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“You Can’t Go Home Again!” (Or Can You?)

A cold February evening in Kansas, still at least six more weeks of winter weather. “You’ve got mail” the iconic message announcement from AOL on my laptop. “Pick one” A somewhat unusual item on the subject line but since it came from my youngest son I assumed there was a reason. There was. For several years that son, Brian, and his wife Melissa have been more than generous by sharing an annual vacation – somewhere – with both his mother, when she was with us, and Grandpa to travel along with a pair of active grandsons. Those trips have included southern California and that Mecca of vacation destinations Orlando. FL.

This year, 2014, would be very different. The e-mail message was a simple link to a web site. The one offered by Trudy (Brown) Fitelson. The link was to a page of Trudy’s site listing several cottages that were available for rent at Thousand Island Island Park (TI Park or The Park) the next summer.

I was fortunate to spend all my summers at The Park from age two until I was married, then most warm weather weekends while I was with WHEN Radio and TV in Syracuse. A job transfer to the Midwest in the early 1970s made visits a bit more difficult. We did make occasional trips back but it had been five years since I had even been able to drive around TI Park. The family had talked of a return for several years. This year we would finally make it.

My Paternal Grandparents had owned the cottage at 53 Ontario Avenue since the early 1900’s. My Grandfather died before I turned one, Grandma Parkhurst had passed away in 1967. Advancing age and illness made it impossible for my mother and father to maintain the place and I was in Kansas City, too far away to be of any help. Reluctantly, very reluctantly, they sold the cottage in the early 1980s.

It is difficult to describe how important TI Park was to me personally through my formative years so I will not even try. It is enough to say the two months of the year spent at The Park were the epicenter of my life from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. Now not only would I be able to see The Park, I would be able to spend some real time there.

A cottage selection was made. We would be at 45 Ontario, just a few doors down from Grandma’s house. It took some planning but a date was selected and all was in place for the trip. July 6, 2014. As things worked out my other two sons, Craig and Scott, along their wives would be able to join in.

I have been over the U. S. Span of the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority hundreds of times, yet it still holds a fascination high on the “Wow” scale. As luck would have it a Canada Steamship Lines lake boat was passing under the bridge as we crossed. My Grandsons, Aiden and Dylan aged eleven and eight, even put aside their electronic games. “Awesome” said Aiden. I agreed.

While a return to The Park held tremendous importance to me, I had wondered if the Grandkids would find enough to “do” for the week. Previous trips had been to locations with theme parks, lots of theme parks. I need not have worried. They spotted soccer goals on the green as we drove in and when they found out there were semi-organized games available they were all in. The old playground was also an attraction. Some of the equipment that I, and years later my own boys, played on as kids were still there. Needless to say the “Guzzle” was an immediate attraction and frequently visited.

Several bikes came along with the rented cottage so within minutes the two boys were trying them out. It would not be long before they were setting out, on their own, to go play soccer or just explore. That is something they could not do most anywhere else, including their own upscale suburban neighborhood. Not that Mom and Dad don’t trust their children, they do. It is just they cannot trust others. Aside from gated communities 1000 Island Park may be the last place on the planet where kids can just be kids.

The SUV was unloaded; bags unpacked then a walk down to the rocks to make sure they were still there. They were. We walked around Coast Ave. to the Main Dock, now called The Pavilion. (Sorry, to me it’s the Main Dock and it always will be.) It was interesting to see Melissa’s reaction to 1000 Island Park. Aside from her boys she was the only one of our group never to previously visit. Her immediate interest was the cottages and how well they were maintained.

Someone reading this, and not familiar with TI Park or similar communities throughout the region, might envision a “cottage” as a cozy little three or four room abode with a white picket fence and maybe a cat sleeping on the front steps.

T I Park cottages come in all sizes but many, especially those along the water front, may have three stories with fifteen or more rooms with wide sweeping porches. It was these that fascinated my Daughter-In-Law, particularly the one on the corner of Coast and Union Aves. It had once been a part of the Rochester Hotel complex where I had worked so many years ago.

We returned to our cottage in time to greet my middle son, Scott, and his wife Chery who had just arrived. A bunch of steaks on the charcoal grill, dinner and a glass of wine on the porch as the sun dropped below Murray Island. How much better could it get?

Monday dawned cool and cloudy so we all piled into the van and went exploring. A visitor’s guide showed an aquarium at Cape Vincent. That would be our first stop. The attraction was small but interesting and well presented. Lunch and then on to Tibbett’s point. Chery has been taken with light houses for years so the opportunity to visit one was a logical choice. In all the time I have been in the 1000 Islands I had never been to Tibbett’s Point. Guess you are never too old to see and learn something new. Looking out at the vastness of Lake Ontario from that vantage point is an incredible experience. I wondered why it had taken me eight decades to see it.

Oldest son, Craig, and his wife Cathy arrived later that evening. Since our cottage had sleeping accommodations for eight, they had checked into The Wellesley Hotel. You cannot but be impressed with the restoration work that has been done on The Park. The hotel is no exception.

The current owners of Grandma’s cottage, Sue and Doug Schongalla, were kind enough to give the entire family a full tour of 53 Ontario the next morning. The folks who had bought the place from my Mother and Father had built a massive addition to the rear of the structure. Everything was the same from the front door to the dining room. From there on back, it is completely new, but built to appear as the same period of the original construction. They did an excellent job. There was one unexpected discovery. My pennant collection, started about age five, was still there on the walls of the upstairs front bedroom. Hard to believe that after all these years it was still intact.

When Marnie Thomas, part of Trudy’s organization, came by to see how we were doing on Sunday, she mentioned that kids play soccer at 10:00am on Tuesday and Thursday mornings on the green. Aiden was up and dressed at 6:30. Both boys were immediately accepted and had a great time. The game was open to everyone, boys and girls of all ages and the somewhat loose organization of the game was perfect for the assorted group of excited youngsters. Later, some of our group went swimming from the rocks while others just sat enjoying the view.

That afternoon there was more soccer to watch, this time at a somewhat higher level. World Cup Soccer action viewed at The Pub, in the basement of The Wellesley. Never knew the Pub was there and it surely wasn’t back then. We enjoyed drinks and dinner while we watched Germany totally overwhelm Brazil. Drinks? I believe the Tabernacle ladies of my Grandmother’s day would not be amused.

After a couple of coolish days, Wednesday turned out much warmer. Scott, Chery, Craig and Cathy went out to visit local wineries. The rest of us took off to Alexandria Bay for a visit to Boldt Castle. On the way to The Bay we took a side trip down Peel Dock Road, to see the area under the bridge. Populated now, it was the Wellesley Island docking point for the ferry that ran from Collins Landing on the mainland. As active teenagers we had many “Bridge parties” at that location. If you are my age and were a part of those gatherings, you will remember. If you are not my age, ask your grandmother or grandfather. (They might go into detail or maybe not.) A couple of photos, then we were on to Alexandria Bay and the castle. It is amazing to see what has been done to a once totally run down, crumbling structure. I can remember climbing through the ruined building. Graffiti, trash, broken railings and a rotting interior back then. Now it is a masterpiece of ongoing restoration. The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority is to be commended for the work they have done preserving this national treasure.

Sue and Doug had invited me and several others for a cocktail gathering on the porch of 53 Ontario that afternoon. It was very generous of them to do so. Among other interesting guests I had the distinct pleasure to meet the Publisher of this magazine, Susan Smith. When you are landlocked in the middle of the country, and hold many years’ worth of fond memories of the 1000 Islands as I do, her monthly electronic magazine is a precious and highly valued life-line.

Scott and Chery had to leave the next morning so after goodbyes Craig and Cathy went over to Gananoque to shop while we watched the boys on the soccer field for their second day of play. After lunch it was over to Clayton for a tour of The Antique Boat Museum. The grand old wooden boats that I had seen so often on the River are now classified as antiques. Well I’m not exactly a teenager anymore so guess I can live with that. I was pleased to see Riggs Smith’s “D” Class marathon race boat on prominent display. I had occasionally served as a member of his pit crew, when he was racing his “B” Utility at Clayton and Fishers Landing. The Grandsons had no background to understand or appreciate the significance of the old watercraft, but greatly enjoyed exploring the interiors of the old yachts on display. We had dinner that evening at The Wellesley Hotel and how great to see that restaurant in full operation.

One of the highlights of the week was a ride on the River from the Antique Boat Museum and it was everything we had hoped for and more. The “old” boat turned out to be a Hacker Craft recreate, built in the 1990s at Lake George, NY. Still it had been made to the exact plans of those built decades earlier and rode the water as I remembered similar boats from bygone years. Grandpa sat up-front, trading stories about The River and the islands we passed with Captain Mike. There are several rivers near where I now live in Mid America -  “too thick to drink and too thin to plow.” Rivers should not be brown. They should be a deep majestic blue, like the St. Lawrence. What a pleasure it was to spend nearly an hour on that blue water.

When we got back to The Park the grandkids wanted to go swimming. Earlier in the week the boys and Brian had swum out to Bathhouse Shoal, both boys wearing life jackets; with urging and support Aiden made it over and back by swim power alone. Talk about a rite of passage. How many times had I made that swim? Cannot remember but it was always an adventure. Pleased to see a warning buoy between the shoal and the island. Not there in my kid days when boats cutting between the shoal and island were always something to look-out for on the way over and back.

I had vowed to myself that I would get in the water on the trip and this would be my last chance. No getting around it the water was cold! When I was eight years old the temperature of the St. Lawrence was not a serious consideration. Now at ten times that age; “Do I really want to do this?” Carrie Kerr, neighbor of 53 Ontario, was persistent that I get all the way in. With her “urging” I made it and am very glad I did. (Think she would have pushed me had I not gone on my own.)

We were out of charcoal, no one felt like cooking and/or cleaning-up so we went back to the hotel for dinner. Icing on the vacation cake? Seated on the porch of that wonderful old hotel, overlooking the green, playground, Library and River, our server was the granddaughter of John Withers. John, or John’o, as we called him, was an old friend of many days gone by who had passed away some years before.

All too soon it was time to head back to Syracuse, for the flight back to Mid-America. To those who say: “You can’t go home again” I say: “No, you might be wrong.” Maybe you cannot stay as long as you would like, but the opportunity is almost always there. Even though I spent ten months of each year in New Jersey,. TI Park was always my real “home” in every sense of the word. The Park has been there for well over a hundred years and will be there when we return. And, believe me, we will return.

The Aftermath

I had just gone through the above for the umpteenth time, before sending it on to Susan Smith, when I got the news of the devastating fire on The Park. The Guzzle; gone. The grocery store; gone. Trudy’s office; gone. The Fire Station; gone. The little shop; gone. The Post Office; nearly gone. Some of my earliest recollections of going to 1000 Island Park, were the all too infrequent trips to the ice cream store. (It would not get the name “Guzzle” until years later when Allen Yehle coined the phrase.) Usually it would be my grandmother who would take me for a treat. I cannot remember if Viola Nunn was the proprietor at those early years, but she certainly was in my pre-teen and teen years. She was a very imposing personage, as I recall. Not sure of the year she retired but toward the end of that summer we all went in to thank her. A tear or two was her reaction, then a treat of ice cream Sundaes for all of us.

While I never worked at the grocery store, many of our gang did. There was always a unique and pleasant aroma in that store. Never thought to question what it was but it remained when we visited in July. That’s gone too, I would imagine.

I know there are plans to rebuild. There should be. I hope whichever architect and contractor gets the job will remember how it was. When bids are solicited that might be a prerequisite. “You never got or bought a comic book or had an ice cream cone at The Guzzle? Sorry you are not qualified.” Just a thought.

Deane C. Parkhurst - Olathe, Kansas

Deane C. Parkhurst was born June 8th 1934 in New Jersey.   He writes, “So-so grades in school endured ten months of the year in NJ, happy at TIP for two. In college "majored" in the college radio station instead of class. Drafted into the Army in 1957 and served two years in the Signal Corps.”  He worked in commercial radio and television in New York State until moving to the Mid America.  He completed his career selling high end computer systems to media companies and retiring in 2005. 

Back in August 13, 2013, Deane wrote Remembering TI Park and the Hurricane of ‘38  for TI Life.  Today Deane lives in Olathe, KS on the border of Kansas City MO.   He writes, “ Living in the Kansas City area has been great, it's just so hard to find ocean front property.”  

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Donna wieseler
Comment by: Donna wieseler
Left at: 10:55 AM Monday, September 15, 2014
What a great story and so many good memories from Deane's past. We visited TI park june2013 and went into the library and talked to some of the local people by the dock. What a beautiful area where one feels like you've stepped back in time to a simpler, more serene life
Cathy Flynn
Comment by: Cathy Flynn
Left at: 8:58 PM Saturday, October 4, 2014
Thank you for writing this. I also spent the best summers of my life up at the park. Your treatise is ageless. Sorry to hear about John Withers; he was a generation elder than I was, but I remember him. And very sorry to know about the Guzzle, the grocery store and the fire station. I agree about your suggested requirement that whoever rebuilds must have spent some time and a quarter or two at the Guzzle. That great, echoey building with the great, creaky door, coats of oil paint, and generations of happy park dwellers. There are craftsmen up there in that area - they need to be hired. Yes, it's home.