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Black Duck Cottage Family History

In November we received a note from Marnie Ross, a member of the Canadian Thousand Islands Watershed Land Trust, “Would you like a copy of one of the family history notes we circulated for our 2008 House Tour?” “Absolutely”, we answered.

The TIWLT has conducted their annual fund raising tour of Canadian island cottages for nine years. Summer 2008’s tour headed to the homes of Bob and Gay Easton and Paul and Sue Regan on the Northwest end of Bostwick Island and then over to Black Duck Island where Jean, John and Andy King welcomed visitors. It was Jean King who provided the notes which we present for Thousand Islands Life readers. 

A Family Island: written by Jean Kedwith King

There are a small number of islands which have remained in their original family since they were sold by the Canadian Government to be used as a summer residence. We are the sixth generation to live on Black Duck Island since it was first sold in 1894 by the Department of Indian Affairs. The Canadian islands were surrendered for sale in 1855 by the Alnwick Band of Mississaugas. In 1894 the Government made a concerted effort to sell the islands by publishing a small booklet, “Canadian 1000 Islands For Sale” which listed islands for sale, their description and estimated value.

Black Duck Island
Photo by Andy King ©
Six-plus acre Black Duck Island was sold by the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs for $400. in 1894.

The island, originally named Long Island, sold at auction on August 9 and the deed was recorded on August 14, 1894. The buyers were two brothers, Beekman Rouse of Geneva, New York, and Irving Rouse of Rochester, New York. They renamed the island Black Duck. The original deed for Long Island is framed and displayed on the north wall of the living room. When the brothers first visited the island, they stayed overnight with the Turcott family at the Bostwick Island Guest House on the west side of Bostwick Island.(a building which is still there, but is tumbling down in disrepair).

I like to think they rowed around the Admiralties in a St. Lawrence skiff picking out the island they wanted. And they picked a good one, five and a half acres, big enough for two houses with a good view of Wolfe Island to the south from Beekman's front porch and good view of Grindstone Island to the east from Irving's house. The Rouse brothers paid $400 for the island plus $40 or $50 for the rock at the end of the breakwater towards Grindstone.

Like many communities in the Thousand Islands, whole families were attracted to the region. The first houses on Black Duck were built (or the building was supervised) by Benjamin Palmer, Irving Rouse's father-in-law. The Marshall house across the bay on Bostwick Island was also built by Benjamin Palmer for Irving and Beekman's sister who was Benjamin's daughter--Nellie Rouse Palmer also from Geneva, N.Y.

Irving Rouse, my husband John King’s grandfather, was a nurseryman in Rochester and well off - maybe even rich. The Rouse Brothers established the Geneva Preserving Company in March 1889 and by 1892 their company canned over 1,250,000 packages of fruits and vegetables.

We know from family letters, that the Rouse family went to Europe at least once and probably more times because he imported trees and plants from France to the U.S. After Irving died in 1924, his business was carried on by one of his sons into the Depression when, like many others, it did not do well. The Rouse boys, Irving's sons (and John's uncles), were (I think) all Yale graduates and the island then had a tennis court. One grandson, Benjamin Irving Rouse,(1913-2006), was a professor of anthropology at Yale University. John's mother was Verona Rouse King. John was four years old when his grandfather Rouse died.

Because Irving and Beekman bought the island together and had two houses built on it, there was also two of everything else. There are two patches of rhubarb; there were two boathouses, two St. Lawrence skiffs, etc. There were two ice houses (which somebody must have filled in the winter with ice cut from the river--using horses).

 My husband, John, remembers as a teenager and maybe even when he was younger, pulling blocks of ice out of the sawdust in the ice house, washing off the dust, and putting the ice blocks in the ice boxes. A pair of ice tongs hangs in our dining room, not original to the island, but in memory of the ice houses and John's work! I have only seen one ice house remaining in the islands although they all used to have to have them before electricity.

In the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s the island belonged to two of Irving's daughters, namely John's Aunt Anna and Aunt Emily, neither of whom had children. Aunt Emily was wheelchair-bound and needed the cement walk down to a cabin which was built especially for her. In the fall of 1938 the family, just before their departure for the winter, built a large fire in the fireplace from paper being thrown away. Exposed wood inside the chimney caught fire. It was put out but after the family left the island, the wind came up at 40 miles an hour and the chimney caught fire again. Probably in the Depression the kind of care a chimney needs it didn't get. The entire house was lost but fortunately the wind blew toward Clayton so the other house didn't burn. At least one tree remains from 70 years ago with a long fire scar on it.

Several years ago John’s mother, Verona Rouse (King) Bostelmann, was interviewed about life in the islands. Transportation to and from an island dwelling could be complicated. Often the father of the household had to return to the city to work and leave his wife and children on the island. It was a long way to row to Clayton, where the New York trains came to the river, and those who had to catch the train on Sunday had difficulty hiring boatmen to come to an island and pick up a passenger. The solution found at Black Duck was to have the Rouse children row the skiff out into the river [to Forty Acres] with their father dressed for the train ride, sitting in the bow. They would hail the passing ferry boat, and the boat would stop to let the passenger come aboard. Shouts including ‘Be a good girl and row right home' could be heard as the steamer began to move across the river."

Beginning in 1939 the Rouse descendants continued to visit. John came all summer almost every summer. I first came up as a guest with John and other college friends in 1943 and fell in love with the man and the island! After Aunt Anna died, John's mother took care of Aunt Emily in Florida in her declining years. When Emily died she left the island to Verona and when Verona couldn't come in the summer anymore she deeded it to John who is an only child.


In 1948 the boathouse on the Bostwick side (probably built in 1895 when 8 by 8s were really 8 inches by 8 inches) was ready to be taken down and with several strong friends we did it. We took all the nails out of the lumber and piled it up on Blueberry Point. We had planned to return the next year and build a cabin on the point. However when we got back the next year, the lumber had entirely disappeared so instead of building we hitchhiked to Quebec City and then across Canada to Vancouver and back to my sister's wedding in Pittsburgh.

When years later we built the present boathouse on that site, it afforded a hiding place for a boat run by “visitors” who, in the late fall, stripped the house of its best furniture and things we miss a lot. Our insurance company in Gananoque completely compensated us, so we got some replacements but we still miss the items.

In 1979 a terrific early spring storm raised the level of Lake Ontario by seven feet. All that water blew into the River and wreaked havoc in the Islands. We lost the boathouse on the Grindstone side of the island. We also lost a St. Lawrence sailing skiff stored in it as well as a sailboat and another boat. The entire boathouse blew into the bay and the pieces of it are still there.

We are still eating rhubarb from one of the sites. Other plants that nurseryman Irving Rouse had planted here that lasted until recently included elderberry bushes and two mountain ash trees, but they have gradually died and disappeared. Two hickory trees once braced the front of the house but only one has survived and the other is replaced by flowers. We have blackberries, blueberries, occasionally strawberries, and wild onions.

For many years, a mother turtle laid eggs every spring in the sand by the walk to the boathouse. There is an occasional deer that we see only in the spring and who leaves because we are here. Three years ago new residents came: ospreys nesting in a very tall tree on the point towards Hemlock Island. There are rabbits, mink, mice, moles and voles (we are not sure of the difference), bats, and black squirrels that swim to Bostwick holding their tails above the water. We have owls (only on our the first night or two here), loons, barn swallows inhabiting the boat house but keeping down the mosquitoes, hummingbirds, ducks (the island is a good duck hunting site and we hear the shots before we leave in the fall), and Great Blue Heron (especially on the rock out front towards Wolfe Island).

When there were pine trees close to the western side of the living room, goldfinches were plentiful and very active. But the pines were taken down when the septic field was improved and the goldfinches are gone. They are memorialized by a tiny statute on a western front window. We have butterflies, spiders (some as big as your hand), rock bass, perch, bass, pike, garter snakes, and water snakes. The muskellunge, for which the area was famous, are mostly gone. And we had raccoons. They destroyed my early attempt to garden like the Indians using a small dead fish and corn kernels in each hump of soil. They ate the fish the night after I planted them!

In their summers here our children Andy, Nancy, and Sally have learned from babyhood to swim, fish, sail, dive, canoe, garden, play croquet and badminton, sunbathe, water-ski, etc. Andy who was born in February came here first when he was four months old. They are now 51, 49, and 47 years old. Nancy and Sally each have two children.

We gave half of the island to Nancy who, with her local builder, Steve Anderson, has built a very nice large house on the Grindstone side near the location of the one that burned. Nancy is a professor of law at Vanderbilt University, Sally is a physician in Charlotte, Michigan, Andy is a webmaster in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and has just finished his second book on web optimization.

I guess maybe the theme of our island could be how the memories of a family get incorporated into a house and the land around it.

By Jean Kedwith King

Editor’s Note: Jean Kedwith King is well known in the field of Women’s Rights, having been inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall Of Fame in 1989. Jean opened her own law office in 1972 and continues to serve her clients today in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Among her many accomplishments, Jean co-founded Focus on Equal Employment for Women and the Michigan Democratic Party Women's Caucus. Jean is also an avid scrabble player while at the island and continues to be an admirer of her man John, and his island

Note: The Canadian Thousand Islands Watershed Land Trust is planning their 10th Anniversary Island Tour. They welcome comments and suggestions and volunteers. Please contact Marnie Ross at: Thousand Islands Watershed Land Trust (Canada)


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Mac McKellar
Comment by: Mac McKellar ( )
Left at: 6:33 AM Thursday, January 15, 2009
I injoyed this article as I do all of your acticles. The facts contained are very interesting including the price first paid for the island. Wonder what today's value is. The page layout with the framed pictures are also a a great idea. My wife and I are hoping that we soon can bring our boat to the area to visit the entire and complete chain of islands. Keep up the good work and we look forward to reading more of your articles.

Mac M.
Michael Bedford-Jones
Comment by: Michael Bedford-Jones ( )
Left at: 10:58 AM Thursday, January 15, 2009
As a life long resident of Mudlunta Island (66 years) in the Admiralty Group, Black Duck island was a frequent site tos ee as we rowed or sailed or motored by. But I never had the privlege of visiting it. So this family long as my own family history in the Islands ( I am a Britton descendent) was absolutely fascinating. Thank you.
Comment by: JUNE STENGER ( )
Left at: 9:16 AM Friday, February 12, 2010
Paul Cataldo
Comment by: Paul Cataldo ( )
Left at: 8:26 AM Thursday, January 27, 2011
I have a hard cover book by Irving Rouse Lake View Nurseries from the 1880s would someone be interested in this book?