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Carleton Island’s Spooky Villa and Haunting History

Written by on October 30, 2018 in Island Life Magazine

In the market for a haunted house on an island? Or at least a good story about one? Then look no further than the abandoned villa on Carleton Island near Cape Vincent N.Y. in the world famous 1000 Islands.This ghost of the region’s Gilded Age was built by Remington typewriter magnate, William Wyckoff. He died of a heart attack the first night he spent on his summer estate on July 7 1985. The villa has been empty for more than seven decades and looks like the perfect setting for a scary Hollywood movie fitting the spooky season of Halloween. The 15,000 square foot 6.9 acre American waterfront property  is listed for sale for $495,000 US. The villa has been listed for sale for well over a decade and was included in an article this week by The Washington Post headlined “Seven Haunted Homes That Are Seriously Creepy and For Sale.”…/inside-spooky-some-perhaps-haunted-homes-sale/

Willliam Wyckoff died of a heart attack his first night here in July 1865. Photo by Kim Lunman

It was for sale when I first wrote about Carleton Villa and visited the property in the summer of 2008. I found it all a little more sad than scary. And fascinating too. Carleton Villa is one of the first grand summer estates  built by business barons in the Thousand Islands during the Gilded Age. Wyckoff’s son sold it to General Electric in the early 1930s, but plans to build a new plant were scuttled by World War II.

The truth is Carleton Island is a lost treasure in the Thousand Islands rich with history, lush landscapes and sweeping vistas. The 1,200-acre island is located where the St. Lawrence meets Lake Ontario near Cape Vincent N.Y. across from Canada’s Wolfe Island near Kingston Ontario. It’s a tranquil escape from the mainland with about 30 cottages and no roads. Its only traffic is residents getting around the island by All Terrain Vehicles on scenic and rocky trails lined with Sumac trees. The Thousand Islands Land Trust in Clayton, N.Y. has owned seven acres of land on the island, including the ruins of Fort Haldimand since 1986. The island was subdivided by a developer in the 1980s.

There are no roads on Carleton Island. Photo by Kim Lunman.

Carleton Island’s military history attracts archeologists to the area in search of artifacts while preservationists have long hoped this villa will be bought and restored to its original glory. But the decaying villa remains fenced off with ‘Keep Out’ signs posted on its fading facade. The late Thousand Islands author and architect Paul Malo, wrote about this the villa in his book Fool’s Paradise which features much of its history along with other grand estates of the Golden Age here including Boldt Castle on Heart Island and Singer Castle on Dark Island, both built a decade after Carleton Villa.

Wyckoff, who made his fortune marketing Remington typewriters, built the grand summer estate in 1894 utilizing noted Cornell University architect William Henry Miller. Wyckoff had two sons. The youngest, Clarence Wyckoff, acquired Carleton Villa after his father died. The mansion has survived vandals and a brush with demolition after the General Electric Company acquired the property in the early 1930s intending to build a corporate retreat. General Electric sold the estate during the Second World War and it has been empty ever since.

These farmer silos were converted in to high-rise cottages on Carleton Island. Photo by Kim Lunman

Carleton Island’s storied past is everywhere. Today the southwest end of Carleton Island is dotted with military ruins of Fort Haldimand, controlled by the British during the American Revolution and noted for its strategic location and a centre for shipbuilding.  In a lot of ways, Carleton Island defines the Great Lakes history. Some of the largest warships in the Great Lakes were built here during the American Revolution. The British warship HMS Ontario, discovered by shipwreck hunters in 2008 in Lake Ontario, was built and launched from Carleton Island in 1780 – the same year it sank. The 22-gun brig-sloop was hit by a storm on Oct. 31 1780. There were no survivors. It went down with 120 men, women and children on board. Only six bodies were found.

Carleton Villa is located near Cape Vincent N.Y. Photo by Kim Lunman

Originally held by the Iroquois, the first European to take notice of this island was Pierre Fran├žois Xavier de Charlevoix, in 1720. He called it Isle aux Chevreuils, the Island of Roe Bucks. In 1778 British General Frederick Haldimand ordered a fort built on the island to protect Kingston. The island was renamed Carleton Island after Sir Guy Carleton, who preceded Haldimand as Governor of the Province of Quebec and the fort was named after Haldimand. Then along came the the War of 1812. It was unpopular with both Canadian and American 1000 Islands residents. The upper St. Lawrence River became a war zone and friends and families on opposite sides of the River became enemies.  

Today Carleton Island is enjoyed by summer residents and cottagers each summer. Photo by Kim Lunman.

Fool’s Paradise, a book by the late Paul Malo features a historic postcard of Carleton Villa in its original glory.

In 1817, the State Legislature of New York annexed Carleton Island to Jefferson County, and granted 500 acres of its land to the local New York postmaster, Charles Smyth. The island was retained by the United States and was turned over to farming, sport-fishing and summer tourism. In the late 1800s, Carleton Island caught the eye of a wealthy industrialist wanting to spend his summers overlooking these shores from his lavish summer estate. But William O. Wyckoff died his first night here. And yet the bones of Carleton Villa remain, eerily perched over these shores 133 years later.