James D. Le Ray de Chaumont Builds Historic Cape Vincent Stone House In 1815
Constructed in 1815 for Vincent Le Ray de Chaumont, son of James Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont, the old “Stone House” as it became known as on Cape Vincent’s W. Broadway Ave has stood the test of time. Surrounded by (presumed towering) Black Poplar trees, the mansion is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, stone houses in existence in the north country with a long and distinguished history.
James D. Le Ray’s father, Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont, was known as the French Father of the American Revolution. James subsequently made a large purchase of land in Northern New York, noted in Cape Vincent and Its History as being an attempt “to effect a settlement of his father’s claim against the United States Government for assistance rendered during the Revolutionary War.” When the War of 1812 occurred, like his father before him, James also helped the United States.
Shortly afterward, James D. Le Ray, who built the Le Ray Mansion on what is now Fort Drum just a few years prior, constructed the old Stone House in Cape Vincent. As written in Cape Vincent and Its History, compiled by Nelie Horton Casler, pub. 1906 by Hungerford-Holbrook Co., Watertown NY—
James D. LeRay was authorized by an act of the Legislature in March 1815 “to make a turnpike road from Cape Vincent on the St. Lawrence River on the most direct route to Perch River at or near where the State road crosses the same in the town of Brownville to be called the Cape Vincent Turnpike Road.”
At this time Vincent LeRay assisted by Moss Kent was here in charge of his father’s estate. His office stood on Broadway and was the first frame house erected in the village. It was removed only a few years ago. Opposite the office in 1815 Mr. LeRay built the stone house.
Though its interior was not completed for several years after 1815, Vincent Le Ray was the first occupant of the Stone House which sits overlooking the banks of the St. Lawrence River. In David F. Lane’s series for the Watertown Daily Times, Old House of the North Country, the Stone House’s beginnings were noted as—
It was constructed of limestone which was transported by boat from Carleton island by Othniel Spinning, the master mason of the job was Hugh MacPherson, a Scotchman, who went to Cape Vincent in 1815 and remained there until 1818 which was about the length of time it took to complete the house. And in March, 1815 the state legislature authorized James D. LeRay de Chaumont, father of the first occupant of this mansion, to build the Cape Vincent turnpike which went through the village of Chaumont and became a part of the route to LeRaysville, where the elder LeRay had his own mansion.
Vincent LeRay located in Cape Vincent that he might more conveniently market his extensive land-holdings and those of his father in that area. Eventually he took over the management of his father’s vast North Country lands, when the elder LeRay became insolvent in 1823. The mansion of Vincent LeRay has always been known as “The Stone House,” because of the fact that it was the first of that material to be erected in Cape Vincent, a village named for Vincent LeRay as was the town in which it stands.
After residing in the Stone House for several years, Vincent Le Ray sold it in 1837 (other reports mention 1850 as the date) to brothers Hyacinth, Louis and Theophilus Peugnet. Louis and Hyacinth Peugnet were highly decorated officers in Napoleon’s army. They left France after the end of Napoleon‘s empire and eventually made their way to Cape Vincent where Hyacinth and Theophilus are buried today. Louis and Hyacinth began a school for boys and taught General Beauregard of the Confederate Army his first military tactics.
In 1838, the Stone House became a safe-haven for Canadien rebels during the Patriot War which lasted 10 months, 3 weeks and 5 days. Described as a war between ideals rather than nations, the participants in the conflict were made up of the Hunter’s Lodge, a secret association formed in the United States who sympathized with the 1837 Rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada. In 1932, the New York State Education Department designated the Stone House as an historic site and the plaque remains visible on W. Broadway Ave. today.
David Lane’s Old House of the North Country No. 355 in the Watertown Daily Times summarized the property’s ownership over the next several decades–
Mr. (Hyacinth) Peugnet, who had a distinguished record as an officer in the army of the great Napoleon, died at Cape Vincent June 13, 1865, giving his wife Emeline a life-use of all of his property with the authority to sell and convey. After her death the property was to go to their children, one of whom was Mrs. Nathalie Fort, wife of Edward Fort. Eventually, in mid-summer of 1898, Mrs. Fort, resident of New York City, acquired the interests of the other heirs and made “The Stone House” her summer home.
Mrs. Fort died in New York City March 30, 1908, willing all of her property to her two daughters, Mrs. Louise Adele Vatable and Miss Frances E. Fort, who resided at 231 West 45th Street. On February 28, 1922, Mrs. Vatable and Miss Fort sold the place to Mrs. Ethel M. Johnston, then of St. Louis, Missouri, wife of John L. Johnston and daughter of the late New York State Senator Elon R. Brown, onetime majority leader in the state senate.
Mr. and Mrs. Johnston have since made “The Stone House” their summer home. Mr. Johnston, former president of the Liberty Central Trust company of St. Louis, was long president of the Lambert Pharmical company, subsidiary of the Lambert company, of which he was also president until he retired at the end of 1948. This is the river front of “The Stone House.”
According to Cape Vincent and Its History, Mrs. Fort possessed two invaluable souvenirs of Napoleon: “a cross of the Legion of Honor, presented by the Emperor to her father; the other a ribbon from which Napoleon wore the cross of the Legion of Honor suspended, given to her father by Joachim Murat.” Other souvenirs were either passed down to, or acquired by, the Johnstons, some of which appear in the photo below.
Mr. Johnston, a 35-year summer resident of Cape Vincent’s stone house, passed away in July of 1958 at the age of 71. The majority of the estate, worth $1,485,281, was left to his widow, Ethel, who passed away in September of 1970 at the age of 86.
The historic stone house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. In July of 1995, it was offered for sale with an asking price of $550,000.