The LeRay Mansion, Located On Fort Drum, A Place Rich In North Country History… And Hauntings?
Depending on the source, the old LeRay Mansion located on Fort Drum was constructed as early as 1804-1806 or 1825-27, with additional wings added in following years. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: it’s one of the oldest mansions in Northern New York – and you know it’s old when articles back in 1905 refer to it as “the old LeRay Mansion.” Once described as one of the most beautiful homes in the United States, the mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Located not too far from what is known as the old Black River or Pearl Street entrance to the military base, the mansion was built for James Donatien LeRay de Chaumont, Chaumont of France, that is, and son of Jacques, who is known as the French Father of the American Revolution. According to the David Lane article from his Old Homes of Northern New York published in 1941, son James LeRay would “entertain President James Monroe at LeRaysville in 1817 and other noted guests.”
The following year, James Le Ray received the following communication from Thomas Jefferson:
The contents of the transcribed letter are as follows, with its actual spelling and grammar:
Monticello May 29. 18.
I received lately a copy of your Address to the Agricultural society of Jefferson county in New York, which presuming to have come from yourself, they leave here to return you my thanks for the pleasure derived from it’s perusal. I see with great satisfaction these societies rising up, in different parts of the several states, and I expect from them much advantage to the agriculture of our country, by spreading generally a knolege of it’s best processes.
We have lately established one in the district in which I live, under the title of the ‘Albemarle society of agriculture’ of which mr Madison is President, and many of its members are distinguished for correct and skilful practices in their farms. time will perhaps affiliate these district societies to a Central one in each state, and these again to a Central society for the United States, which will compleat their organisation. such selections of matter may then be made as may bring within moderate compass the most precious parts of the knolege of the whole. with my fervent wishes for the prosperity of your society accept the assurance of my great esteem and respect.
James Le Ray would have numerous discussions with Jefferson and James Madison over the next decades, some of them, such as the above, available through the Library of Congress.
Talks Of Making The LeRay Mansion A State Park Evolve
In 1925, there was a movement by some to try and turn the LeRay Mansion and its grounds into a state park, thereby providing a measure of preservation for it. The then-recent efforts to have the Saratoga battlefields purchased by the state and turned into a park were so unsuccessful, according to Senator Perley A. Pitcher quoted in the Daily Times, that it would be “inadvisable to provide for a special measure this year providing for an appropriation for the purchase of the Le Ray Mansion and the farm at Le Raysville for preservation as a state park.”
Two years later, talk of the purchase would come from Albany, via the Watertown Daily Times’ October 7, 1927 edition, which would foreshadow the mansion’s future–
Albany, Oct. 7 – National Guard officials here are working out a plan by which it is hoped that the state of New York may acquire the old James D. LeRay estate in Jefferson County now owned by Fred C. Anderson of Watertown and establish there a National Guard camp, abandoning the long-time National Guard camp at Peekskill. The LeRay estate adjoins the federal maneuver and concentration camp at Pine Plains, and it is the desire of state guard officials to have the state camp in close proximity to the federal camp.
There are approximately 2,000 acre of land in the LeRay estate and on the property is located the old LeRay mansion, said to be the best specimen of the architecture of its period intact west of Albany. It is proposed that this mansion be taken over by the park commission and maintained under the state’s recently inaugurated plan of acquiring historic properties of the state.
Talks would continue into the early 1930s, when in that year, then Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt personally visited the LeRay Mansion to inspect it. At that point in time, approximately 10,000 state militiamen were given training during the summer at Pine Camp. The Daily Times would remark–
The request was not followed up by a legislative appropriation this year, but it is believed that Governor Roosevelt’s visit and interest in the property is indicative that the 1931 session of the legislature may see the appropriation provided.
In 1935-36, the LeRay Mansion would go into foreclosure and be purchased in November of 1936 by Colonel and Mrs. Harold Remington of Paddock Street in Watertown. Within days, well-known local architect Albert M. Skinner, who designed many of the City of Watertown’s public schools of that era, would be commissioned by Colonel Remington to restore the LeRay Mansion as close as possible to its completion date c. 1827.
The Remington family would own and occupy the LeRay Mansion for five years, until Oct. 1, 1941, to vacate the premises as the United States Government filed a declaration.
On September 26, 1941, the Watertown Daily Times would report—
The federal government having filed declaration to take the LeRay Mansion property near LeRaysville for the Pine Camp development, Colonel and Mrs. Harold Remington, present owners, will vacate it by Oct. 1, it was said today. There is a possibility that they will make their residence at the Woodruff Hotel in this city during the winter, having not yet acquired a new property for their future residence.
The estate being taken by the government now consists of the mansion and outbuildings, including farmhouse, large barn, tenant house and garage, and 640 acres of land at the present time.
The government has offered to pay $50,000 for the property, which Colonel and Mrs. Remington contend is far inadequate in view of their accumulated investment and a condemnation commission after hearing testimony on both sides, including that of expert appraisers, will determine the amount the government must pay.
Nearly two years later, encompassing numerous hearings and proceedings, the special commission awarded the Remington family $57,500 for taking the LeRay Mansion from the U.S. Government. The Remington’s had been seeking $150,000 based on a real estate broker familiar with the construction of mansions, particularly in Virginia and the Southern region, and said it was easily worth that much.
Today, the LeRay Mansion is used as housing for visitors to the Fort Drum Military Installation, who continue to maintain and preserve the property and its historical importance. Incidentally, the Remington Family would end up in another similar-styled historic home, Beechwood, in Cape Vincent, near the old Stone House which was built for James LeRay’s son Vincent.
Mansion Reportedly Haunted
As one can imagine, any place that’s been around for generations is bound to become the subject of folklore tales best told around a crackling campfire at night. As one of the oldest landmarks in Northern New York, the LeRay Mansion is no exception for things that go bump in the night.
A 2019 segment from Spectrum Local News discussed the hauntings of the mansion and noted the influence LeRay had on the area, with Alexandria Bay, Theresa, and Cape Vincent named after his children. According to the Spectrum piece, ghost children can be heard, and sometimes seen, playing, as well as slaves eating at a dinner table.
In 2020, a local paranormal investigative crew, Paranormal of Watertown POW! investigated the mansion in the middle of the night and captured their findings, including unexplained voices, in the video below which gives the viewer a peek inside the mansion itself:
LeRay Mansion Setting Of Novels
The LeRay Mansion has been the setting of several fiction works for many years. One written in 1919, Little Miss By-The-Day by author Lucille Van Slyke, was a romance novel using the location as a backdrop. Ms. Van Slyke visited the mansion and declared it “one of the most fascinating spots she has known in her life,” according to a Watertown Daily Times article on November 10, 1919. The book is available to read for free, here.