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Dave Reese

Alexandria Bay, New York

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Peg and I started our excursion on a Sunday around 7:30 pm since I was performing with our local men's chorus (www.summerharmony.com) that afternoon. We were trying to get NY state on our first leg, so we stuck to I-476 (the Pennsylvania Turnpike's Northeast Extension) to I-81. We did stop on the way for dinner at a rest area in NY and ate Subway Subs and snacks that Peg had packed, and got to a Quality Inn on US-11 in Binghampton for the night. It was nothing special, but it was clean, and had a free breakfast in the morning.

 

On Monday, we continued up I-81and I-481 around Syracuse, and then at Cicero, I decided to jump off the Interstates and take US-11. After an hour with little scenery, I actually opted to get back on I-81 as AAA has sections of it designated at a scenic drive. It actually was quite pleasant, and we went the rest of the way to NY-12, which is the road to Alexandria Bay. As you enter town, a nice welcoming arch crosses over Church Street. Just a few blocks into town we found our reserved home for the vacation, Hill's Motor Court. We checked in with our very special hosts, Terri and Bob Yawger. They are originally from Washington NJ, and found this business when Bob came up to Canada to visit hockey friends from his matches at the Al-Beth arena in Allentown PA. It felt like we were bumping into old friends. This is a perfect and nostalgic place to stay. I am sad to say that the business is for sale as Bob and Terri wish to move back home to be near their grandchildren. As a Grandparent, I truly understand. We met their family who were visiting them from NJ while we were there, and it was great to watch the three generations mixing together as a unit. So if you or someone you know would want to run and maintain a wonderful piece of history of the 1000 Islands, have them check out the ad.

Hill's Motor Court is a small place with a few efficiencies, and their own boat docks. Two rows of units run along each side of the parking lot towards the St. Lawrence River from Bethune Street. Between the docks and the rest of the motel nestle cabins 9 and 10. We were lucky enough to secure #9, a tiny little room with a double bed, desk, open closet, and full bath. The picture window was basically at the foot of the bed and overlooks the St Lawrence and the docks at the Motor Court. From our room we could see a number of the islands and the wonderful homes on them, as well as one of the public docks of Alexandria Bay.

After unpacking we visited the main shopping area of town on foot. It is about two blocks from the motel to James Street, a section of mostly dining establishments and gift shops. Downtown only extends about three blocks to the docks of the Uncle Sam Cruise Line. We enjoyed a quick lunch at Dockside Pub, a typical small town place with very good lunches. We then explored the shops on James Street with assortments of souvenirs, T-shirts, quality shoes, jewelry, and other normal vacation area items. The shopping district seems to be on an upswing as there were only a few vacant shops, and a few establishments being restored. It was fun to see an old sign that was kept even after a change of business. After a day in town, we dined on a James Street mainstay, the Admiral Inn. We arrived for the Early Bird menu specials, and decided to dine outside under the awning. If you arrive early, make sure to consider where the sunset will be when you are dining. We ended up moving once and had a very pleasant meal. We then walked toward the St Lawrence to do a bit more of exploring. We came to the Cornwell Brothers Store which is a historic building that backs up to the water, and now houses the history museum. It was closed in the evening, but we figured we would get there in a couple of days. We then walked to Scenic View Park. This is a jewel hidden from the shopping district that abuts the local hospital. There is a large pavilion for picnics, tables on the lawn, a footbridge to a small island with a great view of Heart Island and Boldt Castle, and a small sandy beach on the Bay. Although the water seemed icy cold, a number of teens were enjoying the water and the dock that allowed a classic cannonball entry.

We returned to the motel in time to sit at the table adjacent to our cabin and watch the sunset over the St. Lawrence. To our right, one could see the nightlife on the harbor as many boaters enjoyed dinner and beverages before sailing back out past our dock. It was a peaceful way to end the first day.

 

On Tuesday we started with a decent breakfast at Chez Paris where we were served by a stereotypical dinner waitress, and then headed to the Uncle Sam Boat Line for the 2 1/2 tour (not on the SS Minnow) of Millionaire's Row, and the 1000 Island International Bridge, and then onto to Heart Island. The tour was aboard the Alexandria Belle, and three level paddle wheeler. We started through some of the magnificent islands of the older homes from the early 1900's. Owners included Pullman of the Pullman Car, Boldt of the Waldorf-Astoria, and later Noble of Lifesaver fame. We then sailed over the international dividing line into Canada and sailed around many of their islands as well. There are well over 1000 Islands in the region although some are very tiny, and sustain only one tree. An interesting thing we learned is that one of the islands is owned by Mr. Harold Fullmer of Allentown, PA (our home town). Near the end of the tour, the boats do land at Heart Island, allowing you to tour (admission charged) the island and Boldt Castle. The story told about the Boldt family, and how the Castle was abandoned during construction upon the death of Mrs. Louise Boldt in 1904 had affected me strongly when I toured the ruins as a pre-teen. Visiting this time on the self-guided tour, the island has been "restored" so that it is not original and not a ruin. They have stabilized the buildings, and then started to "finish" the construction. Although the interior is very pretty, some historians feel that it is not finished in the style that the Boldt’s would have employed. A very interesting story of the Boldt family and castle can be found in the book "Boldt Castle In Search of the Lost Story" by Paul Malo and published by Syracuse Press. It definitely allows one to see many other viewpoints besides that fed to tourists. We toured the enchanting Power House, a building completed during the time the Boldts were actively developing the island, and now houses a very interesting display of historic photographs and some of the original dynamos. It includes a carillon that Boldt had moved from Wanamaker’s Department Store to Heart Island when John Wanamaker had too many complaints about the loud chiming of the hours in downtown Philadelphia. The Boldt family lived on the island at times during construction in the Alster Tower, also known as the children’s playhouse. It is almost a fantasy building, one that included a bowling alley and kitchen (some play house). We did not pay for the additional tour of the Boldt Yacht House on Wellesley Island, but I wish we had after reading the Malo book.

We went back to the motel after returning to Alexandria Bay for a brief nap due to too much fresh air and sun, and then walked into town for dinner at Cavallario's, a 1970 looking Italian-American restaurant. We finished the daylight hours with a relaxing evening of exploring residential neighborhoods on foot before retiring for the evening.

 

Wednesday started with breakfast at the Captains Landing, a floating restaurant built on an old New York State barge. The restaurant offers a complete menu, and magnificent views of Heart Island. There is no sensation of movement in the restaurant, unless you watch the water flowing right below the windows. This is definitely worth a visit. We decided to drive north on Route 12 in the general direction of the Eisenhower Lock of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, but with no real objective or goal but a scenic drive. On the way we stopped at Mare's Ware's Pottery right on NY 37. The store was formerly Mary's Dad's tackle shop and they still show some of his successful lures and prize fish, but the building now houses her store, potting wheel, and kilns. She makes stoneware and Raku, and will schedule a time for you to throw your own bowl with her help which she later fires and ships to your home. It was a delightful visit leading to a couple of purchases of very cool looking custom pottery. We continued into Ogdensburg, a town that seemed like it should have a cool vintage downtown, but we never did find any real shops. While walking through town we saw an Amish buggy pull into the local bank with a load of groceries in the back of the wagon. Peg had learned from Bob Yawger that the Amish in this area refuse to add the orange reflective triangles on the backs of their buggies, making it much more dangerous on the road. We stopped at Phillips Diner for a typical small town diner lunch and then headed back towards Alexandria Bay. We detoured through the picturesque village of Morristown, where I did see a rare Kaiser Henry J in a parking lot. It definitely looked like a nostalgic small river town from the 1950's. Before driving back to the motel we visited the Bonnie Castle Greens for a round of miniature golf on the Canadian course. This is probably the worst mini golf course in the USA, as the felt appears at least 20 years old with gaps in the seams, and ripples and tears throughout. It may have been one of the most entertaining rounds of mini golf we ever played, but not a quality round.

We dined back at the Admiral's Inn, but due to the heat we opted for indoor dining this time, and then finished our souvenir shopping.

 

We had planned to stay one more day and go to Clayton and over the International Bridge on Thursday and then take a sunset ride in a hot air balloon, but a family emergency forced us to call our visit short. We left early Thursday morning after heartfelt hugs and farewells with our new friends the Yawgers, and then drove straight home on the interstates while Peg made arrangements with our family members at home via the cell phone. It was sad to end the vacation early, but now we still have more things we want to do, meaning that we need to return to Alexandria Bay.

 

If you want to view more photos of this trip, you can find them here individually (this includes the ones linked in this diary). You can also view the photos as a slide show and click on the “i” for captions and descriptions.

Edited by Dave Reese

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Dave,

 

Great to see your Alexandria Bay post! The gang has been waiting in anticipation and wasn’t disappointed. Hills looks like a real charmer! From the looks of it you could arrive by boat or car!

 

The town looks charming too. From looking at my old stuff, I guess Alexandria Bay has been a “watering hole” for many years, back to the 1800’s. (BTW the Cornwell Bros Store URL is missing).

 

The sunset shot is a prize winner. What a great view!

 

I guess millionaires have garages for their boats. I’ll never know! But one of the houses in your slide show looked unsafe! Get a little tipsy one night and its over the wall and into the water!

 

Did I spot a bald eagle in that chimney nest?

 

Looks like a great trip! Glad you shared. (I’m on the road this evening in Bend, Oregon or I would make this longer.) I’m off to dinner with my son, so I’ll catch up with the gang down at the American Road Garage later.

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

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Dave,

 

Great to see your Alexandria Bay post! The gang has been waiting in anticipation and wasn’t disappointed. Hills looks like a real charmer! From the looks of it you could arrive by boat or car!

 

The town looks charming too. From looking at my old stuff, I guess Alexandria Bay has been a “watering hole” for many years, back to the 1800’s. (BTW the Cornwell Bros Store URL is missing).

 

The sunset shot is a prize winner. What a great view!

 

I guess millionaires have garages for their boats. I’ll never know! But one of the houses in your slide show looked unsafe! Get a little tipsy one night and its over the wall and into the water!

 

Did I spot a bald eagle in that chimney nest?

 

 

Thanks for the kind words Dave,

 

I did fix the Conwell Store link...

 

Hill's was truly a keeper, and hopefully will stay that way. I did see people check in arriving by boat although most of us used cars. Two of the boats there arrived on trailers and were taken into the water at a public ramp 1/2 block from the motel.

 

The birds in the nests were Ospreys. Several were sighted during the sight seeing boat cruise. Glad you enjoyed it, and have a great time on the Road, the best place to be.

Edited by Dave Reese

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All those homes on the islands... Don't they worry about flooding?

 

I'd've loved to see a photo of the Henry J.

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All those homes on the islands... Don't they worry about flooding?

 

I'd've loved to see a photo of the Henry J.

 

They never discussed flooding as a problem, just when the St Lawrence river freezes and they snowmobile to the islands in the winter. Our tour narrator on the Alexandria Belle also told us that occasionally a car or truck will break through the ice in winter, and is immediately subject to daily fines for pollution as many of the islands filter their own river water for use in their homes. The smallest island met the criteria of island which includes sustaining at least one tree, and staying above the water surface. I did not see any information on floods in my reading so far.

 

I saw the Henry J in the distance as I was turning on the main road through town, and did not take the time to stop. I kicked myself afterwards, but at the time it did not seem to be a great photo opportunity compared to other Henry J photos I have taken at various car shows over the years.

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It looks like Cabin #9 is the place to be - especially abound sunset. The castle certainly looks interesting but you gotta wonder about the "restoration" and its motives. I guess that's why there's a book about it.

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The castle certainly looks interesting but you gotta wonder about the "restoration" and its motives. I guess that's why there's a book about it.

 

I understand the restoration to some degree, but wish it had not happened. When I first saw "Citizen Kane" while in college, it reminded me of Boldt Castle. But after being abandoned around 1905, the condition of the building was becoming dangerous with most of the windows broken, leaking roofs, vandalism (much worse than the graffiti in the one photo), and rotting beams. I think they felt it was better to make it "too nice to damage" than to try to preserve the structure with water leaks and much worse. It makes the "fairy tale" story nicer, but to me it was too sterile. The book is a definite must read before a visit.

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