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Before the Koffee Kove…

How many of you remember Cantwell's Creamery and Grocery Store? Now the Koffee Kove Restaurant in Clayton, NY? Yes, it was once a busy Milk Plant, Grocery Store and also the Town Clerk's office for 32 years. It was one of the busier spots in town.

Generations of Cantwells have lived in Clayton. Francis (Frank) Cantwell was born in 1890 and spent his early years living on Black Creek and East Line Road. He attended country schools there and graduated from Clayton High School and then from Albany Business College in 1909. He worked for a time in Ogdensburg, as a bookkeeper and stenographer, in a hardware store. Frank was married to Mary Laurena Bailey of Clayton, in 1913. They had six children, three sons, Francis (Salty), Merrill, and Robert, and three daughters, Virginia, (Mrs. Richard Bertrand), Mary Elizabeth (Mrs. George Bazinet), and Elaine (Mrs. Fred Wood). They were a close family and all grew-up and lived in Clayton.

In 1916, Frank Cantwell moved, with his family, from Ogdensburg to the Tracey Farm on East Line Road in Clayton. In 1921, they moved to 607 Merrick Street and formed a milk business with a partner, John Deso, a young man from Connecticut. Their first milk plant was in a barn on Beecher Street. His partner was killed in an auto accident, in the Spring of 1922. He took on a new partner, John Werner, and moved his milk plant to the back of the old McKinley Block, on James St. All this time they peddled their milk with a horse and wagon.

Later in the same year he bought out Woody's Electrical, at his new location, 220 James St, dissolved the partnership and formed the Creamery and Grocery Store. Cantwell's Creamery and Grocery Store was a small building. You would never have known how much went on inside it's walls. Mr. Cantwell also bought the Thorpe Block next door which housed a liquor store,on the street level, and living quarters on the upper floors.

It wasn't long before Cantwell's Creamery products were being delivered by truck, all over Clayton and the surrounding area. Mr. Cantwell's sons worked in the store and delivered milk around town. Amos Bazinet worked in the Creamery for many years. The grocery business was also increasing; at the time, there were several other groceries in Clayton and most local people shopped in Clayton. Watertown was a long drive, in those days, and the local stores did very well.

The Creamery was a busy place; I can remember it vaguely from my childhood, in the 30s, but my best memories were from the early 1950s. Newly married, in 1952, my husband and I worked at the Carl Reese farm, on Deferno Road, on shares. This meant that we lived on and worked the farm. We furnished half the grain, etc., for the livestock and we received half the milk check each month. We drew our milk each day to Cantwell's Creamery, as did most of the farmers on Deferno.

What a lively place it was; early each morning the trucks, with their station cans of milk, would pull into the alley between Cantwell's and the liquor store. The milk would be dumped, the cans washed and sterilized and returned to the farmers. It was always a great time for the farmers to catch-up on the news...(gossip)..., talk about the weather and the crops, politics or whatever was the news of the day. I really don't know how many farmers brought their milk to Cantwell's. I remember our neighbors, Miles Putnam, Andrew Gowdy and Henry Zach; there were many more, I'm sure.

What I remember most though, was the grocery store. Of course, we got our Marriage License there. The town clerk's office was in the back of the store, and that was a busy place. I did all my grocery shopping at the store.. At that time, Charlie Carpenter was the clerk. He always packed my groceries and usually carried them to the car for me. I can remember complaining that I'd spent nearly eight dollars and he could pack it all into three or four paper bags. The groceries were always kept on a tab and the money was taken out from the milk check. The second year we were on the farm was a rough one. Our Peggy was a year old and Jim was a new baby. Early in December that year, Mr. Cantwell asked me to step into his office. He explained that the groceries were totalling more than the milk check . He told me not to worry though; he would just keep track and take the money out of the next Summer's checks,which would be bigger. Then he reached in his pocket and pulled out a fifty dollar bill and told me, "Go buy some Christmas for the babies." Mr. Cantwell did deduct the groceries from our Summer checks, but he never took back that fifty dollars.

I'll never forget it. I thought that it was just because we were hard-up that he did this for us, but I have since found-out that Frank Cantwell did this for many people in Clayton. Times were hard, after the depression, and he helped a lot of struggling families get through hard times. He was well liked and respected for the things he did for the people of Clayton.

By 1961, Mr. Cantwell was getting older. The equipment in the Creamery was starting to be out-dated by new rules and regulations in the business. He went into partnership with Taylor Stone Dairies, in Watertown and soon sold-out to them. Those of us who knew Frank Cantwell will never forget him.

Now that same location is the Koffee Kove Restaurant, and yes, even today, like yesterday, the building provides a great time for (farmers) Islanders to catch-up on the news...(gossip)..., talk about the weather and (crops) boats, politics or whatever (was) is the news of the day.

By Nancy Bond

Nancy Bond began writing in high school 60+ years ago, but then family life took hold, as she and her husband, Leo, raised twelve children, on their farm in the town of Clayton. It was only recently that Nancy began writing her memories on paper, for her children to enjoy. The Thousand Islands Museum persuaded her to share these memories with the “Thousand Islands Sun” and now with “TI Life” for all to enjoy.    Click here for Nancy’s other articles – everyone one of them will make you smile! 

Note:  Visit the Koffee Kove facebook page. 

Artist Kelly Curry’s murals attract attention everywhere in the Thousand Islands.  To learn more about Kelly’s creations, see Lynn McElfresh’s  April 2011 article.  “Artist Kelly Curry”

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.


Stan Ren
Comment by: Stan Ren
Left at: 10:33 PM Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Although not having much time due to our move from Rochester I just had to read this article which I enjoyed so much. It took me back to my childhood days on the farm and recalling how neighbors were back in those days. The only regret I've ever had was not living in Clayton as a child.
Cathy Perry
Comment by: Cathy Perry
Left at: 2:43 PM Thursday, October 15, 2015
Another great story and memory Nancy....
Joan McKinley Rimualdo
Comment by: Joan McKinley Rimualdo
Left at: 3:09 PM Thursday, October 15, 2015
i remember Cantwell's grocery store well and also remember my father telling me that if it wasn't for Frank Cantwell we would have gone to bed hungry. He was a kind man and it was nice to read this article about the family.
Tom Hunt
Comment by: Tom Hunt
Left at: 5:23 PM Thursday, October 15, 2015
Wonderful piece of local history here Nancy. I really enjoy your writings about all the old times you remember. You have a wonderful way of bringing them back to life.
Edwina Hay
Comment by: Edwina Hay
Left at: 10:40 AM Friday, October 16, 2015
I just love Clayton. My mother was born in Depauville (Gwendolyn Dwyer) my Grandparents ran a gas station for awhile (Edwin and Gerdine Dwyer) . Many of my relatives came from "up North" and now we have a camp at Grass Point. Mom always took us to the Koffee Kove because she knew Roberta.
Nancy Bond
Comment by: Nancy Bond ( )
Left at: 10:49 AM Friday, October 16, 2015
Thank you all for the comments. Although I'm 82 years old now it sometimes seems that it was such a short time ago that all these memories took place..
Lee Crandall
Comment by: Lee Crandall
Left at: 11:46 AM Friday, October 16, 2015
Thanks Nancy for bringing back another wonderful childhood memory. I remember touring the Cantwell Creamery in first or second grade and watching them fill these bottles. We had milk delivered in these glass bottles to an insulated box on our front porch several times a week. The cream would rise to the top underneath the cardboard cap. In the dead of winter, when it was below zero outdoors, you had to scramble to bring the bottlesindoors to the refrigeraor or they milk would freeze, initially frozen cream pushing the cap up and out of the bottle neck, but eventually cracking the bottle. Twenty years ago a family member went to a flea market in Zephyr Hills, Florida and brought me back one of the bottles that had somehow found its way there. It sits in a display in my living room. As I recall, the phone number on the bottle is "2-4" My dad's feed mill had the number "1-6" until dial phones came along in the early 1960s.
Nancy Bond
Comment by: Nancy Bond ( )
Left at: 2:18 PM Friday, October 16, 2015
Thanks again for the comments I get so much in return when they're published. Joan Rimualdo, I remember you from riding the school bus. I was Nancy Kennedy from East Line Road and you were Joan McKinley from Black Creek. You were a few years younger but I remember you well.
And Edwina Hay, I remember your Grandmother, Gwennie Dwyer. I'm not sure if she was in my grade or a year younger, but I remember a tiny girl with short dark hair. She moved away fairly young. I graduated with Roberta Stevens Durand. We were good friends.
So you see every comment brings back another memory Thank you, all of you for every comment.
Willie Wood
Comment by: Willie Wood
Left at: 12:40 PM Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Many thanks for this wonderful tribute to Grandpa Frank Cantwell. Grandpa sure had a big heart looking out for many of the less fortunate in Clayton, a really great man!
As a youth my cousins & I played in the backyard and watched all the coming & going and the hustle & bustle around the creamery. During high school in I stocked shelves in the grocery store. I remember people walking by and sampling all the fresh fruit on display out front.
Nancy Keziah
Comment by: Nancy Keziah
Left at: 8:28 AM Monday, November 2, 2015
My sister, Karin and I were just talking about this on the phone last week. We remember the creamery and store as well. Thanks for the memories!
Nancy (Robinson) Keziah
Karin (Robinson) King
Bill Bazinet
Comment by: Bill Bazinet
Left at: 10:21 AM Tuesday, November 3, 2015
I spent a great deal of time at the creamery/store helping my dad in the creamery. I helped with the whole process and loved the butter churn. I wasn't so happy with all the cleanup. Mr. Cantwell was my uncle's (George Bazinet) father-in-law and it was like we were one great big family. I was there the day Charlie chopped off his thumb cutting pork chops. Remember the long tongs they used to get the grocery products from the top shelves.