For fair-weather day trippers, weekend travelers and adventure seekers, the St. Lawrence River region has served as a notable destination for countless years. What is also known as the Thousand Islands region includes Alexandria Bay, Cape Vincent, Clayton, Chaumont, Redwood, Sackets Harbor and the surrounding towns and villages.
The area has taken great efforts to promote its history and environment. As one example, Uncle Sam’s Boat Tours dates back to the 1870s. According to an April 2016 article by Tom King for Thousand Islands Life, Capt. Elisha Washington Visger piloted the Cygnet, the first steam-powered commercial tour boat in the region. Boldt, Bonnie and Singer castles all welcome visitors on this boat tour.
The waterway tours are great ways to learn about the ecology, what requirements constitute an island, among other things, and the history of transportation in New York. For those with less-confident sea legs, the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton and other locations such as cemeteries, lighthouses, museums and restaurants provide insights into the past.
The St. Lawrence River region is filled with people willing to find out where a visitor is from, talk about their business and graciously suggest other activities, places to eat and where to hoist a few. Each destination also has a chamber of commerce that provides annually updated material outlining dates and locations of community events.
For those in a spirited mood, Taste 1000 Islands (taste1000islands.com) offers a mapped-out beverage trail and other resources. Steering this organization is Julia Purcell, who is also the co-founder of Brooklyn marketing company Le JIT Productions. Through a grant from New York state and partnerships with I Love NY and Taste NY, she is able to emphasize the area’s beverage and hospitality industries.
State incentives have further encouraged the creation of more breweries, wineries and distilleries, with the requirement that these businesses include a certain percentage of ingredients obtained from farms across the state. Mike Young of Dark Island Spirits in Alexandria Bay and Michael Aubertine of Clayton Distillery in Clayton said they are using as many local and state-grown products as possible, especially corn and wheat.
Both small-batch spirit companies offer ryes, bourbons, vodkas, moonshines and even limoncellos among other products. Aubertine and Young have seen a growth in the popularity of their products better, but they also have to adhere to the product aging processes.
Dark Island’s “musically matured” distillery process features a speaker in the casks that keeps the booze moving, which helps with the aging process, but it doesn’t necessarily diminish the duration. Both Young and Aubertine noted they use Adirondack Barrel Cooperage in Remsen for their casks.
Wineries are abundant, including Coyote Moon, Northern Flow, Otter Creek and others. Representatives from the Thousand Islands wineries noted the difficulty of growing grapes in the North Country area, especially the geography, soil and colder temperatures.
The breweries include Wood Boat Brewery, located in the heart of Clayton; Skewed Brewing in Watertown; and for the water skimmers, Gananoque Brewing across Lake Ontario in neighboring Canada.
Whether eating Wood Boat’s notable wood-fired pizza, enjoying a generous serving of ice cream at The Gal’s Place or sitting down to a fresh farm-to-table meal at the Saint Lawrence Spirits Chateau, it’s easy to understand the appeal for craft imbibers and foodies.
The land of a thousand isles is also the land of infinite stories. Frank Cavallario first opened the Chez Paris Restaurant in 1948, followed almost two decades later with the neighboring Cavallario’s Steak House. The eatery with a diner vibe has walls lined with large fake fish along with sports photos, especially of boxer Carmen Basilio. Owner Tammy Quinn, daughter of Cavallario, who died in 2015, said her father and the champ were longtime friends.
The former summer home of chemical industrialist Carl Zimmerman is now known as Saint Lawrence Spirits, a multiuse venue for weddings and other events. Peter Souch IV from the facility talked about the nationally registered historic building, previously known as Fairview Manor and Longue Vue Manor. The buildings on the property were in disrepair and sat vacant for eight years before transforming into the chateau and distillery.
While dining at the bar of the restaurant, large picture windows showcase the grandeur of the St. Lawrence River. This is where the children’s play area was, Souch stated, and questioned why anyone would ever want to watch television with such a beautiful view.
In Redwood, a 15-minute drive from Alexandria Bay, sits Better Farm. The property is run by Nicole Caldwell and David Magbee, and was formerly owned by Caldwell’s uncle. After moving from New York City for a more serene and quieter atmosphere, Caldwell has transformed the home and 65 acres of land into a community-supported agriculture (CSA) organization, a bed-and-breakfast and lodge for short- and long-term residents, a place for artists to hold residency and to show work in a two-story art barn, plus a concert venue among other events.
Let’s not forget about the docents at the Antique Boat Museum, which is mostly self-guided, and offers a half-hour tour of George Boldt’s houseboat La Duchesse and its history. The floating two-story home was a party boat and the family made it a point to make all feel welcome. Don’t be shy when it comes to introducing yourself to others while exploring the rooms and party deck.
Quinn, Young, Souch and other residents were happy to give suggestions to a traveler unfamiliar with the region. This is ever the more reason to keep coming back.
See more photos of the St. Lawrence River region here.
St. Lawrence Information Beacons
Alexandria Bay Chamber. 7 Market St., Alexandria Bay. (315) 482-9531; visitalexbay.org.
Cape Vincent Chamber. 173 N James St., Cape Vincent. (315) 654-2481; capevincent.org.
Chaumont-Three Mile Bay Chamber. 28589 Empie Road, Chaumont. (315) 649-3404; chaumontchamber.com.
Clayton Chamber. 517 Riverside Drive, Clayton. (315) 686-3771; 1000islands-clayton.com.
Sackets Harbor Chamber. 100 W. Main St., Sackets Harbor. (315) 646-1700; sacketsharborny.com/chamber.
Taste 1000 Islands. (802) 272-5821; taste1000islands.com.
Sackets Harbor Brewing Company. 212 W. Main St., Sackets Harbor. (315) 646-2739; sacketsharborbrewpub.com. Mondays through Fridays, 4 to 9 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 9 p.m.
Skewed Brewing. 21182 Salmon Run Loop W., Watertown. (315) 788-2337; skewedbrewing.com. Mondays through Saturdays, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Wood Boat Brewery. 625 Mary St., Clayton. (315) 686-3233; woodboatbreweryny.com. Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 11 p.m.
Busted Grapes Winery. 19557 Ball Road, Black River. (315) 519-7574; bustedgrapeswine.com. Fridays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cape Winery. 2066 Deerlick Road, Cape Vincent. (315) 654-3218; thecapewinery.com. Daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Coyote Moon Vineyards & Winery. 17371 Route 3, Clayton. (315) 686-5600; coyotemoonvineyards.com. Sundays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Wine & Craft Beer Lounge. 524 Riverside Drive, Clayton. (315) 686-4030. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. .
Grindstone Island Winery. 42811 Schoolhouse Road, Grindstone Island, Clayton. facebook.com/oneofakindwine.
Northern Flow Vineyards. DeLuke’s Garden Center, 40635 Route 12, Clayton. (315) 686-4769; northernflowvineyards.com. Mondays through Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sundays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Otter Creek Winery. 33109 Rudes Road, Philadelphia. (315) 642-0622; ottercreekwinery.com. Tasting room also located at 43750 Route 12, Alexandria Bay. (315) 777-7991. Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thousand Islands Winery. 43298 Seaway Ave., Alexandria Bay. (315) 482-9306; thousandislandswinery.com. Daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Venditti Vineyards. 42780 New Connecticut Road, Theresa. (315) 287-0500; vendittivineyards.com. Fridays through Sundays, noon to 6 p.m.
Yellow Barn Winery. 18876 Route 66, Watertown. (315) 782-1824; yellowbarnwinery.com. Daily, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Clayton Distillery. 40164 Route 12, Clayton. (315) 285-5004; claytondistillery.com. Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 5 p.m.
Dark Island Spirits. 42 Church St., Alexandria Bay. (315) 482-2059; darkislandspirits.com. Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
St. Lawrence Spirits. 28289 Route 12 E., Clayton. (315) 285-5224; saintlawrencespirits.com. Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Antique Boat Museum. 750 Mary St., Clayton. (315) 686-4104; abm.org. Daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. $40/families up to five people, $14/adults, $12/seniors, $8/ages 7 to 17, free/ages 6 and under. Tours add-on pricing. Specialty pricing for active military, veterans and spouses.
Bodlt Castle. 1 Heart Island, Alexandria Bay. (315) 482-9724, (315) 482-2501; boldtcastle.com. Daily, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. $9.50/adults, $6.50/ages 5 to 12, free/ages 4 and under.
Cerow Recreation Park. 615 E. Line Road, Clayton. (315) 686-4310; townofclayton.com/departments/parks-and-recreation. Daily, dawn to dusk. Free.
Clayton Island Boat Tours. 39621 Chateau Lane, Clayton. (315) 686-4820; claytonislandtours.com.
Clayton Opera House. 403 Riverside Drive, Clayton. (315) 686-2200; claytonoperahouse.com. See summer concert listings for music, stage and more.
Rock Island Lighthouse. Rock Island. (315) 775-6886; rockislandlighthouse.org. Accessible by boat only. Daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. $3/adults, $2/ages 6 to 12, free/ages 5 and under.
Sackets Harbor Battlefield. 504 W Main St., Sackets Harbor. (315) 646-3634; parks.ny.gov/historic-sites/7/details.aspx. Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m. $3/adults, $2/students, seniors, military, free/ages 12 and under.
Singer Castle. Dark Island, Chippewa Bay. (315) 324-3275; singercastle.com. Tours available through Uncle Sam’s Boat Tours. Daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. $14.25/adults, $6.25/ages 4 and up, $12.25/military, $5.25/military children, free/ages under 4.
Stone Mills Museum. 30950 Route 180, LaFargeville. (315) 658-2353; stonemillsmuseum.org.
Tibbetts Point Lighthouse. 33435 Route 6, Cape Vincent. (315) 654-2700; capevincent.org/lighthouse. Daily, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Thousand Islands Arts Center, 314 John St, Clayton. (315) 686-4123; tiartscenter.org. Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Uncle Sam Boat Tours, 45 James St., Alexandria Bay. (315) 482-2611, (800) 253-9229; unclesamboattours.com.
Wellesley Island State Park. 44927 Cross Island Road, Fineview. (315) 482-2722; parks.ny.gov/parks/52. Daily, 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. $7/cars, $5/cars (after 4 p.m.), $75/buses. Empire pass accepted. Please see website or call for information for camp site and cabin rentals, boat and other rentals.