Party Like It’s 1899!

By: Lynn E. McElfresh

Volume 14, Issue 1, January 2019

The tradition is now twenty years strong.  There is no master plan.  Someone volunteers to host a Sangria Sunday, the news spreads via word  of mouth and everyone shows up. Sangria Sundays are open to all island  residents and their guests. The first few years, Sangria Sundays were  mostly hosted on the north side of the island, but last summer, the  south side Sangria Sundays out-numbered the north side.

Linda Hendley made this sign to announce upcoming Sangria Sundays.

As social as I like to think we are on Grenell, our social events  can't compare to social events of island residents one hundred years  ago. Islanders a hundred years ago were party animals. Here’s a peek at  social events of the 1890s.


Typical dances and music at an 1890 Hop!

“Regular hop at the Thousand Island House this evening. To accord  with the taste of the majority of the dancers the program is to consist  mainly of waltzes and two-steps: however, by making a request of Mr. St.  John some extra square dances may be added.” (Daily on the St. Lawrence, July 15, 1893)

“Last evening witnessed one of the most enjoyable events of the  season at the Thousand Islands, on the occasion of the dress hop at the  Westminster. From nine till twelve o’clock, the parlors and piazzas were  filled with a gay throng of dancers and promenaders and in fact, the  hop was attended by many of the swell society people of the Thousand  Islands resorts. Music was furnished by Lewis’ orchestra of six pieces  and despite the heat, men and maidens were attracted to the ballroom to  dance to the perfect time two-steps and waltzes.” (Daily on the St. Lawrence, August 12, 1893)

Most of the time, the hops were organized by the hotel. Sometimes  guest committees were formed to take charge of decorations, which often  included lavish floral displays. Other times hops were put on by private  individuals staying at the hotel. Most hotels on the River had their  own orchestras who were retained for the entire summer season. The  regular order of dances was usually listed as thus: Schottische, Waltz,  Polka, Waltz Lanciere, Extra Waltz, Polka Extra, and Waltz.

A descriptoin of a hop at the Frontenac Hotel in 1891


GERMAN'S were popular social events throughout the 1890s

“The guests of Westminster Park gave the initial German of the season  Wednesday night at the hotel. Fourteen couples participated and under  the able leadership of Mr. McCreery executed a number of interesting and  novel figures. The German began promptly at 8:30 and ended with the  reverse basket figure at 10:30." (On the St. Lawrence, August 11, 1893)


Garden Parties were also popular social events at the island resorts  at the end of the nineteenth century. Thousand Island House in  Alexandria Bay and the Frontenac Hotel on Round Island were two hotels  that hosted lavish garden parties.

Garden Parties were most frequently given at the Thousand Islands Hotel on Round Island.

Nearly a thousand people attended this garden party at the Frontenac in 1891:

“Never in the history of Round Island as a summer resort has an event  occurred there equal in beauty and grandeur to the one last evening –  the first garden party of the season. The big Frontenac was resplendent  with lights, and the variegated lights in rows from the ground to the  tower and strung among the trees on the lawn in front of the hotel made a  beautiful effect indeed. (Daily on the St. Lawrence, August 19, 1891)

“The first garden party of the season was held at the Thousand Island  House Tuesday evening and was a most successful and brilliant affair. A  large platform for dancing was erected in front of the hotel. It was  tastily trimmed and lighted with numerous incandescent lights. The merry  dancers presented a gay and picturesque scene. Prof. Steubgen’s  excellent orchestra rendered some very choice music during the evening”. (On the St. Lawrence, July 20, 1894)


An 1893 description of a Polka Dot Party

A Thousand Island Park Hammock Party was described like this: “A  Dozen hammocks were strung, and in each hammock a young lady seats  herself. Numbers are drawn, and the young men of the party seat  themselves in the hammock which their number calls for. Conversation on a  certain subject, which is specified beforehand, is taken up and  concluded at the ringing of a bell. The young men change hammocks until  the entire round. A vote is taken, and the lady and gentlemen adjudged  the best conversationalists are awarded prizes.” (Daily on the St. Lawrence, August 1, 1891)

Another popular daytime party was the Watermelon Party. The host  procures the largest watermelon he can find. The guests guess as to how  many seeds are in the watermelon. The melon is sliced, eaten, and the  seeds counted.

The Crossman House in Alexandria Bay issued invitations for a  Terpsichorean Party in 1893. Terpsichore was one of Greek mythology’s  nine muses, the muse known for ruling over dance while she played her  lyre. So . . . a dance party.

Polka Dot parties were also very popular in the 1890s. Polka dot  fabric and clothing was all the rage. Participants were asked to dress  in polka dot clothing.

When the first ever hop was held at Toundas Island Park, a prayer meeting was held at the same time in the chapel.

Spook  parties were also popular. Guests were invited “to come as spooks and  dress in a manner to suggest that they have just arrived from the spirit  world.” One Spook Party featured after-dinner speeches where all  present had to relate a personal experience about the supernatural  world.


Quite a brouhaha erupted in 1892 when the Columbian hosted it’s very first Hop.

“For a week back it had been whispered about that a hop would be  given at the Columbian sometime soon, but the residents of this good  Methodist resort could not be convinced that such was the case. A  regular ball was to occur within the sacred precincts of Thousand Island  Park, that park which was a few years ago a Methodist camp meeting  ground and whose by-laws positively forbid dancing, card playing, and  other modern vices. Never before this year has there been any dancing at  all at the Park.”  “Many good old Methodists held up their hands in  holy horror but the younger and more carnal-minded generations were  delighted and said they could see nothing ‘naught; about it at all.” (Daily on the St. Lawrence, August 19, 1892)

So there you have it. Partying in the 1890s was a big deal! The hops,  Germans and garden parties were lavish events for the social elite to  see and be seen. By comparison, our Sangria Sundays are low key, sort of  like old-fashioned Sunday dinners where we go to reconnect with our  island family.

Lynn McElfresh, Grenell Island

This is Lynn McElfresh’s 122th article for TI Life! This editor waits with anticipation each month to see what Lynn will give to our River community. This month Lynn took me back to the 1890s when Islanders enjoyed dances and parties!  Not sure anything has changed, but I never realized it was like this.
Lynn came to Grenell Island for the first time to meet her fiancé’s family, in 1975. She became part of the family, and the island became part of her life. Lynn and her husband, Gary, spend their summers in the Thousand Islands and their winters in Dunedin, Florida. To see all of Lynn’s island experiences, search TI Life under Lynn McElfresh.

Note:  Comments posted on the "Old TI Life":


Comment by: Tim Sr
Left at: 7:00 PM Monday, January 14, 2019  

Lynn, When are you going to have a hop party on Grenell. Hop on the dance floor and hops in the bottle. Those were the good old days. Great story.

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

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