grander still with a dog by your side.

By Lynn E. McElfresh

Lynn McElfresh sent this article with the good news that she has a whole winter covered with new articles! That makes closing the island a little easier!

Posted in: Volume 14, Issue 11, November 2019, History, Places

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