Friday, January 19, 2024

Heroes of the 1912 Great Fire (part one)

By Susan G Mathis

The Great Fire of 1912 in the Thousand Island Park is seared into Thousand Island history, especially into the hearts and memories of the Park community. The summer of 1910 was unseasonable hot and dry, and the population of TI Park had grown to about 12,000. The area was primed for trouble, and that summer, three major fires nearly destroyed the Park.

In May, eleven boathouses and three launches were destroyed in a riverfront fire. In June, an entire block of new cottages burned down. Then, in July, the Great Fire razed the Columbian Hotel and more than a hundred businesses and cottages to the north and east of today’s Commons. Firefighters from Alexandria Bay, Clayton, and Ganonoque responded to the call for help, bravely fighting the conflagration for many terrible hours. Residents also came to their aid, trying to save their beloved Thousand Island Park. Many were injured, but thankfully, only one person died.

As the Columbian Hotel burned, William Tousey, Robert Van Lingen, and Frank Sweeny worked their way to the top floor of the hotel where they rushed from room to room. On the top floor in one of the furthest rooms in the southeast corner of the hotel, they found Miss Mary Buster of Watertown, who had fainted. Mr. Tousey threw her over his shoulder, soon carried her to safety.

Paul Crouch of Cortland stood on the peak of the Wellesley Hotel with a blanket thrown around him and ripped the burning shingles from the roof for two hours. His efforts, coupled with the volunteers on the ground, saved the Wellesley Hotel from destruction. Though badly scorched, the hotel reopened the next day.

Next month on February 19th, you’ll read the rest of the story. You’ll learn about a ninety-two-year-old grandmother, a twelve-year-old girl, and others who were heroes during this terrible time. Their stories are penned in my novel, Mary’s Moment.

What makes a hero? Leave your answer or comments on the post below and join me on February 19th for my next post.


It’s 1912, and Thousand Island Park’s switchboard operator Mary Flynn is the community heroine saving dozens of homes from a terrible fire. Less than a month later, when another disastrous fire rages through the Park, Mary loses her memory as she risks her life in a neighbor's burning cottage. Widowed fireman George Flannigan is enamored by the brave raven-haired lass and takes every opportunity to connect with Mary. But he has hidden griefs of his own that cause him great heartache. When George can’t stop the destructive Columbian Hotel fire from eradicating more than a hundred businesses and homes, he is distraught. Yet George’s greater concern is Mary. Will she remember their budding relationship or be forever lost to him?


Susan G Mathis is an international award-winning, multi-published author of stories set in the beautiful Thousand Islands in upstate NY. Susan has been published more than thirty times in full-length novels, novellas, and non-fiction books. She has eleven in her fiction line. Susan is also a published author of two premarital books, stories in a dozen compilations, and hundreds of published articles. Susan lives in Colorado Springs and enjoys traveling the world. Visit for more.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your post today and Happy New Year to you and your family. In my eyes, a hero is someone who steps up in some way...doing the right thing, doing the courageous thing, supporting the less fortunate. Often a hero is not seen as such by others, except for the person they have impacted for good and even that person may not know who they are because they've done something good anonymously. One reason I love this blog is because I learn about heroes and heroines daily!