A Look Back at the History of Manhattan Island in the 1000 Islands
The first cottage to be built in the 1000 Islands was purportedly on Manhattan Island’s main island and credited to Seth Green who had purchased it back in 1853 and named it Green Island. After residing in his small cottage he built in 1854 for several years, it would become unoccupied for a period of time when Green became Superintendent of Fisheries for New York State. In 1867, Green would sell the island to Judge James Spencer and John L. Hasbrouck of New York City.
Judge Spencer, an ex-judge in New York City Superior Court, was born in 1825 at Fort Covington in Franklin County, just east of Massena and not very far off the St. Lawrence River. He would start his law career there, but move to Ogdensburg in 1854 to form the Brown & Spencer legal firm where he would be appointed the U.S. District Attorney for Northern District of New York in 1857. Suffice to say, he was very well familiar with the area.
After purchasing the islands that formed Manhattan Island group in 1867, he, along with partner Hasbrouck, would restore and enlarge the former Green cottage. As described in Growth of a Century, by John A. Haddock–
The piers, buildings, the lawns, trees, shrubbery and flowers, and general appearance, are complete and beautiful beyond description, and equal those of any other island property. Every year, for a period of three or four months, the proprietors and their families and guests come to Manhattan to enjoy its beauties and its restful comforts.
Very little information can be found on John L. Hasbrouck other than he was born in Utica, N.Y., but sometime after expanding on the Green cottage which was on the eastern side of the island facing Alexandria Bay, he would occupy his own cottage on the western side of the island (see photo below.)
Thanks to current Manhattan Island resident and owner of the Spencer property, Jay Stewart, for providing some additional historical information he has gathered himself and from descendants of the Hasbrouck family. As it turns out, Judge Spencer and John L. Hasbrouck shared a common ancestor, via marriage. Judge Spencer’s first wife, Sarah Sophia Clark, whose mother, Sarah Sophia Hasbrouck, shared a common paternal grandfather with John L. Hasbrouck in the name of Joseph Hasbrouck. Sarah Sophia Clark would pass away in 1860 at the age of 27 giving birth to a child which presumably didn’t survive either as there is no record of Judge Spencer having any children.
Judge Spencer, according to the Watertown Daily Times, would have his own cottage built in 1880, close to the Green cottage judging from the views to Alexandria Bay for both (see photos.) The Spencer and Hasbrouck cottages would complicate researching the history after they exchanged hands as there was no differentiating the two in the media who often referred to the island itself rather than a specific cottage.
S. G. Pope, who built many of the grand cottages in the Thousand Islands, would build Judge Spencer’s at a reported cost of $5,000. Whether it was added on to over the years before Spencer’s death is unsure, but it was described a fine cottage being erected at the time. Years later, in 1897, Judge Spencer would make the remark of George Boldt, “how he had come here two years ago, and done more than all the others to make this Thousand Islands beautiful.”
Spencer would pass away at the age of 76 in 1901, leaving behind a widow and no children. This is where history, at least kept in the newspapers, gets a little puzzling. In May 8, 1902, Isabella “Belle” W. Spencer, Judge Spencer’s widow, would transfer property per the Watertown Daily Times, as “Belle W. Spencer to Carrie S. Hasbrouck, portion of Manhattan Island and the islands constituting what is known as Manhattan group of islands in the St. Lawrence River.”
Carrie S. Hasbrouck, aka Caroline Queen “Carrie” Sherwood Hasbrouck, was the daughter-in-law of John L. Hasbrouck, Judge Spencer’s partner in the purchase of the island who had passed away in 1895. Carrie herself was a widow, her husband, George Hasbrouck, having also passed away in 1901 at the age of 49.
Aside from Judge Spencer and John Hasbrouck fixing up the original Seth Green Cottage, each had their own cottages and it’s unknown if it were the original purchase that both husbands shared that was transferred, or, if having no descendants herself, Mrs. Spencer was merely transferring all of the property to Mrs. Hasbrouck.
Making things more confusing, a week later, on May 15, another printed brief in the Watertown Daily Times reads “Carrie S. Hasbrouck to Belle S. Spencer, portion of Manhattan Island in St. Lawrence River.” Belle Spencer would pass away on July 16, 1902, just two months after initially transferring the property. On May 28, 1903, the Times printed “The City Trust Co. of New York as executor to Carrie S. Hasbrouck, Manhattan group of islands in the St. Lawrence; $10,000.”
Carrie Hasbrouck would never miss a summer staying on the island until the year of her death in 1943. The property, again, unspecified, was inherited by her granddaughter, Helen Rumsey Cox Bennett, and grandson, Lee M. Rumsey, Jr. Helen was initially married to James M Cox, Jr. of Dayton, Ohio, whose father, James Middleton Cox, was the former governor of said state. Helen and James Jr. would eventually divorce and she married Thomas Bennett around 1952.
Helen had spent the summers of her youth on Manhattan Island where she was raised by her grandmother, Carrie Hasbrouck, after the death of her mother, May Hasbrouck Rumsey, in 1909 when Helen was only three years old. It’s of interest to note the connection, and also the difficulty tracking the names through marriages and divorces as even the Watertown Daily Times would print it on a couple of occasions as “Helen Rusey Cox Bennet” having inherited the property after being the Hasbrouck’s caretaker for many years. A few little typos can send one down many rabbit holes while searching.
Mrs. Helen Bennett would pass away at the age of 50 on February 1, 1958. Later that year, the “Manhattan Island Group” would be advertised by Previews Incorporated, a national real estate clearing house in New York City, for $55,000. Robert E. Peach of Clinton, president of Mohawk Airlines, would purchase the property and the Watertown Daily Times would acknowledge some of the missing details in the property’s history.
The purchase price of the six island, seven and one half acre property with three cottages, boathouses, boats and partial furnishings, was not disclosed by Clarence H. Burtch, local real estate broker handing the transaction.
The main building located on “Manhattan Island” proper, about five acres, has seven rooms, two floors, glassed-in porches and was remodeled in the past ten years at a $25,000 cost.
The other two cottages on the main island are listed as seven and six room structures, two stories high and equipped with independent electrical plants.
Naturally, without more details, this raises more questions than answers. At this point, I’m assuming the former Judge Spencer cottage was considered the “main” one and subjected to the $25,000 remodel. The main cottage on the island currently, as shown in the video at the end of this article, doesn’t resemble much of Spencer’s cottage which appeared to be three stories and larger overall. In fact, very little on the island resembles the photos from c.1900. If any reader has the missing pieces of the puzzle, please leave a message in the comments below!
In 1982, the Peach Brothers would sell the former Seth Green cottage to George Heisel of Rochester, N.Y., where, incidentally, Seth Green was born. The Spencer cottage was sold to Geraldine Cottet and Patricia Paddock of Mannsville, N.Y. Two other smaller islands of the Manhattan Group would be sold later that same month.
The Peach Brothers, however, purchased the Seth Green property back from Paddock in 1986, Paddock having since acquired it from George Heisel. The brothers would most notably become long-standing fodder for the Watertown Daily Times due to a feud between the two stemming from a mortgage signed over from John to this brother Robert back in 1991.
The mortgage resurfaced a decade later having never been finalized. The dispute lead to lawsuits between the two which were dismissed, doing little to diffuse the hostilities between them. The land, two parcels including the Manhattan group of islands and 0.35 of the main island, would eventually go into foreclosure in 2013 though a third brother still owns the yacht house to this day.
As of 2022, the main Spencer Cottage is owned by Jay Stewart who purchased it from Paddock in 1992 and has made it available to rent here. The video below, from Horizon Aerial Media Services and posted on Vimeo, was created when a portion of the Island was last on the market and gives an idea of the changes that have occurred since many of these older photos were taken around 1900.