Funny thing about personal histories… the story belongs to the teller. Have you heard someone proclaim, “My great-grandfather was the best fishing guide on the River”? Or how about, “My grandmother owned the fastest boat on the River”? “My ancestor was the most important man in Alexandria Bay”? Often family pride inflates the facts of the story, and with oral histories told and retold through the years, concrete evidence to refute any facts fades away. Some family legends are published in books. Oh, once published in a book, it must be true! Well, this is not always the case.
I learned this lesson from the story I heard about the Twichell family as told to my side of the family by my husband’s uncle. It went like this: "The Twichell’s bought their property in the first year of Westminster Park. They are the only family who has lived in the Park from the very beginning.” I retold that tale many times. One day I told that story to my friend, Robert Matthews. He gave a wry smile but said nothing. Shortly after, he sent me some documents regarding the first sale of lots in Westminster Park on May 23, 1878. Many people bought lots that day. None of them were named Twichell.
The challenge was on! Research revealed some interesting facts. In reading accounts of the first sale of lots in Westminster Park held on May 23, 1878, I learned many things. The weather was cold and blustery. The auction was held at the warehouse on the long dock and had a late start. Then it was announced that one more steamer with prospective purchasers was delayed in the voyage up the river. The auction was halted to wait for the latecomers. Prospective buyers wandered over hill and dale debating the merits of one lot or the other. In the confusion of the day, anxiety caused some to delay making their purchase. I have no evidence that a Twichell attended that sale. The Twichell property deed shows the property was purchased in 1879, the second year of Westminster Park. It has remained in the family for 140 years, and six generations of Twichell’s have enjoyed River life on that cliff-side home. The family legend was not entirely accurate.
We do know the Twichell property was purchased by Erastus William Twichell in 1879. Erastus had a partner in the investment named Milton Waldo, a minister and a graduate of Auburn Seminary. Together the men purchased five lots on the cliff facing Canada about halfway between the Hotel and the Mary’s Island Canal. I doubt Waldo had an active interest in Westminster Park, because by 1881 we see him living in St. Augustine, Florida where he founded the St. Augustine Institute of Science. He was pursuing his interest in collecting insect and shell specimens. After a few years, he deeded his investment in the Westminster property to Erastus Twichell. Erastus carried on the Westminster interest. Family legend says that Erastus purchased the lots because it was believed that a “proper” Presbyterian minister should own property at Westminster Park.
Erastus William Twichell (1841-1910) descended from an old New England family. His father, Lemuel Houghton Twichell, was a Presbyterian minister. Erastus grew up in Springfield, New York and attended common schools there. He graduated from Amherst College in 1866 and studied for the ministry at Auburn Theological Seminary, graduating in 1869. About that time, he became acquainted with a young Presbyterian lady of Auburn, Sarah Frances Garlock. Sarah had several suitors but chose to marry Erastus, as he succeeded in fixing her sewing machine when it did not work well.
Erastus and Sarah Frances, who was known as Fannie, were married in the fall of 1869. They had three sons: Harry Lemuel, William McCoy, and Edmund Warner. The family lived in a number of Central New York towns as Erastus served the ministry in various Presbyterian churches. All three sons attended Amherst College for their college education.
Harry graduated from Amherst in 1895. He decided to study the law and graduated from New York Law School in 1897. He practiced law in New York City. In 1905, he succumbed to typhoid fever.
William also attended Amherst College. In 1896, while a sophomore at Amherst, William became deathly ill. He was sent to Roosevelt Hospital in New York City by train for care by a “skilled specialist.” He underwent an appendectomy, but was unable to recover and died a few days later.
Edmund was the only surviving son. He graduated from high school in Lockport, NY, in 1902. As early as 1899, Edmund’s diaries showed an interest in a young lady named Vera Estelle Chadsey, the daughter of a judge from Penfield, New York. Vera grew up in a comfortable home and had an indomitable spirit. Vera was hoping to be in the first class of women at the University of Rochester. The previously all-male University offered to admit women, on the condition that a sum of $50,000 could be raised for the University. At the very last moment of the fundraising campaign, the pledges fell short of the goal. Women would not be admitted! Susan B. Anthony stepped in and pledged the cash value of her life insurance policy to the cause. The first class of women was admitted. Vera later recalled her excitement in attending college in a letter to the University. “To actually go to college, and really graduate, and wear a cap and gown, the very thought of it made every nerve in my body tingle.”
However, attitudes are slow to change, and the men did not welcome the new female students. Some male students tried to discourage the women by “running ahead and slamming classroom doors in their faces, shoving them aside in the hallways, and pushing them while walking up the stairs.” Vera recalled an incident when a group of men ganged up on her and tried to block her path. She recalls, “After asking three times to be allowed through the blockade, I turned a bit, and with all the strength I could give, my elbow went into the boy nearest to me, followed quickly by another strong jab, and the third and hardest of them all caused him to give way, and I walked up the steps.” Vera persevered with her education graduating in 1904.
Meanwhile, Edmund was attending Amherst College, graduating in 1906.
Suffering from some health concerns and the sorrow over the loss of both of his brothers, Edmund decided to take some time off from his studies to travel to the property owned by his father in the Thousand Islands. Had his father ever visited that property? We do not know. According to family legend, Edmund built the family cottage in the summer of 1906. It has been said that he positioned one wall of the cottage to align with the setting sun on the summer solstice. The earliest version of the cottage was a simple two-story wooden structure with a porch across the front, a living room, and some sleeping quarters. Kitchen and laundry activities were conducted outside.
From its high perch on a rocky cliff, it had a generous view up and down the river and on to the Canadian shore and the village of Rockport, Ontario. A simple dock was built on the shore. The cottage was named “Twicfol” for “Twichell’s Folly.”
The family photo albums record many happy adventures that first season on the river. Among the visitors were Edmund’s parents, Rev. Erastus and Fannie Twichell, and Vera Chadsey and her parents, Judge John H. Chadsey and his wife, Emma Covey Chadsey.
In 1907 Edmund continued work on the cottage, expanding the porch around the corner of the house, building a fireplace and a chimney, and an indoor kitchen. The intrepid Vera worked on shingling the roof.
Forty stone steps were built down to the River’s edge for easy access to a rudimentary dock.
Edmund was fond of the Adirondack cottage style. The two front rooms were divided by bark-covered columns. Across the expanse, Edmund crafted the cottage name, “Twicfol” in small branches. He crafted furniture from local logs with legs and supports covered in bark.
The front porch rail featured posts and rails made from those same local logs with and smaller branches. Friends and family continued to visit the Twichell’s at Twicfol. Leisure time was spent hiking the island, traveling the islands in the skiff, and fishing.
By the fall of 1907, Edmund was enrolled in the ministerial program at Auburn Theological Seminary. While in Auburn, he and a friend named George built a boat in the workshop of Burt Samson. Edmund wrote to Vera (who was then in Rochester) describing the placement of the keel and other deck boards. He tells Vera the valves of the engine had arrived, and the gears had been ordered. In his letter, Edmund tells Vera that George says he is lucky to have a girl like Vera. George says, “That’s the kind of girl I want, one who is interested in something that I am.”
The boat was 28 feet long with a 3-cylinder engine. On the transom were the initials TWEVEC… which were Edmund’s initials backwards and Vera’s initials forward. The TWEVEC was shipped by rail to Clayton and navigated to Westminster Park under its own power. There were two green wicker chairs for seating.
The TWEVEC was used until 1917, but was never the most trustworthy vessel. Often the Twichell’s had to rely on friends for a tow home. The TWEVEC was Edmund’s pride and joy, but I notice other family members enjoyed boating in kayaks, canoes, and the family skiff! In 1917 the Twichell’s acquired another motorboat, a one-cylinder engine earned its name: “Wunlung”. The TWEVEC was relegated to the boathouse.
Edmund Warner Twichell and Vera Estelle Chadsey were married on September 15, 1908, in Rochester, NY. Edmund graduated from Auburn Theological Seminary in 1910. He served as a Presbyterian minister in a number of New York State churches until his death in 1944. He and Vera had three sons: Edmund Chadsey, Goss Browne, and Proctor Clark. The three boys had many summer adventures as they grew up on the island.
One year they spent the winter in that little cottage. The two older Twichell sons attended school in the one-room schoolhouse on Wellesley Island. The third son was too young to attend school.
It is interesting to note that over the years, we do not see evidence that the Twichell’s participated in many of the social functions at the Westminster Park Hotel. Their lives were full of adventures of hiking, camping, fishing, and boating…and “roughing it”! They entertained many, many friends and neighbors in their cottage home. The following generations carry on that tradition. And so that name, TWICFOL …is not such a folly after all.
©photos and text Linda Twichell 2019
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 published in previous issues of TI Life.