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More than a Salad Dressing and George Washington

More than a Salad Dressing… Years ago, I met a young medical student and I was telling her about my favourite vacation region. I got carried away, and soon I was relating facts about the War of 1812, the ships that plied the St. Lawrence River, the battles… “Gee,” she exclaimed, The Thousand Islands are more than a Salad Dressing”.

Over the past decade, I have presented a number of historical talks and the audience is always interested when I link events, people and happenings with the Thousand Islands. I refer to these links as six degrees of separation – and over the next few months, we will compile a long list to prove that the Thousand Islands is (almost) the centre of the world – and certainly more than a salad dressing!

Six degrees of separation refers to the idea that if you are one "step" away from each person you know, then you are two "steps" away from each person who is known by one of the people you know, and you are no more than six "steps" away from each person on earth.

Let’s begin with the 2008 US Presidential election and George Washington.

Right now Republicans and Democrats all over the United States are preparing to elect a new President in the 2008 election. And once the election is over, on January 20, 2009 after the new president is sworn into office he will move into the Executive Mansion, now called the White House on Pennsylvania Ave. What possible connection can this have with our Thousand Islands? It is simple, the first President, George Washington originally moved into the first presidential mansion, The Franklin House, on Pearl Street in New York City, then the capital of the newly formed United States. Washington took office on April 30, 1789 but a year later, during the second session of the first Congress, it was decided he needed a larger home. (Yes, like today, everyone wanted to spend time with the President and his First Lady).

On February 23, 1790, Washington leased one of the three houses that made up the Macomb Mansion on 39-41 Broadway. President and Lady Washington remained in the Mansion until August of that year when the capital was moved to Philadelphia until it was later re located to the new capital of the United States in Washington, District of Columbia.

Alexander Macomb

The Macomb Mansion was built by Alexander Macomb. Macomb and his partners were land speculators. As soon as the American Revolution was over the United Empire Loyalists began settling the north shore of the St. Lawrence River in what was known as Upper Canada. The newly formed United States wanted to settle the south side of the River too. But rather than give the land to settlers as happened in the British colony, they sold the land to individuals as developers, who would in turn, foster settlement in the region. The land sales took place in New York City. Macomb and his partners purchased 3,670,715 acres (14,855 km²). The tract included much of northern New York, along the St. Lawrence River and eastern Lake Ontario, including the Thousand Islands. The purchase was divided into ten large townships (five along the River, and five backing those).

Macomb Purchase

The deeds for land in the counties, originate from the Macomb Purchase. The purchase included Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Lewis, Franklin, Counties and portions of Herkimer and Oswego Counties. (excludes Penet Square, whose history will be in another column). The purchase was made in 1791, but unfortunately for Macomb he bought the land at the beginning of the first economic slowdown in US history – much like the one we are currently experiencing – and the following year he was in financial difficulty and ended up in debtors prison.

Macomp Mansion, New York CityOn September 9, 1990, the Watertown Daily Times writer, David Dill Jr. began a series entitled "Portrait of an Opportunist: The Life of Alexander Macomb." That series gives the details of Alexander Macomb and the Macomb mansion. The article provides a “fitting description” of the house, as “Its imposing frontage extended for 112 feet along the west side of the avenue, and New Yorkers gazing upon it in wonderment called it the finest private building in the entire city. As a measure of its splendor, the mansion, later a distinguished hotel, has been the subject of more comment by city historians than Macomb himself.”

In conclusion when you watch the television coverage in January 2009 of the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States, and watch the new first family enter the executive mansion, you can remember the role our Thousand Islands played in presidential history and the 1st President’s gracious living accommodations.

By Susan W. Smith

For more on Alexander Macomb, including links to the Macomb Family genealogy see: compiled by Marshall Davies Lloyd.

Dill, David Jr. "Portrait of an Opportunist: The Life of Alexander Macomb.", The Watertown Daily Times, September 9, 16, & 23 1990.

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