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A Cottage By Any Other Name…

It’s time to head north. I get emails from non-River friends all the time asking, “When are you going back to the cabin on the lake?” The question is like fingernails on a chalkboard. First of all, it is a cottage not a cabin. Secondly it may look like a lake in the pictures, but it’s not a lake. It’s a river.

Cottage vs. Cabin

But back to cottage vs. cabin. I’ll admit, before my first visit to the island in 1975, I’d probably only used the word cottage when reading about Hansel and Gretel. But here on the river, most residents refer to their structures as cottages, not cabins. What’s the dif? Probably not much. Phrases like “cottage by the sea” and “cabin in the woods,” makes me think that location might be the key. But Internet research shows that cottage is the preferred term for a seasonal dwelling in Ontario, Quebec and northern New York.

This regional term probably developed because the area was settled by people from the British Isles. English, Scotts and Irish call small, rural dwellings cottages. Also, as I discovered while visiting Scotland earlier this year, Anglos love to name their homes. When I collected info for Grenell’s cottage by cottage history last year, I loved learning the history of each cottage name.

The Oldest Cottage Names on Grenell

My first thought was that BAY VIEW might be the oldest cottage name on the island. Built in 1895, Bay View has remained in the same family and retained the same name. But then I remembered OVERLOOK, a small cottage on the north shore set up high from shore. Overlook was built in 1890 and as far as I can tell, even though it has changed hands several times, it has always retained the name of Overlook. But once I checked my cottage-by-cottage history, the oldest names on Grenell are on the channel side of the island in the yacht basin area: GLIMPSES and THE HEIGHTS. The current Glimpses was built in 1915, but it replaced an older cottage that burned in 1911 with the same name. I’m not sure when the original cottage was built but my gut feeling was that it was long before 1890. Also lost that night was The Heights, which was built in 1889. That lot remained empty until1991 when a cottage was built and named The Heights Too. The original cottages are gone, but the names remain.

Native American Sounding Names

Also in contention for oldest name on the island is OJIBAWAY INN. This cottage was built in 1882 and has remained in the same family. That name has faded a bit and the cottage is more commonly known by another name. (More on that later.) Looking around the river, it seems there was a trend in the late 1800s and early 1900s to name places with Native American sounding names. On Grenell, we had quite a few Native American sounding names: SUSQUEHANA CLUB, OTSEGO CLUB (both former names of Kirmess.) KAMP KALIHITI and WEONAVU, both have a Native American ring to them. Weonavu of course is a clever way of saying, “We Own a View.”

Family Names

Often families have incorporated their family name into the name of the cottage, such as ROTHHAVEN, WOOD’S WOODS (former name of PATTI’S HAPPY SHACK) or SWEET WEST END…which belongs to the Sweet family. Sometimes, first names are used in naming cottages such as IDA POINT (former name for the Holden Cottage) or BRIGETS HAVEN. The McGill’s cottage bears the name GEM, the initials of the owner. One family named their cottage RA-OL-PAU-WA-SET after the first few letters of their five children. Oddly enough when a different family bought that cottage decades latter they named it HADCHACOL, by combining the first 3 letters of their kids’ names. Usually, personal names are changed almost immediately after the original owner sells…but not always. Sometimes they are morphed into something else. There is no record as to what Seth Widen named the cottage he built, but he put his initials, SW, everywhere. When the Rangers bought the place, they named the cottage SOUTH WIND so the SW initials would make sense. The Atkinsons currently own the cottage and have retained the South Wind name. Another exception is KIRMESS, named by the Kerr family in 1894. The Kerr’s sold the place, it has changed hands three times since then, but has retained the Kirmess name.

Borrowed Names

The island also has a handful of cottages with borrowed names: THE RITZ, TAJ MAHAL, ST. LAWRENCE HILTON and EAST BAY HILTON.

By Popular Demand

Sometimes the name of the cottage is totally out of the owners hands and is just what people come to call the cottage. Catherine Hind’s cottage started out with a very dignified name of Ojibaway Inn. Catherine put her own spin on it calling it HINDSITE, but over the years it has come to be known as the Crooked Cottage as there are no right angles on the place. Another cottage with a name thrust upon it is the CANDY HOUSE. This small cottage on an interior lot started out as Shady View and then when another cottage was built in front of them the owners changed their name to Wanna View. It came to be known as the Candy House in the 1980s because Milt and Peg Weeks used to hand out candy to youngsters.


Structural Names

Sometimes the cottage name reflects it’s structural design: WEE HOUSE, TWIN PEAKS, THE PUMP HOUSE, BEE’S NEST, PINK HOUSE and THE CROOKED COTTAGE.

Cottage Names Based on Their Surroundings or View

Sometimes the name reflects the property around the cottage. There are a trio of cottage names that reflect the trees around the property: OAK LODGE, HICKORY BEND and CEDAR ROCK. And there are another trio of names that celebrate the cottage’s sunset view: SUNSET HOUSE, SUNSET COVE and SUNSET ROCK (former name of the Wallach Cottage.)

Most Exotic Cottage Name

When the Ward family acquired this cottage in 1969, they called it the Taj Mahal simply because it was so big. That was exotic enough, but when Ken McCune purchased the cottage in 1982 he upped the ante. In 1987, Ken met Anne while living and working as expatriates in China. Upon returning they married and renamed the cottage TIAN TAN, which translates from Mandarin to English as “Paradise.”

Least Exotic Cottage Name The least exotic name? The Walshes call their cottage, “The Cottage.” Yes, there is a sign above the door that says, “The Cottage.” Ironically, I’m the one that gave them that sign. I’ve often wondered if they called it The Cottage before or after I gave them the sign.

Of course I’m one to talk. While our point is called Rum Rock our cottages don’t have individual names. We refer to them by size: Big Cottage and Little Cottage. Not very original or creative. The past generation referred to them as Main Cottage and Guest Cottage and the generation before that identified them by color, the Gray and the Green Cottage. Seems we come from a long line of not very creative or original names.

I tried to remedy the cottage name issue a few years ago. I decided that it would be nice to pay homage to Great-Uncle Otis and name the cottages for his two daughters: the smaller and older cottage for his elder daughter, OLIVIA and the newer cottage for his younger daughter, EDITH. No one else in the family thought that was a good idea.

I’ve decided to name the big cottage Happily-Ever-After Cottage. I got the idea while writing my first article for Thousand Islands Life back in August of 2009. (I’m not asking if anyone else in the family likes this idea or not.) But the little cottage? I’m still at a loss. Any suggestions?

P.S. Looking forward to hearing the rhyme and reason behind other cottage names on the river.

By Lynn McElfresh, Grenell Island

Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to TI Life, writing stories dealing with her favorite Grenell Island and island life. We have learned a great deal over the past three years from Lynn McElfresh’s musings, from moving pianos to island weddings or from plumbing problems to meeting old friends, taking nature walks and the importance of trees.  Recently she presented several articles about Grenell for its 100th Birthday.  

Author and Editor’s Note:  As we posted this article, we learned of Peter McGill’s passing.  His GEM cottage is pictured in this article.  Peter was well known in the Islands, especially as a good neighbor on Grenell.  We send our condolences to his family and many friends for he will be sadly missed.

  • A very popular cottage, named by the youth of the island: The Candy House. Photo by L. McElfresh

    A very popular cottage, named by the youth of the island: The Candy House. Photo by L. McElfresh

  • This place was called Cedar Rock long before the cottage was there. Photo by L. McElfresh

    This place was called Cedar Rock long before the cottage was there. Photo by L. McElfresh

  • Sunset is a popular name for cottages on the north and west end of Grenell. This is Sunset House.

    Sunset is a popular name for cottages on the north and west end of Grenell. This is Sunset House.

  • This cottage is named GEM…the initials of the owner. Photo by L. McElfresh

    This cottage is named GEM…the initials of the owner. Photo by L. McElfresh

  • “The Cottage”. Photo by L. McElfresh

    “The Cottage”. Photo by L. McElfresh

  • The Pratts almost named their cottage after Olivia and Edith, but the family disagreed.

    The Pratts almost named their cottage after Olivia and Edith, but the family disagreed.

  • Hickory Bend, one of three cottages named for the trees around it. Photo by L. McElfresh

    Hickory Bend, one of three cottages named for the trees around it. Photo by L. McElfresh


Posted in: History, Places
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Lori Moose
Comment by: Lori Moose ( )
Left at: 9:25 AM Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Ha Ha and I thought it was just me ! Our Cottage is on the River ppl! :)
Diane Cordes
Comment by: Diane Cordes ( )
Left at: 5:53 PM Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Funny how trying to change the name of the cottage never seems to work...
Dorothy Topping
Comment by: Dorothy Topping ( )
Left at: 7:33 AM Thursday, May 16, 2013
The Nims/Sauda cottage on Grenell where I grew up is called Weonavu. for obvious reasons.

My son-in-law's family refer to their Cape Vincent cottage as a camp.

Great article and pictures.

Karah Fegeley
Comment by: Karah Fegeley ( )
Left at: 3:40 PM Thursday, May 16, 2013
I love the opening comment about the cabin on the lake. That question makes me cringe. My family has a cottage on Murray isle. We refer to it as the Gray camp because of the color or the Sherman Cottage,for my great great grandparents we bought the cottage.
Dale Hull
Comment by: Dale Hull ( )
Left at: 8:11 AM Friday, May 17, 2013
This struck a funny bone,always was asked when I was going to "camp" at the "lake"(had cottage on TI Park). Had to correct every time,it's a cottage and it's a river I would say. The cottage in Crystal Bay was named "Harbour Lights",named after the song by Frances Langford from 1937. ( my mom was very involved with various choirs) and that there was a light pole on the end of the dock which my grandfather saw that it stayed lit at all times(until it developed a short,and we would get zapped by it when taking a night swim) Most cottages on the park had names. Great article!!
Debbie Hull
Comment by: Debbie Hull ( )
Left at: 8:34 PM Friday, May 17, 2013
Loved the article. I was always asked "Which river?" when I said I was going to the River. And of course, it was always referred to as "Camp", not a cottage. Rarely, did anybody refer to it as "Harbour Lights", it just became "The Cottage"
Rob Russell
Comment by: Rob Russell ( )
Left at: 12:58 PM Tuesday, May 28, 2013
According to my father and my aunt...

A camp is basic.
A cottage is nicer.

My father used to say, "A camp is really a step up for what you would call your place."