The Thousand Island Yacht Club On Welcome Island – Est. 1896
The Thousand Island Yacht Club’s home on Welcome Island began in 1895, when W. C. Browning, a director of the then named Thousand Island Club and head of the St. Lawrence River Real Estate Association, purchased Welcome Island with the intention of building a casino for the club. At the time, many of the islands were being purchased for private purposes and Browning secured the five-acre island prior to the club’s approval in what was estimated to cost $50,000 for improvements and construction.
Welcome Island, for years the summer home for Seth Pope who built many of the palatial cottages during the era, is conveniently located amongst many of the earliest pioneers’ islands including St. Elmo, owned by N. W. Hunt, Nobby Island, owned by H. R. Heath, Dewey/Friendly Island, owned by E. W. Dewey, and George Pullman’s Castle Rest on Pullman Island.
Members of the St. Lawrence River (later Thousand Island) Real Estate Association included William C. Browning of Hopewell Hall, with directors including Dewey, Browning, Charles G. Emery of Emery’s Castle and the New Frontenac, George C. Boldt of Boldt’s Castle, James H. Oliphant of Neh-Mahbin, E. R. Holden of Thousand Island Park, Charles L. Hudson, George Pullman of Castle Rest and Hon. James C. Spencer of Manhattan Island. The association originally eyed a point just north of the Thousand Island House, but one of the Crossmons who owned it refused to part with it.
By late fall 1895, work had commenced on the new clubhouse with a large staff of men. Club functions were held on Welcome Island in temporary quarters through the duration of construction with the new clubhouse’s dedication occurring in early July of 1897.
The following year, the Thousand Island Club applied to have its name formally changed to “Thousand Island Yacht Club.” James Spencer, the association’s vice president, also acted as its attorney during the petition process.
At the time, the Thousand Island Yacht Club was one of the most prestigious clubs in the United States with leading figures from a variety of backgrounds which represented a who’s who of the Thousand Island’s golden era. Many of those same people would serve as Commodore of the club over the years.
After 45 years, the decision was made to close the Thousand Island Yacht Club on Welcome Island in 1941. As reported in the Watertown Daily Times on June 2 by David F. Lane—
With the election of Nils S. Johanneson, prominent New York importer of Scandinavian chemical pulps, as commodore, the historic Thousand Island Yacht Club at its annual meeting held at the Barclay hotel in New York City last week decided to close its building in the Alexandria Bay region of the Thousand Islands. It will probably be closed permanently, it was said.
The structure will remain intact, however, and the club, one of the most noted social organizations of its kind in the country will continue to function, transferring its activities to the picturesque home of the Thousand Islands Country club owned by Edward J. Noble, on Wellesley Island. The Country club will be opened June 20.
While the Yacht club and the Country club will maintain separate entities as to officers and administration there will be a bringing together of their activities in a way, in that the members and patrons of each will enjoy the benefits of common quarters.
The Yacht Club continued operations from its new headquarters, at least before it partially sunk, aboard Mr. Noble’s large, two-deck houseboat “La Duchesse” anchored at the Country Club slip. The boat was built for George Boldt at a cost of $225,000 but acquired by Noble, a former commodore himself, when he purchased the Boldt estate.
Noble disposed of the boat to Andrew McNally prior to its partial sinking. Nils S. Johanneson was the husband of Clover Boldt, daughter of George, who along with Noble, were previously elected Commodore of the Yacht Club as well.
As for the Thousand Island Yacht Clubhouse, it was purchased via unpaid back taxes totalling $3,791.50 and razed in late 1945 by Albert F. Madlener of Chicago. According to the Watertown Daily Times Dec. 29, 1945 article—
Mr. Maldener is the son-in-law of the late Gov. and Mrs. (Florence Pullman Lowden) Frank O. Lowden of Illinois, and Mrs. Madlener is thus the granddaughter of George M. Pullman, internationally known as the sleeping-car magnate, for Mrs. Madlener’s mother was the former Miss Florence Pullman before her marriage to Mr. Lowden Aug. 29, 1896.
The site of the Thousand Islands Yacht club, for so many seasons brilliantly enlivened by yachtsmen, adjoins Pullman Island, upon which stands the magnificent and dignified Pullman summer home, “Castle Rest.”
Frank Lowden and Florence continued the Pullman family tradition of visiting Castle Rest for years after the deaths of George and Harriet Pullman.
Incidentally, Harriet Pullman once had a large mansion built in Washington, D. C., for her son-in-law Frank and daughter Florence in support of Lowden’s political ambitions while serving as a Representative. Located a short distance from the white house, the 64-room mansion was barely used before Frank decided to take up farming back in Illinois for several years before re-entering politics and winning the race for Governor in his home state.
The mansion was sold just a couple of years after its completion and became home to the Russian Embassy for a number of years before becoming home to the Russian Ambassador’s residence.