(from “Rideau Reflections”, Fall 2006: “A Summer Vacation: Then and Now”)
The picture (attached) is of Benjamin Bennett Sayer (hatless) with a bewhiskered Battersea guide (name unknown). The “bragging pole” shows a summer day’s catch around the turn of the 20th century. As a fisherman, it’s easy to see why Mr. Sayer enjoyed coming to Battersea with his family. The water around Battersea – Dog Lake, Crane’s Nest, and Loughborough Lake – teemed with fish. But like many idyllic situations, there’s a story behind the picture.
An 1878 map of Battersea shows a summer hotel, and a certain Captain Nanny is generally regarded as one of the first regular summer visitors to the area. Benjamin Bennett Sayer, a young acquaintance of the Captain, had suffered multiple broken bones falling from an apple tree in the Sayer family orchard in Warwick, NY. Seeing the gravity of the situation, so to speak, the Captain brought Benjamin up with him for the summer.
The recuperative powers of the Canadian air, water and beer are legendary. Benjamin’s recovery was hastened by meeting Anne Waggoner of Inverary at a barn dance, falling in love and marrying her in March 1894.
When the Sayer family came to Battersea for the summer– husband, wife, three children and family servants, it was a major campaign – it took days. The first leg of the journey began by stuffing clothes, food, and summer equipment, along with themselves, onto the stage from Warwick to Newburgh. There they transferred everything and everyone on board a train. Eventually they rattled into Kingston. They then repeated the tedious baggage transfer process and clambered on the stage to Battersea. On the last leg, everything was then shipped via boat to Big Island, often in the dark of evening. The Sayers took over Big Island for the summer – in tents.
Big Island’s especially colorful history begins in the late 1930’s when a Cleveland businessman purchased the island and built a cottage there for his mistress. Since the man’s wife, a devout catholic, refused to grant him a divorce he used the island for discreet rendezvous with his paramour. As oral history would have it, when the mistress died the man never returned to the island.
The next owners, the Cummer family, presided over the island for 10 - 15 years, finally renting to Raymond Hust and his family in the late 1950’s. Hust was a Syracuse attorney and businessman. After renting for five years, Hust secretly purchased the island and presented the deed to his wife on her 43rd birthday.
The Husts owned Big Island for over 40 years. The main house burned to the ground in the mid 1970’s and was rebuilt three years later, incorporating the original fireplace and chimney into the new structure. Mr. Hust passed away in 1997 and his wife, Suzanne, at the age of 87, sold the island in 2004.
The current owners of Big Island, Bob and Joni Brown of Skaneateles, NY, made their purchase in much the same spirit as past transactions. Mr. Brown, a Skaneateles publisher, unbeknownst to his wife, purchased the island as a wedding anniversary present.