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Thousand Island-Seaway Region Facts

The Thousand Islands area has been a vacation destination since the Gilded Age. With the St. Lawrence River dividing New York and Canada, water is a way of life up here. It’s easy to find port towns like Clayton and Sackets Harbor bustling with people in the summer months.

With the history of Fort Ontario in Oswego all the way to the invention of salad dressing in Clayton, the whole region has plenty of interesting tales.

Thousand Island-Seaway Region Defined

The region is defined by its northern border of the St. Lawrence River and three counties. For Exploring Upstate, the Thousand Island-Seaway Region includes St. Lawrence, Jefferson, and Oswego counties.

Thousand Islands And St. Lawrence River

– Before it can be considered an official Thousand Island, a piece of land has to meet three requirements. 1. It must be above water all year, 2. it must have at least one tree or shrub, and 3. it must be at least one foot in diameter. [source]

– The Thousand Islands actually includes 1,864 islands. [source]

– The St. Lawrence River was named by Jacques Cartier, who is believed to be the first European to sail up the river. He arrived at the estuary of the river on August 10, the Feast Day of St. Lawrence, and honored the location by naming it the Gulf of St. Lawrence. As the patron saint of chefs and cooks, St. Lawrence is most famous for a phrase he coined while being burned alive. It’s claimed that while being burned at the stake he said, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side.” [source]

– A boundary agreement signed in 1793 by Canada and the United States stipulated that in the Thousand Islands, 1. No island could be split in two, and 2. the boundary must exist 100 yards from a shore. Where it wasn’t possible to be that far away, the demarcation would run perfectly between the two shorelines. As a result, the boundary line between the two countries seems to randomly zig-zag in a few spots, and in some places is even a bit uncertain.

Jefferson County Facts

– The well known “five-and-dime store” business model wasn’t exactly invented by Frank Winfield Woolworth, but he definitely pioneered the model and made it successful. His first go at the five-and-dime idea was in 1878 in Watertown. After buying $100 worth of random goods, he cleared his sales counter in one day, and from there the idea became a full-fledged economic icon. [source]

– Clayton, New York was named in honor of John M. Clayton, a lawyer and politician from Delaware who never lived nor served in New York.

– The famous “Dogs Playing Poker” series was painted by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, who was born in Jefferson County in the Thousand Islands region. On November 18, 2015, his 1894 “Poker Game” sold at a Sothby’s New York auction for $658,000.

– Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie in the classic 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, never starred in another movie. He now lives outside of Watertown and is a veterinarian. [source]

Oswego County Facts

– First opened in 1799, the City of Oswego was the first freshwater port in the United States. [source]

– Dr. Mary Walker of Oswego is the only woman ever awarded the Medal of Honor. As a surgeon in the Civil War, she crossed enemy lines to help suffering inhabitants when no others would, for fear of being arrested. [source]

– George Barnard is credited with what is believed to be the first “on-the-spot news” photograph. It happened when he captured the Fitzhugh’s and Company Flour Mills fire in Oswego on July 5, 1853.  Located on the east side of the Oswego Harbor, the fire destroyed eight city blocks and left 2,000 people without homes. [source]

St. Lawrence County Facts

– The strongest earthquake to ever shake New York State occurred on September 5, 1944. The 5.8 magnitude quake hit St. Lawrence County and was centered in Massena, though it was felt as far away as Maryland, Indiana, Maine and Canada. [source]