From Harboring Slaves Fleeing To Canada To Ghost Hunting With Meat Loaf: Isle Of Pines Interesting History
Isle of Pines is not the most written-about island on the St. Lawrence River. Its documented history is rather limited regarding the usual suspects: early newspapers and books written at the height of the Gilded Age; what does exist is nevertheless interesting.
In recent years, the Isle of Pines received publicity from the 2009 filming of Ghost Hunters with the late musician Meat Loaf, who passed away in January of 2022. The episode from season 5 reveals some of the island’s history over the last half-century, where scant information was to be had in local newspapers.
The earliest history regarding the Isle of Pines was found in an article published on April 23, 1919 in the Watertown Daily Times–
But little of authentic history for more than eighty years back is known. It was about that time that the United States government established the first light house station on one of the group (of islands off Fishers Landing) that soon afterward was managed by Bill Johnston, the leader of the band of rough and ready frontiersmen that burned the steamer Robert Peel in 1838.
Johnston had been in charge of the lighthouse but a short time when a family of runaway slaves, from some of the southern states, arrived at the place now known as Fishers Landing, and begged of him to ferry them to Canada, but owning to his former misconduct Johnston would not take the chances of crossing the boundary line, and landed them on (racist term) Island, as it was known for many years afterward, and is now the site of Mr. Wittmann’s elegant summer home.
That island was later renamed the Isle of Pines. When Eugene Robinson first came to the river and islands in 1875, he purchased the island and re-christened it “Isle of Pines,” and let the contract to Flynn & Doocey of Clayton, for the erection of the fourth summer home on the river, that in those days was regarded by residents as a palace, and that was purchased a few years ago by Mr. Wittmann and remodeled into one of the most elegant summer homes in this section.
Eugene Robinson, a New York broker, “just made a big strike in mining stocks, and is celebrating the event,” according to the Daily Times in January of 1880. In addition to Isle of Pines, Robinson owned the steam yacht “Needle Gun.”
Sometime within the next several years, the property transferred to John Cooper and the family of New York. By 1912, it was owned by Oscar Barnes, who sold it to Joseph J. Wittman (also spelled Wittmann), who continued to own it for several decades.
A millionaire from New York, Joseph J. Wittman, later purchased the Newton Hotel property at Fishers Landing. The property was owned by William Comstock of Evans Mills and was located on the mainland opposite Wittman’s palatial summer home on the Isle of Pines.
According to the Daily Times–
The place will be greatly improved and made suitable for the high bred horses of Mr. Wittman, who will also provide a proper place for his automobiles and for his yachts, there being a well protected bay there. The property is almost opposite Thousand Island Park.
At some point, the Wittman family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where Joseph passed away in November 1942. His obituary read–
Mr. Wittmann, who was born near Morristown, N. J., was in his late sixties.He was a member of the island colony here for many years and had always spent his summers at his island home until two years ago, when his health failed and he remained at his home in Phoenix.
At one time Mr. Wittmann owned oriental rug factories in various foreign countries but for the past few years had been in the employ of the United States government.
He is survived by one son, Joseph V. Wittmann, and one granddaughter, both of Phoenix, Ariz.
Isle of Pines passed to son Joseph V., also having moved from New York to Phoenix, but it is unknown how long he continued to own the property. Very little, if any, information could be gathered from that time on until Ghost Hunter’s season 5, episode 15: Bat Out of Hell was filmed there.
The Haunted Isle Of Pines
After winning the SyFy Channel’s 2008 Great American Ghost Hunt contest, Isle of Pines was featured on Season 5, Episode 15 of the channel’s Ghost Hunters. This particular episode was the first to feature Meat Loaf, a self-described paranormal lover, who took part in a number of later Ghost Hunter episodes before his untimely death.
At the time of the show’s recording, the Isle of Pines had been in Danielle Parody and her brother Anthony Claudia’s family for about 50 years after their great-grandfather purchased the island. The number of rooms in the mansion itself was never revealed, but an additional three-story boathouse is complete with a ballroom.
Below: A zoom-in to Isle of Pines from Google Earth.
At one point during their great-grandfather’s ownership, the family took up residence in the boathouse while the mansion was used as a monastery for priests before they were kicked off the island for destroying some artwork that wasn’t to their beliefs or liking. The owner’s niece and nephew had been playing with “invisible people,” of which one was purportedly the ghost of a deceased priest.
As the investigation ensued on the third floor of the Isle of Pines mansion, the team’s equipment was found to have had its batteries mysteriously drained. At nearly the same time, one piece of equipment still functioning lit up like a Christmas tree and was responsive when questions were asked.
The team presented their findings to the homeowners, stating there was a lot of paranormal activity in the mansion and the boathouse. The boathouse, in particular, had a “solid black shadow mass” appear and startle two team members.
Danielle’s only question to the team was whether they thought the Isle of Pines was haunted. The team replied, “There definitely appears to be some sort of spirit activity going on within the two homes on the island.”
Unfortunately, no video of the episode that’s shareable on the internet could be located to post here. Meat Loaf, however, did record some short vignettes for his own YouTube video for his channel while on location – one of which is shown below, which captures his excitement and enthusiasm to be part of the project filmed in the Thousand Islands.