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Round Island

Written by on October 27, 2015 in The Thousand Islands

This historic 1000 Islands landmark has regular summer postal service. The Frontenac post office is one the last standing symbols of the grand New Frontenac Hotel, which burned to the ground over a century ago.”This is the social centre of the island,” post master Josephine Van Order told me when I visited the island several years ago. “We sell stamps in the meantime.” Van Order, a Round Island resident and retired teacher from Freeville Tompkins County N.Y. who was working at the sleepy post office accompanied by her dogs, named Fat Dog and Zeekee.

Round Island resident Josephine Van Order with dog Zeekee.

Round Island resident Josephine Van Order and dog Zeekee. Photo byKim Lunman/islandlifemag.ca

There are about 40 people on Round Island at the height of summer. Islanders pull up in boats to the dock and to pick up their mail. A mailman makes routine deliveries to Round Island by boat on his scenic river route including several other area islands: Murray, Grenell and Grindstone.  A model of the iconic River post office has been

built as one of the exhibits at Brockville’s newest tourism attraction, the Aquatarium, to soon open to the public.  Round Island is home to historical boathouses and summer estates with names like Rivercroft, Pinecroft and Carpe Diem.

Its shores are lined with 19th century cottages with wraparound porches in the shade of towering poplars. One of the cottages was used as the New Frontenac Hotel yacht clubs. The island has meandering walking trails though residents also get around by golf carts. Many of the islanders are life-long summer residents. Renowned artist Frank H. Taylor once owned a cottage at the south foot of the island known as Shady Ledge. The Philadelphia artist, a native of Rochester, captured the elegant tranquility of life on the River in his work in the late 1800s and early 1900s including sketches of Round Island’s cottages in periodicals such as Harper’s Weekly.

Dockside on Round Island. Photo by Kim Lunman/islandlifemag.ca

Victorian cottages line the shores of Round Island. Photo by Kim Lunman/islandlifemag.ca

Round Island is a reminder of Thousand Islands’ Golden Age depicted in vintage postcards showing steamers at this very dock. Steamship tickets used to be sold for Hotel Frontenac guests at the post office. Glamorous guests, turned out in finery, wide-brimmed hats and diamonds, strolled up this moss-covered pathway to the centre of the island that led to the manicured grounds and the grand steps of the New Frontenac.

The New Frontenac Hotel on Round Island burned down in 1911. Today it lives on in vintage postcards.

The New Frontenac Hotel on Round Island burned down in 1911. Today it lives on in vintage postcards.

All that’s left of the hotel today is rubble and stone foundations obscured under untamed grass. But one enduring symbol of the New Frontenac Hotel remarkably remains today: Its flag. An unknown man scrambled to the top of the hotel to save it from the blaze that lit up the night’s sky for miles on August 23 1911. About 160 guests, most of them from New York City, survived and news of the fire at one of the nation’s finest resorts was reported in the New York Times. A local fishing guide was killed when he entered the hotel on a rescue mission. Its 46-star American flag is being restored to correct years of damage – not from the fire but from dust and dirt – for the celebration. The New Frontenac flag was only in existence for four years before New Mexico and Arizona were next to declare statehood in 1912. It disappeared from the public eye for a few decades, surfacing at the Thousand Island Museum in the 1960s. It is to be housed in the Thousand Island Museum in Clayton and displayed at events throughout the Thousand Islands. The fire that burned down the New Frontenac was ironically caused by an improperly discarded cigarette in the Men’s Dormitory in room 117 by a jazz musician.

Dockside Round Island. Photo by Kim Lunman/islandlifemag.ca

Dockside Round Island. Photo by Kim Lunman/islandlifemag.ca

Ironically, New Frontenac’s owner Charles G. Emery was one of the founders of the American Tobacco Company and the inventor of a cigarette making machine. Emery, New York City tobacco tycoon, built one of the Thousand Islands first ‘castles’ on nearby Calumet Island in 1898 which burned down in 1956. The hotel’s history stems back to 1878. The original hotel on the island was Round Island House. Round Island was purchased in 1878 for $9,000. A park was laid out with 400 lots to be leased for summer residents and The Round Island House Hotel was constructed. It changed hands in 1888 when it was purchased by Jacob Hayes and other owners. Emery became the major shareholder of Round Island in 1898.

Round Island Boathouse. Photo by Kim Lunman/islandlifemag.ca

Round Island. Photo by Kim Lunman/islandlifemag.ca

When Emery assumed ownership 10 years later, he renovated the hotel, calling it the New Frontenac. His goal was to make the hotel into one of the most luxurious summer resorts in the world. He succeeded in attracting guests from around the globe to this island in the St. Lawrence, including luminaries such as Thomas Edison, William K. Vanderbilt, the Duke of Newcastle, Teddy Roosevelt and the Maharaja and Maharani of Baroda. Round Island will always be remembered for the New Frontenac Hotel. But its current residents cherish this unique community for its past and present, a place to check in every summer to catch up with life-long friends on a sleepy veranda overlooking the River and visit the post office to pick up the mail and socialize.

 

Snail Mail: A mail bag from the 1800s at Comfort Island in the 1000 Islands. Photo by Kim Lunman  islandlfiemag.ca

1000 Islands Snail Mail: A mail bag from the 1800s at Comfort Island N.Y  on Millionaire’s Row near Alexandria Bay. Photo by Kim Lunman islandlfiemag.ca.

 

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