The history of Alexandria Bay is long and eventful. From the Iroquois Indians to present day, Alexandria Bay and the 1000 Islands region has not let a moment pass it by.
Alexandria Bay and its surrounding areas have always been a location noted for its beauty, vast resources, and spiritual being. Long before Europeans settled the area, the Iroquois and Algonquin Indians spent their summer months fishing and hunting here. Lore has it that Manitou said to the Indians: “I will give you paradise, if you stop fighting”. According to legend, the Indians did not stop fighting so Manitou put paradise into a bag and threw it into the horizon. The bag broke apart and a thousand pieces fell down into the St. Lawrence River, creating the Thousand Islands.
During the American Revolution, James LeRay, better known as James Donation LeRay du Chaumont, provided goods and services to the American forces. In the early 1800’s, James LeRay, purchased most of what is today Jefferson County. Many of its small towns, rivers, and lakes are named after members of his immediate family.
After the War of 1812, Colonel Elisha Camp, received ownership of the American Islands. In 1845, he in turn sold the islands to Azariah Walton for the sum of $3000. The land purchased extended from the northwest part of Wellesley Island and all the islands from Round Island in Clayton to Morristown 35 miles away. Walton joined Andrew Cornwall and together brought Alexandria Bay to a prominent position in the upcoming decades. The first island to be sold was “Manhattan Island” for the sum of $40.
Shortly after the Civil War, the popularity of the Islands increased with the improved transportation system. Wealthy sportsmen and gentlemen from leading US cities inquired into purchasing islands from private use. The social era of Alexandria Bay began when George Pullman invited General Grant (then running for President of the United States) to visit his Island home. The press traveling with General Grant wrote articles in the leading US city papers that sparked an interest that resulted in the explosion of recreation in the Alexandria Bay area.
Among the list of wealthy gentlemen who purchased islands are Dr. JG Holland, editor of Scribner’s magazine (also started the first library in Alexandria Bay; now the site of the Chamber of Commerce building); Abraham Abraham & Nathan Straus, head of Macy’s Department store; George Pullman of the Pullman sleeping car fame; Charles Emery, an American tobacco executive; Commodore Frederick Bourne, Singer Sewing Machine Co; and George Boldt, proprietor of the Waldorf Hotel.
The 18th Amendment to the Constitution (Prohibition) created a lucrative business in the 1000 Islands area. While little information is available, stories have been handed down over the generations regarding local captains who knew the St. Lawrence River and its many inlets, making the trip between the US and Canadian borders to bring back sacks full of alcohol. If the law got to close, the sacks were easy to throw over the side. Divers today who visit the area, can still find bottles at the bottom of the St. Lawrence River.
Today, Alexandria Bay and the 1000 Islands Region are an international destination for a wide variety of tourists. Because we are not located on a super highway, Alexandria Bay and the surrounding area have maintained their original quaint characteristics. Whether you are looking for family activities, world class fishing, romantic evenings, top-notch dive sites, or just a little relaxation, Alexandria Bay is the place to be!