History of Eagle Island

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Eagle Island Photo 633x475
Eagle Island in the foreground. Photo by Lynn Airel Photography, Geneva N.Y.
Eagle Island contains 98 acres of land and has a two mile shore line. Its highest point is 97 feet above the bay, from which the entire shore line of Sodus Bay can be seen. It is one of three islands which lies in the eastern part of Sodus Bay in the township of Huron. The Island was originally called NEOGA (meaning “big Island”) by the Cayuga Indians native to the area.
Going back to the earliest Wayne County records, pioneer Doctor William N. Lummis, purchased the Island as part of a large tract shortly after he moved here in 1801. Records indicate during this time most of the area was wilderness. Prior to the War of 1812, only sixty families resided in all of Wayne County. Travel was difficult and nighttime travel was particularly treacherous due to the constant fear of attack by wolves.
Some records indicate, in 1815, the Island was referred to as “Johns Island” and later, “Greig Island”, presumed after a lawyer and land speculator named John Greig who represented Dr. Lummis.
Dr. William Lummis retained title to the property, however, and willed the Island to Benjamin Lummis in 1835. The original foundation of the house dates back to this time and Benjamin Lummis is credited with building the first structure on this site. Early records indicate the barn was also constructed circa 1835. The Lummis family called the property “Arran Island” after an isle of similar size in SW Scotland. Arran Island is the name most widely used by early government maps. Benjamin Lummis deeded the property to his daughters, Rose and Georgette in 1882.
For $6,800 in 1887, Martin “Matt” Morley of Sodus Point became the new owner. In a separate transaction, he also purchased Crescent Beach, formerly known as Point Charles, the narrow strip of land that separates Sodus Bay from Lake Ontario. Early renovations to the house began at this time. Morley bestowed the Island with its present name, “Eagle Island”, because of the many families of eagles which used it as a nesting place.
In 1889, the next owner was to become the wealthy Colonel Enos Blossom Parsons, originally from Brighton, New York. Colonel “Bloss” Parsons was the builder of the “Lakestones”, a baronial castle, and the well known Malt House, both located at Sodus Point. Parsons served with distinction in the union army during the civil war, enlisting in Rochester in Company K, 8th NY Calvary. As a prominent businessman most noted for his malting enterprise, he also served as director of the Northern Central Railroad. The railroad company used the Island as a picnic ground. It was Colonel Parsons’ plan to convert the Island into a pleasure resort with a fine hotel. He began by having the pilings driven for the main dock in 1889 where steamships could land. Plans were drawn to add an open pavilion, restaurant and a baseball ground. According to the April 1889 edition of the Wayne County Alliance, “The new resort was to be a formidable rival of the far-famed Ontario Beach at Charlotte, New York.” Colonel Parsons’ plans never materialized and he willed the property to his wife, Augusta, in 1897.
In 1907, Charles Fowler Garfield purchased the Island from Colonel Parsons’ widow. Garfield was the owner of a large real estate and investment corporation in Rochester, New York. He also served as president of several banks and president of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce. Originally from Holley, New York, he was a third generation descendant of President James Garfield, 20th President of The United States. The Island changed names once again. This time it was renamed, “Garfield Island”, after its current owner. Immediately a topographical survey of the Island was made and thousands of dollars of improvements went into the original homestead and property. 20 acres of land was cleared for orchards. 900 apple trees were planted along with peaches, quinces, cherries, prunes, apricots and English walnuts. Roses and shrubs were planted, lawns dug, cisterns built and fire hydrants installed. Livestock consisting of cows and horses were again brought to the Island. After the renovations, the main buildings on the Island were the 4,000 square foot homestead, referred to as “The Manor House”, the caretaker’s cottage, barn, ice house, boat house, pump house and other smaller buildings. To all this, Garfield added a 200 pound Great Dane named Rex who delighted in making the complete circle of the shore line several times a day scaring off would-be picnickers. Because of the illness of his wife, Myra Avalene Shipley of Pultneyville, he sold the Island to Donald Woodward, heir to the LeRoy Jell-O millionaire in 1919. As a condition of the sale, Woodward was prohibited from using or selling intoxicating beverages on the Island and use was restricted to “:peaceful and quiet enjoyment”.
Woodward used the Island to entertain friends and paid little attention to the restrictive clause. One fourth of July, guests made such a racket shooting off fireworks (made at the Woodward’s explosive factory) that the horses and cows on the Island took to the water swimming to get away from the noise. They became so frightened, the horses and cows swam about two miles to get to the mainland and were later found on Stony Point. Donald Woodward inherited his wealth from the wise business transactions of his father, Orator Francis Woodward. Donald Woodward’s father purchased the Jell-O formula in 1899 for $450 from a carpenter in LeRoy, New York who liked to experiment in the kitchen with homemade cough remedies and laxatives. The product, which was manufactured in LeRoy, New York for twenty six years first appeared under the Genesee Pure Food Company label that would soon become famous to millions as “America’s Most Famous Desert”. With an aggressive sales and advertising staff and Jack Benny as its radio pitchman, the Woodward family’s Jell-O corporation was sold to Postum Cereal Company of Battle Creek, Michigan in 1925 for sixty million dollars. Donald Woodward was also a pioneer of the airplane industry and started an airplane landing field on the Island. World travelers and among the richest families in the Genesee Valley, they soon grew tired of the Island and the airfield was never finished.
About 1924, Aldice G. Warren, who had a Boy’s School on the mainland as early as 1912, formed a trust with Donald Woodward and moved his school to the Island. He called it “Camp Fitzhugh”. Some seventy boys ranging in age from ten to nineteen lived at the school during summers. A well known forty foot boat called the “Javelin” brought mail and transported students to and from the Isle. The school operated in one form or another from 1924 to 1932. When the school ceased to function, a period of relative calm took place on the Island. For about nine years only a caretaker lived here maintaining the orchards and livestock. During the winter months, ropes were strung from Island to Island and then to the mainland to assist the caretakers in crossing the ice.
It was during this lull that Donald Woodward deeded the property to his sister, Helen W. Rivas in 1942. Rivas was an extremely wealthy philanthropic known for donating millions of dollars to hospitals and charitable causes. Twelve days after being deeded the Island, Rivas donated it to the Boy Scouts.
From 1942 to the early ’50’s, senior Boy Scouts enjoyed summer and winter camping on the Island. The barn was converted into a dining hall and commissary and five small one room cabins were added. Up to 200 scouts stayed on the Island at one time all camping in tents. The Manor House was reserved for scout leaders and daytime crafts. Campers practiced outdoor cooking and making tables and benches from native materials. The waterfront program consisted of swimming, life saving and instruction in the operation of row boats, canoes and sail boats. In 1951, plans began to be formulated by the Otetiana Council of the Boy Scouts to put the Island up for sale because it was no longer large enough to accommodate the ever increasing number of scouts who attended the Island camp. The proposition to sell the Island by the 43 member Executive Board Council only passed by three votes. With its fate sealed, the money from the sale would be used toward the purchase of Camp Massaweppie, a 5,000 acre Boy Scout Camp located in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State.
Prior to its purchase in 1954 by George E. Lookup, an engineer and surveyor, and J. Walter Caves, a lumber dealer in Newark, New York, the property was gradually left abandoned. The Manor House fell into disrepair. It was during this time that Albert W. Baker and his family came to the Island and began replacing broken windows and making much needed repairs to the original Island homestead. In the interim, Caves and Lookup were petitioning the State of New York Conservation Commission to change the forever-wild Private Park status of the Island, which had been in effect since 1913. When the details were finalized, the Island had lost its forever-wild status and Caves and Lookup began to subdivide the property into approximately 60 waterfront lots. In 1955 Albert W. Baker, owner of the Penny Saver Newspaper, and his brother-in-law, Harold VanDusen, immediately purchased Lot Number One, which consisted of the Manor House and about one acre of surrounding property. In 1964, Albert Baker became one of the driving forces to stop development of the Island. At this time, the center of the Island, which consisted of about 43 acres, was purchased by the newly formed Eagle Island Association and returned to its original forever-wild status. The Baker and VanDusen families enjoyed using “The Cottage” as a summer home for 41 years.
The exterior of the house looks very close to the way it did when extensive renovations were completed by Garfield in 1908, with one exception. In 1967, a large tree fell on the rear portion of the house destroying three large bedrooms and a porch. They were never rebuilt. In the early ’70’s the barn was also dismantled as an “attractive nuisance”. Much of the wood was reused to make repairs to the main house. The original boat house was also converted to a storage shed, now located in the back of the property.
In 1994, The Manor House was purchased by the Mead and Savine families. Donna Savine is the granddaughter of Albert and Betty Baker.
(Original source & author unknown – pre-1951 – any knowledge as to the author’s identity would be appreciated. Two corrections were made by Rosa Fox who is the Town of Huron Historian.}