In Thousand Island Park, cottages vary widely in size and design. Some are quite grand, commanding a magnificent view of the St. Lawrence River from a choice spot on the coast. Some are humble “camps,” tucked into the woods, far from any view of the River.
Our cottage is not on the coast, but it affords a pleasing view of the River. It is not grand, but it is spacious and solidly built with rare craftsmanship. Located in the heart of Thousand Island Park on lot 214, it is more accurately described as a summer home, as opposed to a camp or a cottage. Someone of stature built the residence that we now enjoy.
We bought the cottage in 2006 which was originally built in 1915. An addition was built in 1968. The ceilings in the rooms of the original structure are 9 feet high and finished in painted tin. The ceiling patterns in each room — parlor, dining room, pantry, even the bathroom — are all different from one another. Each room has elegant, tin, crown molding.
There is quality woodwork throughout. The baseboards are 10 inches tall. Each window and door is trimmed-out with generous head casings and aprons. In the pantry there is a custom-made wood storage cabinet, with such clever features as a tilt-out flour bin. A plate rail runs along the walls in the dining room. All of the woodwork is varnished, not painted.
The floors are hardwood, or at least a three-foot border around the room is hardwood. The central area was meant to be covered by an area rug.
The materials used, the quality of the construction, and the custom carpentry found in the interior, tell you that the original owner was a person of means and taste. The location of the structure tells you more. In the “Gilded Age,” when there might have been thousands of people in T.I. Park, during the season, this place was in the center of the action. It is close to the “Four Corners” in Thousand Island Park, an easy walk to the Wellesley Hotel, commercial shops, or the Tabernacle in one direction or to the Columbian Hotel or the Pavilion on the River in the other direction.
In Thousand Island Park, cottages are often conveyed together with their contents. In our case, those contents included photographs and artifacts. One artifact was an Edison Standard Phonograph that dates from 1903. The original cottage owner enjoyed the latest in-home entertainment.
Another artifact was a magnificent walking stick, with a carved stag handle and brass ferrule.
Our cottage has an L-shaped front porch. The photographs that we found in the attic show people enjoying themselves on that porch. One photograph is of particular interest. It shows a distinguished gentleman in front of the cottage. He has with him the stag-handle walking stick. The back of the photograph is marked, “G.R. on T.I.P. 1932.” To see that picture and hold that walking stick is to be transported back in time, to meet someone whose life has intersected with your own.
That someone — the builder and original owner of our cottage — was one of the region’s most prominent citizens, Captain George Rutherford Brown. We found in the cottage Capt. Brown’s original Passenger Steamer Master license, dated May, 1900. Today it is framed and hanging in the parlor. A related document shows that Capt. Brown was born February 19, 1856, in Waddington, NY, USA. From accounts in the Kingston, Ontario newspaper British Whig, we have learned that Capt. Brown served as first officer on the Folger steamer St. Lawrence, in 1901 and 1905. We have tucked into a corner of the frame, a vintage postcard bearing a photograph of the steamer St. Lawrence.
Not surprisingly, Capt. Brown was a man of many talents. According to an article by Rick Tague in the January, 2014 issue of Thousand Islands Life (“Grindstone, Grenell and Wellesley’s Historic Churches”), the contract to build the Fineview Methodist Church on Wellesley Island was let to Captain George R. Brown of Thousand Island Park. The church was completed in 1908.
Our cottage sits on Lot 214. We also lease half of Lot 213. On Lot 213 there is a set of weathered concrete steps. Steps to nowhere. They are now a sort of rock garden, where hens & chicks are doing quite well. Passersby often stop at those steps and try to puzzle out why they are there.
If they look carefully, they might see that the border of what today is a flower garden, behind those steps is actually the foundation of a long-gone structure.
That structure would have been The Arlington boarding house. The Arlington burned to the ground in the early morning hours of June 10, 1912. The news account in the June 14, 1912 issue of The Ogdensburg Journal stated, “The Arlington, one of the most exclusive boarding houses at the Park, was totally destroyed….The property belonged to Captain George R. Brown of Thousand Island Park, captain of the steamer St. Lawrence.” (A month later, the Columbian Hotel and 100 cottages in Thousand Island Park were destroyed by “The Great Fire.”)
According to the abstract of title pertaining to our lots, Lot 214, where our cottage is sited, was leased by Capt. Brown from the Thousand Island Camp Meeting Association on June 26, 1909. Three months after the fire that consumed The Arlington in 1912, Capt. Brown assigned the lease for Lot 214 to his wife, Artamisa Brown. According to Jefferson County tax records, the cottage was constructed in 1915. Artamisa Brown continued to hold the lease until the end of 1954.
Ours is now the third family to occupy Captain Brown’s summer home. We have no connection to Capt. Brown, other than an appreciation for this man of many accomplishments. Capt. Brown is still very much with us here, if you know where to look.
By Raymond Kowalski
Ray Kowalski is originally from Rochester, New York. He first started coming to Thousand Island Park in the mid-1960s. After a career in communications law in Washington, DC, he is retired and is living in Gainesville, Virginia. He and his wife, Jean Ann, will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in July, 2019. They have three adult children and five grandchildren.
Note: Several articles have been published about TI Park. To learn more about the fires see Lynn McElfresh's TI Park, Then and Now. September 2014.