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Raising the Roof on Red Top

 Anne and Charles Phillips honeymooned in the Thousand Islands in 1929. Before they left, the bride of a Methodist minister dipped her feet in the River thinking she would never come back.

But about a decade later, the couple from Binghamton N.Y. did come back to the St. Lawrence. They rented Wyoming Island and later purchased Psyche Island in the Lake Fleet group with another couple.

 Charles eventually decided against the idea of joint-ownership of an island and they were set to leave the Thousand Islands for good again in 1941.

Anne was so saddened about leaving "she sank a pair of her shoes in the River off Psyche Island," recalls her granddaughter Marilee Sherry, of Brantford Ont. "They thought they were saying goodbye to the River forever," she said. "She wanted a part of herself to stay here. She had a very romantic soul. It really captured her heart."

The couple returned to Brennan Marine in Gananoque to drop off their rental boat before heading home. One of the marina's employees took them aside and said: "We've got a boat for you (to buy)," promptly adding: There's an island that goes with this boat."

The name of that island was Red Top. Anne and Charles ended up buying the island in 1942. The cottage with the iconic red roof perched on a granite hill in the Gananoque Narrows has been in the family for 70 years now.

Their descendants celebrated the cottage's 100th year anniversary last summer. They held an open house for friends, family and neighbouring islanders to share memories as well as their spectacular view of this wide stretch of the St. Lawrence in the Lake Fleet Group.

The cottage was built the by island's previous owner, Frank Moore in 1911. Not much is known about the New York state bachelor. Some speculate he was introduced to the area by fellow paddlers through the American Canoe Association, which has owned nearby Sugar Island for over a century. Moore left the cottage to a niece and nephew but it ended up being sold in tax sale to a realtor.

The original cottage featured a red cedar shake roof. The roof was later replaced with bright red steel and still has a captain's walk overlooking the panoramic view of the River.

"It's like a little jewel," said Marilee, the island's current owner. "It's so visible." Her grandmother Anne visited Red Top every summer of her life until she died in 1999 at 92. She continued to visit after Charles died in 1975, staying alone and driving a boat by herself well into her 80's. "She just loved it here," said Marilee. "It took 10 years off her just being here."

Her grandmother even built her own little red-roofed cabin

on the island in her later years. A wood sign hanging on the wall

of the little cottage is engraved with the words: "Built by Anne G. Phillips with some of the money that husband Charles W. Phillips saved for her old age."She had her grandchildren's names etched into the stone steps from leading to and from the cottage to an old pump house near the water.

Marilee visited the island as a young girl with her siblings and her mother Helen and Robert Brightman, also a Methodist minister. Her mother named all the island's trees on the three-quarter acre island, calling some Socrates, Hope, Faith and Charity.

Five generations of Marilee's family has been spending summers at Red Top Island. "It's home," she said. "There's a sense of history and roots and memories."

Marilee's husband Leigh also fell in love with place."I'm an islander from Prince Edward Island so compared to the ocean it's totally different, he said. "But I love the water. This is my Heaven."

Anne and husband Charles never permitted alcohol on Red Top Island and it's a tradition the family has followed here for the past seven decades, said Marilee.

About 100 people attended the cottage's centennial in 2011. The Sherry's four children, the great-grandchildren of the young bride who dipped her feet in the River and never wanted to leave, come back to Red Top Island every summer.

"My grandmother's attitude was always 'I don't own an island. I take care of an island,'" said Marilee. "It's very much how we feel about it today."

By Kim Lunman,

Kim Lunman is the owner and publisher of Island Life Magazine( based in Brockville, Ontario.  Kim's  2012 magazine was distributed in May in local newspapers in eastern Ontario and northern New York.  A special Islander Edition is on sale in local book stores in both the United States and Canada. Each summer Kim visits many islands and meets their owners so we can all look forward to reading their stories in the coming months.  This story first appeared in Island Life Magazine 2012 edition.  See Excursions and More for a sneak preview of the 2013 edition. 

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Pat Regan
Comment by: Pat Regan ( )
Left at: 10:12 AM Monday, October 15, 2012
What a delightful romantic tale showing the true love some folks have for the Thousand Islands once they have been here. I also like the fact that the descendants have maintained the respect for the wishes of their Grandparents in following the rules of this lovely island and cottage. Truly a tradition to admire.