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Finding 1000 Islands Pump Houses

The most widely recognized pump house in the 1000 Islands stands at the downriver end of Heart Island. George Boldt’s mammoth equipment building housed the pumps to service Boldt Castle, as well as the power generators. 

Many of these outbuildings remain standing years after the main houses were destroyed by fire, neglect, or an owner’s desire for a newer cottage.

Working with the loss of those historic cottages, I thought it would be interesting to do a pictorial article of some of my favorite pump houses and ask you, the readers,  to fill us in on the history of the pump houses – as well as some history about  the main houses they supported in the prime of their lives.

Having grown up on Manhattan Island, with its wonderful swept roof style pump house containing the remnants of several generations of cast iron water pumps, I was always fascinated with the machinery in these out buildings.

The pumps housed in the structures, often referred to as “one lungers,” were cast iron piston pumps that made a chug-a-chug sound as they labored to lift the water from the River and push it up into iron or wooden tanks situated at a high point on the island. Most pumps were powered by cantankerous internal combustion engines, although several of the islands used early electric motors to power the pumps.

Gravity was used to allow the water to flow into the cottages. Only as I got older did I start to appreciate the architecture and construction of the numerous stone and wooden pump houses that grace the shorelines of our islands.

Several of my favorite pump houses still stand in close proximity to original island cottages. A few sport flower displays in the rock and roof structures.

And it is apparent as you boat through different areas of the Thousand Islands that individual masons had their own signature designs, incorporating different roof lines, window openings, and door details.

Where are they?

I am listing the photo of the structure and hope that you will be able to identify and tell us something about the original main house. Please use the comment section below, and refer to the individual photograph, or send information to  We will update this article as we gather the information.

[Click to enlarge each photograph]







Author’s note: My apologies in advance to everyone who owns or knows of a favorite pump house that I have not included in this article. If we get enough photos and descriptions sent in, perhaps we will be able to do a follow up article this fall. Enjoy the River. John

By John Peach, Huckleberry Island, Ivy Lea

John and his wife, Pat, live on Huckleberry Island, near Ivy Lea, from May through October. The rest of the year they reside in Princeton, NJ, although John continues to make frequent return visits to the Islands throughout the winter. John retired several years ago from his career in international business. His family has owned a place in the Thousand Islands for over 50 years. John is a past president of Save The River, and is still active on the Save The River board.

Click here to see John’s other articles for TI Life.

Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.


Tad Clark
Comment by: Tad Clark ( )
Left at: 3:10 PM Saturday, August 16, 2014
Nicely done, Thumper.
jack patterson
Comment by: jack patterson ( )
Left at: 8:09 PM Wednesday, August 20, 2014
So. Pump house under pressure at Axeman, John. Yikes! The ORIGINAL island pump house. They want my cousin and I to abandon the entire operation. P. U.! Can you believe that! And replace with a cheap-o Home Depot plastic 4' x 6' what-they-call ... 'house'- has a 'lid' (house w. a 'lid')? And equally cheap-o off-the-shelf H.D. pump placed just ... anywhere. Argh. We, of course, resisting. Your article just in time! Whew!


Do all those houses u show have working pumps inside? Maybe we better check. I have a fast boat.

Er, ... I do have a f. boat but maybe also need to report that I currently (only) own one third of the-this boat/it. Ugly mean & rich sister and brother-in-law own the rest. And you know how island families, & etc.

So ... if you could let me know precisely when we b doing our raid ... I might be able to get clearance, you know, like that.

Yr. ver-grt. frnd., Jack P.
Bud Andress
Comment by: Bud Andress
Left at: 8:13 PM Wednesday, August 20, 2014
John, a bit of info. about pumphouse picture #6...
The northeast point of Hill Island, ON, is part of the land holdings on the island than form part of Thousand Islands National Park (formerly known as St. Lawrence Islands N.P.) where I worked for 37 years. The grand summer mansion which was in disrepair and dismantled by the Park had been used in 1977 as one of several backdrops for the "mudmonster movie", as it became known, which aired on television in 1978. The correct name for the movie was "The World Beyond". The similar architectural style can be found on the north islet where a small gazebo structure has been preserved. A large boathouse used to sit off the south shore and was also part of several scenes in the movie. Very close to the boathouse was a two storey (dry) skiff house, with what was likely servant accommodation on the second floor. The mansion had obviously been looted decades before, but I remember seeing a three storey 'dumb waiter' system which ran from the lower kitchen through the first level, to the upper level hallway. During the dismantling a siding board was discovered that had a large pencil inscription on the underside which read "Deliver to Batterman's, Hill Island" The wood had originated from Mitchell and Wilson Lumber in Gananoque. The caretaker's house which stands to this day was restored internally while preserving the significant outside architecture by the Canadian Coast Guard for use of the summer inshore rescue unit ("Rescue Hill Island"). I am pleased to say I helped convince the Park Superintendent to enter into a joint relationship with the Coast Guard to see the house developed into summer housing for inshore rescue student accommodation.

You'll notice what appears to be an opening in one of the plywood shutters of the boarded-up pump house. I had the hole and sliding closure flap prepared for telephoto camera shooting of bald eagles on ice in the Raft Narrows in winter.

John Peach
Comment by: John Peach ( )
Left at: 6:44 AM Thursday, August 21, 2014
Wonderful information on that great old estate. Thank you so much.
Bill Lombard
Comment by: Bill Lombard
Left at: 2:28 PM Wednesday, August 27, 2014
someone should make these into a "pump houses of the 1000 islands" poster
Bud Andress
Comment by: Bud Andress
Left at: 6:02 PM Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Bill Lombard's suggestion is an excellent one. I've seen "The doors of Queen's University" and have a poster of "The doors of Gananoque". Pump Houses of the 1000 Islands?....great idea!
John Peach
Comment by: John Peach ( )
Left at: 9:25 AM Thursday, August 28, 2014
Great idea on a poster.
Jane Heffron
Comment by: Jane Heffron
Left at: 10:07 AM Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Hi Thumper. Lovely idea on the pump houses. Our picture should say River Oaks, not Idyll Oaks. Our pump supplies a pressurized tank rather than gravity system. Best, Jane
Jack Patterson
Comment by: Jack Patterson ( )
Left at: 2:53 PM Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Yes, a pump house calender. Or poster. But I think only operating pump houses should qualify. Maybe people send in photos and Sue organizes a - uh oh, committee to select best twelve . Or ... we could run a contest for best (worst) pump story. If you are the installer as I have been at Axeman for it seems, centuries, you have an endless supply of tales (horror) to tell. Just this summer one of those thousand leg red worms (were everywhere this summer) crawled out of the shut-off valve when I went overboard and brought intake to the surface as we were getting no pressure- worm half in/half out of valve. Hmm? You install- you get to know water/river very first hand ... intimately.