Thursday, August 19, 2021

The Historic Thousand Islands River Communities

The history of the Thousand Islands’ River Communities is diverse and interesting. So is the culture of these small villages. In the summer, the population of Alexandria Bay, Clayton, and Cape Vincent, New York, swells to several times its year-round residential population, and each town offers a unique experience all its own.

Some of the river communities are on the Canadian shores, but this post will explore just three very different northern border communities in the heart of the Thousand Islands on the American shores of New York State. Perhaps you’ll plan to visit one summer.

Alexandria Bay

Alex Bay, or A-Bay, as the locals call it, was settled around the War of 1812. One of the war’s battles, the Battle of Cranberry Creek, was fought here. So was the Patriot War of the 1830s when the British Steamer Sir Robert Peel was captured and destroyed.

Between the War of 1812 and 1870, the area had just a few dozen settlers. Harvesting timber and producing potash—potassium carbonate used for making glass, soap, and bleaching textiles—were the primary jobs. In 1870, coal became a mainstay, and the population began to grow. More and more land was cleared, and early residents, Cornwall and Walton, got the brilliant idea to buy up most of the islands for pennies and resell them for many dollars.

In 1848, Charles Crossman built the first Alexandria Bay hotel, and visitors began to come to the resort, mostly for fishing, but also for the beauty of the St. Lawrence River.

Then in 1872, everything changed. George Pullman invited President Grant to visit the islands. The press touted the area as the place to vacation. Cornwall and Walton began selling islands and shoreline properties to the “new money” millionaires—and the Thousand Islands Gilded Age began.

By 1878, Alexandria Bay consisted of 930 acres of islands. Industries included ice harvesting, boat building by Hutchinson Brothers, and stone quarrying for the new castles and mansions going up, as well as the tour-boat business. By then, the river was filled with boats. The casino on Casino Island was built, and tourism kicked in high gear.

Today, A-Bay is still the major tourist hub in the region. The Cornwall Brothers Museum is the place to learn more about the history. You can catch a number of boat cruises. From the village dock, it’s a quick boat trip to Boldt Castle on Heart Island, Castle Rest on Pullman Island, and Casa Blanca on Cherry Island, to name a few. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Alexandria Bay is a lively, busy town.


Charm is the word for Clayton. Homey. Friendly. It still retains a proverbial home town feel but also provides a pleasant stay for visitors.

First settled around 1800, Clayton became a major shipbuilding and lumbering port. The village was the central railroad terminal for the Thousand Islands region; anyone coming to the region by train had to pass through Clayton. A ferry also connected Clayton with Gananoque, Ontario.

The town includes several islands including Grindstone, Round, and a few smaller islands. Today, Clayton is home to the renowned Antique Boat Museum, the Thousand Islands Museum, and dozens of Victorian-era homes. 

Cape Vincent

Cape Vincent was first explored by French explorers and missionaries in the seventeenth century and celebrates its French heritage each year with a French Festival. It’s still the only ferry crossing from the US to the largest of the Thousand Islands, Wolfe Island, Canada.

During the War of 1812, Cape Vincent hosted a military camp to fight the British forces stationed across the river in Kingston, Ontario. Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother resided in the village, and Tibbetts Point Lighthouse offers endless views of both the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario.

During the Gilded Age, Clayton was a famous tourist area, and still is. Within twenty minutes of each other by car, these three villages are the perfect jumping off point to discover the Thousand Islands Gilded Age history, magic, and wonders that are abundant on the St. Lawrence River.

About Sara’s Surprise:

Sara O’Neill, works as an assistant pastry chef at the magnificent Thousand Islands Crossmon Hotel where she meets precocious, lovable, seven-year-old Madison and her charming father and hotel manager, Sean Graham. But Jacque LaFleur, the pastry chef Sara works under, makes her dream job a nightmare.

Sean Graham has trouble keeping his mind off Sara and Madison out of mischief. Though he finds Sara captivating, he despises LaFleur and misreads Sara’s desire to learn from the pastry chef as affection. Can Sean learn to trust Sara and can she trust herself to be an instant mother?

Winner the 2020 American Fiction Awards, Sara's Surprise will grip your heart and warm it well.

About Susan:

Susan G Mathis is an international award-winning, multi-published author of stories set in the beautiful Thousand Islands, her childhood stomping ground in upstate NY. Susan has been published more than twenty times in full-length novels, novellas, and non-fiction books.

Her first two books of The Thousand Islands Gilded Age series, Devyn’s Dilemma, and Katelyn’s Choice have each won multiple awards, and book three, Peyton’s Promise, comes out May 2022 with Rachel’s Reunion in October. The Fabric of Hope: An Irish Family Legacy, Christmas Charity, and Sara’s Surprise, and Reagan’s Reward, are also award winners. Susan’s book awards include two Illumination Book Awards, the American Fiction Award, the Indie Excellence Book Award, and two Literary Titan Book Award. Reagan’s Reward is a finalist in the Selah Awards.

Susan is also a published author of two premarital books, two children's picture books, stories in a dozen compilations, and hundreds of published articles. Susan makes her home in Colorado Springs and enjoys traveling around the world. Visit for more.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting! This area sounds so interesting! I'd love to visit one day.