Updated 11/20/2011 02:40 PM
Your Hometown: Clayton
It's a small town nestled right in the center of the Thousand Islands and home to just over two-thousand people year round. But during the summers thousands of tourists descend upon Clayton to soak up it's beauty and local flavor. In this week's edition of Your Hometown, our Amanda Kelley tells us what shaped this small town in the Thousand Islands and what makes it such a cool place to live.
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CLAYTON, N.Y. -- Clayton New York is a small town right on the St. Lawrence River that's drawn big attention from tourists for decades. In fact, travel magazines have rated Clayton one of the coolest small towns to visit. But before it was a tourist town, Clayton New York was first discovered by those traveling the St. Lawrence River and became a ship building center for the North.
Founded in 1823 and originally called Corneila, Clayton, New York was a very remote area of the north just beginning to be settled.
Clayton's Town and Village historian Norm Wagner said, "Because Clayton was a unique peninsula out into the St. Lawrence River on the main channel, they started settling here, cutting the timber for income. That turned into building boats and ships, schooners."
Those first ships helped to shape this area, providing jobs, and a way to navigate the great St. Lawrence River.
Antique Boat Museum Store Manager Charlotte Brooks said, "Many of them (the boats were) built right here in Clayton, many of them brought here to be used on this fresh water."
But once the locomotive came to Clayton in the 1870s the area's secret beauty started attracting a lot more attention.
Wagner said, "The Railroad was established here in Clayton and President Grant came to the Thousand Islands and vacationed here and the press came with him, and they took the news back to the cities of what a really nice place the 1,000 Islands were."
It was the beginning of the Golden Ages. Millionaires came and built summer homes, some that looked more like castles. Hotels were bustling, and business was good.
"One of the tales from the golden ages in Clayton is the creation of this delicious 1000 Island dressing. And depending on who you ask how this salad topping came to be varies. Here in Clayton, they've got their story and they're sticking to it."
Wagner said, "Thousand Island Dressing was first developed here in Clayton by Mrs. LaLonde for the fishing guide trade at the Herald Hotel, and eventually it was passed on down through the summer people's kitchens at the Waldorf hotel in New York City where upon they claimed it."
Thousand Islands Inn Owner Allen Benas said, "We have extensive research that's been done on it and not only proof of ours, but vivid disproof of the others."
Clayton's other claim to fame is a winter time necessity here in the North Country.
"Mr. Frink developed a snow plow in 1920 to help a bus operator maintain from Clayton to Watertown and this turned into a very large industry," Wagner said.
And the St. Lawrence Skiff was created in this region as well.
Brooks said, "The rowing skiffs, the St. Lawrence Skiff was a very hearty boat. It was a wide boat. It does get rough here, it does get cold, so the St. Lawrence Skiff was designed for the fisherman basically."
Today, Clayton remains a tourist town throughout the summer season rich with arts and a unique culture, drawing people from across the country
Wagner said, "Tourism in this area is better than ever because people have come here and liked the area and have bought property here and they have developed businesses here now that help support the area."
Brooks said, "I think people are amazed that in this small community in Clayton, New York that we have such an expansive collection of antique boats and not only antique boats, but the history of the area and how reflective that is here."
It's a town thousands are proud to call home even if it's just for the summer. Many said even when they leave, the River always brings them back. And with new developments and new businesses continuing to pop up, Clayton's sure to be one of the bests spots on the St. Lawrence for years to come.
To learn more about Clayton's rich history you can visit the 1000 Islands Museum on James Street. They're open seven days a week from May until December.