Early Westminster Park Families: The Hanford Family

By: Linda Twichell

Volume 14, Issue 1, January 2019

The  Westminster Park Board of Trustees carefully planned every aspect of  their new island community: the placement of the Hotel, the Chapel, the  roads and the lots, the docks, and all common areas. Possibly to  establish a standard for private homes, they devised a contest of sorts,  described in the “Watertown Re-Union”. The Trustees announced that they  would “offer a prize lot of the value of one hundred dollars on their  Park, for the best set of four designs for summer cottages, that will  cost to build respectively, $250, $500, $750, and $1000, designs to  consist of plans and elevation.” (Watertown Re-Union, December 27, 1877)

Panoramic View of Westminster Park

But the cottage of George R. Hanford of Watertown was in a category of its own. It was more a house than a cottage, holding a place of  prominence over Poplar Bay. This house was a show-stopper. The Hanford  family had their own special place in history as well.

George R. Hanford (1837-1922) grew up in Rodman, NY, but he moved to  Watertown as a young man. Like many other Westminster forefathers,  Hanford was a Civil War Veteran, a Republican and a Presbyterian, known  to be an avid reader of the Bible. He had a long career in Watertown in  the printing business, as a bookstore owner, and later, as a merchant  selling pianos, organs, and sheet music. He served as the Secretary of  the Watertown Chamber of Commerce, Treasurer of the Society for the  Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and for 20 years held positions in the  insurance industry.

Hanford had a connection to Westminster Park, from its inception  until his death in 1922. In 1879, Hanford promoted the area by selling  three different editions of Boyd’s Handbook and Picturesque Guide Among the Saint Lawrence at his bookstore, Hanford and Waterman. This guide listed the lot  owners of Westminster Park, as well as information on the beauty and  development of the 1000 Islands. One could also purchase excursion  tickets to travel to the 1000 Islands at Hanford’s shop.

Hanford cottage and boathouse detail from an A.C. McIntyre stero card.

George Hanford had a notable wife, Annie Wood Hanford (1839-1913).

Annie descended from a Watertown family. Her father, William Wood,  was a well-known merchant and her mother, Ann, taught at the Watertown  Young Ladies Seminary. The Woods built a house at 409 Washington Street  where Annie grew up. She later inherited that house, and, upon her  death, the house passed to George. The fame of the Wood family came from  Annie’s mother, Ann Hooker Wood. Mrs. Wood was the sister of the famed  Civil War hero, Major General Joseph Hooker. Maj. General Hooker,  nicknamed “Fighting Joe”, was instrumental in leading many Civil War  battles, including one at “Lookout Mountain.” He became a legend in the  Hanford family. George Hanford inherited Hooker’s engraved watch and  Hanford wore it every day until his death.

The story of the Hanford house in Westminster Park begins at the lot  sale on May 23, 1878. Lot 101 was purchased by George Hanford’s wife,  Annie Wood Hanford. Several years later, Annie also purchased other  properties in Westminster.

In an 1881 article from the “Utica Morning Herald”, my favorite  newspaperman, John J. Flanagan, reported “Secretary Hanford, of  Watertown, will have an investment of from $7000 to $10,000 on the Park  when his elegant new cottage is completed. Contractor A. R. Shannon of  Watertown is busily at work blasting and making ready for the framing.  The building will be 63x57 facing south/southwest across Poplar Bay, two  stories in hight (sic) with a tower of 65 feet. The cottage will have  all modern improvements and will be an attractive addition to the Park  front.”    

"Lookout Cottage" owned by George andAnnie Hanford of Waterown, NY. From the Stereo view of A.C. McIntyre.[NYPL. Digital Collection: Robert N. Dennis Collection of stereoscopic views.]

The Hanford’s named their Westminster house “Lookout Cottage.” The  name reminds folks of the valor of Mrs. Hanford’s uncle in the 
Civil  War and is fitting for the cottage on a high prominence looking out over  Poplar Bay, the hotel, the docks, and much of the center of the  community. I wonder if the 65-foot tower was accessible for observing  the activities up and down the islands.  

The well-known stereo view, taken by A.C. McIntyre, shows Poplar Bay, with steamships tied at various landing places. The home of George and Annie Hanford takes its place of prominence overlooking the Bay. [NYPL Digital Collections: Robert N. Dennis Collection of stereoscopic views.]

By the end of the summer of 1881, the construction of the cottage was  complete, and the Hanford family took-up residence in their glorious  home. Reports reveal that the “structure is the most costly one on the  Park and is furnished with beautifully designed willow furniture.”  Watertown Times, August 29, 1881.

The Samantha Series written by Marietta Holley, an ardent feminist of the 19th Century. 

I have read that the 19th century author Marietta Holley visited  Westminster Park a number of times. Marietta Holley wrote a series of  books under the name of Josiah Allen’s Wife. Her books were humorous  accounts of a heroine, Samantha, and ordinary people’s lives with the  intent of satirizing political and social mores of the time. She was a  strong advocate of prohibition and of women’s rights, and a  correspondent with Susan B. Anthony, Frances Willard, and Clara Barton.  Some called her the “female Mark Twain” as her books sold over ten  million copies. One of her books was entitled Samantha at Coney Island and a Thousand Other Islands.  It is written in dialect and needs a motivated reader in the  twenty-first century, but her heroine Samantha tells of her travels and  experiences, with her usual biases. I always wondered why Miss Holley  would come to Westminster Park. Some accounts say she stayed at the  hotel; other accounts mentioned a cottage. As the story unravels, we  learn that in her early career, Miss Holley wrote weekly articles for  the “Watertown Post”. This paper was published by the firm of Hanford  & Wood. With that business connection, it is apparent that Miss  Holley and George Hanford were acquainted and that may explain her  visits to the Westminster Park.

In August of 1885, Annie Hanford’s mother, Ann Hooker Wood, died  while visiting in the Hanford cottage. Her health had been compromised  for many years, and her death was not unexpected.

The Hanford family continued ownership of the Westminster House until  1887, when George Hanford sold the cottage to C. G. Tousey of  Poughkeepsie, NY. I do not have much information about the Tousey  family, but in 1890 the Tousey’s were embroiled in a family scandal,  where it was claimed that Mr. Tousey was of “unsound mind”. Sometime  after that, the house was sold to C. J. G. Hall, a prominent attorney  from New York City. That sale to Mr. Hall ultimately introduced a new  group of NYC people to Westminster Park and forever changed the history  of the community. But that is a story for another day….

One additional note: If you are hoping to see this glorious house, you will be disappointed. It was lost to a fire in 1984.

Next month’s article will tell of another of Westminster Park’s founders and early citizens, Dr. J. D. Huntington.

© 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 published in previous issues of TI Life.

Comments posted on the old TI Life:


Comment by: Robert Charron
Left at: 1:11 PM Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A wonderful history of a prominent Westminster Park landmark.  Looking forward to the next article about this cottage.  

Posted in: Volume 14, Issue 1, January 2019, History, Places, People

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