Chaumont, New York: Population = 624, elevation = 352 feet, average January low temp = 9.3, Average July high temp = 79, average sunny days = 159, annual snowfall = 82.8”, annual rainfall = 31.6”, air quality index = 38.5, water quality index = 63, comfort index = 57
Chaumont lies near a bay in the Northeast corner of Lake Ontario. It is a small community of full time residents that provide goods and services for the seasonal people who inhabit the cabins all along the shoreline. In the summer, fishing and watersports are prevalent, while in the winter the emphasis is on snowmobiling. Due to the muddled French history of the area, the town is known as either “sha mo” (French) or “Chow Mount” (wise ass). It is mostly a modest town, but there are a few beautiful old “painted lady” Victorian houses and a handful of the solid, stolid old stonework Georgians.
Our cabin is on the South shore of a long peninsula, Point Salubrious. The peninsula is fringed with cabins of all shapes and sizes, many sporting docks with aquatic toys lashed to them. The weekend starts with the far, plaintive note of the early fisherman’s small boat, putting over to that secret spot that might work again this time. Shortly afterwards, the mighty roar of the speedboats echo across the bay as water skiers and tubers attempt to bridge the gap between air and water. About noonish, the jet skis come out to grind up the lake.
We do not have any water toys to play with, so we set out to explore the area. To the South we find Sackets Harbor. This was once a major shipyard, producing warships to defend the Great Lakes. During the War of 1812, the American ships and shore batteries repulsed the British fleet here. The British attacked by land again in 1813 and were again driven off. Today there are monuments to the war and a large marina hosting some beautiful yachts. And a brewery.
Heading North, we come to the St. Lawrence River. At the mouth of the river the Tibbets Point Lighthouse still stands proudly lighting the way into the channel and keeping an eye on those Canadians over on Wolfe Island.
Moving downriver, the first town is Cape Vincent. There are a few shops and bars and restaurants, but the most picturesque thing appears to be the marinas. There are some beautiful old classic boats and yachts tied up here.
Further up the river, the next stop is Clayton. Clayton is a little bigger and more scenic than Cape Vincent. It also has a brewery. The Wood Boat Brewery serves up a good variety of housemade beers, and is attached to a nice restaurant. A little further down the road we find another new favorite, the Clayton Distillery. They make several types of liquor, straight up and flavored. First three tastes are free!
Our last stop was Alexandria Bay. We reserved the day before so we would be assured of passage on one of the many Uncle Sam tour boats that ply the waters of Alexandria Bay. These magical vessels will transport us to castles, actual USA castles. In 1905 Frederick Bourne, the fifth president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company started construction of his American castle. He told his wife it was going to be a hunting lodge. Once the wife saw it, she started remodeling. The result is a very impressive structure with four floors of grand rooms, lovingly decorated with wood and marble. There are even secret passages throughout. Flip the little switch next to the fireplace and a door opens, revealing a spiral staircase and little viewing peekholes. The servants used these to run things around the house without being seen by the guests, so they were not really a big secret.
The cruise back to Alexandria Bay chugs slowly past the huge playhouses of the very wealthy and the little getaways of the less wealthy. There is another castle. George Boldt, the general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel had a castle built for his wife Louise, the love of his life. He built it on Heart Island, which he even had excavated so it would be shaped like a heart. The castle is six floors, has 120 rooms, a drawbridge, and a dove cote. Unfortunately, Louise died before the castle was completed so George ordered a stop to all construction and never lived in it. It sat vacant for 73 years until the Thousand Island Bridge Authority acquired it with the condition that all proceeds go toward restoration. And nobody ever lives there. We are sorry we didn’t actually have time to do the tour, but it looks amazing from the water.
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