The Story of
The Carleton Villa
A Historical Monument, a Shocking Turn of Events, and a Dream Revived
Nearly 150 years ago, former Union Captain William Ozmun Wyckoff returned from the Civil War. Shortly after, he built a fortune selling the newly invented typewriters for the Remington Arms Company, eventually opening his own company and buying them out. (Click here to learn more about William Wyckoff’s story)
As a thriving business tycoon, William Wyckoff & his wife Frances Valeria Ives Wyckoff searched for the perfect location to build their dream Summer home. In 1894 they found the scenic Carleton Island where the Wyckoff’s would build what would one day be known as the iconic Carleton Villa. And while the family did get to enjoy the home for a time, it was unfortunately not as they had envisioned.
The History of Carleton Island
Carleton Island is under a mile away from the Canadian border and considered a part of the state of New York. It and the other islands on the St. Lawrence River are known as the Thousand Islands.
Originally held by the Iroquois Native American Tribe, the first time any European settlers took notice of the beautiful Carleton Island was in 1721 when Frenchman Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix thought that its bays could be useful and named it Isle aux Chevreuils (Island of Roe Bucks). This later changed to “Deer Island” before it was finally renamed Carleton Island after Major General Sir Guy Carleton.
During the Revolutionary War, the island was employed by the British army to ship and hold military supplies, as a naval station and shipyard. While their larger vessels could not navigate well through the Thousands Islands territory, Carleton Island was a strategic in-between for necessary goods.
In 1777, a British army under General Barry St. Leger used the then “Deer Island” as part of the Burgoyne Campaign. After they lost at Fort Stanwix, Deer Island was again used in their retreat. The Burgoyne campaign defeat in the Battle of Saratoga was the first major British defeat of the American Revolution. In August, 1778, Governor General of Canada, Frederick Haldimand, sent Lt. William Twiss of the Royal Corps of Engineers to find a site for the new supply route. Deer Island was chosen as the strategic point and at this time Twiss renamed it “Carleton Island” after Major General Sir Guy Carleton, Governor of the Province of Quebec. Twiss began the designs for the site and left it to men from the Royal Corps of Engineers to oversee the construction. The British base at Carleton Island would continue to play an important role throughout the rest of the revolution.
Once referred to as Fort Carlton, Fort Haldimand (as it was officially named) was built by Twiss’ team from the British Royal Corps of Engineers to protect the island. The fort has now long gone and all that is left are ruins and the remains of the barrack chimneys. By 1782 much of the island was occupied by merchants, soldiers, sailors, Native Americans and displaced loyalists. When the Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution in 1783, the British army abandoned new activities on Carleton Island.
Carleton Island was ceded to the U.S. by the Jay Treaty in 1796, but wasn’t occupied by American troops until the war of 1812. For the first half of the nineteenth century the bays of the island played a role in the lumber trade.
In 1893, William Wyckoff was said to have purchased all but 60 out of Carleton Island’s 1,800 acres.
Carleton Island Today
While Carleton Island was once settled as a farm community with a schoolhouse, the one time silos on one property are now converted into residential suites overlooking the water, and it has become primarily a place to call home or a Summer retreat for its property owners. The island is filled with interesting terrain including rows of lilac trees and flowery meadows filled with tall grasses and grazing deer. Island locals commonly travel across the undeveloped landscape on ATV’s.
Tourists often travel here by boat to enjoy the picturesque scenery, while snorkelers explore the island's bays and kayakers paddle along its shores. The Island's military history also attracts archeologists in search of artifacts, such as The British warship HMS Ontario, discovered by divers in Lake Ontario, which was built and launched from Carleton Island in 1780 - the same year it sank.
Carleton Island contains 3 burial grounds, the faint footprint from the once Fort Haldimand, and 34 homes. It overlooks Cape Vincent and Wolfe Island, the largest of the Thousand Islands on the Canadian side, with Kingston in the distance.
How the Carleton Villa Came to Be
The Wyckoff’s found the most desirable spot for their Summer home on the tip of Carleton Island. They enlisted the help of architect William Henry Miller, known for his work on Cornell University, to design their mansion. It would sit on 6.9 acres of land with 3 waterfronts: 198′ in front of the Villa, North Bay 287′ and South Bay 330′, and would have in total around 50 rooms, including 11 bedrooms and a basement.
Sadly, a month from the completion of construction in 1895 Mrs. Frances Wyckoff died from a heart attack. She would never see the finished Carleton Villa. When it was finally finished being built, William Wyckoff stayed only one night in the Villa. Perhaps his heart ached that he could not share this event with his recently deceased wife, because that night the once Union Captain and business mogul also suffered from a heart attack and passed away.
Wyckoff had 2 sons and the house passed onto his youngest, Clarence, but the family lost most of their fortune during the Great Depression. The Wyckoff family would retain ownership of the villa for nearly 3 decades. Before 1910 the Carleton Villa would start appearing as available for summer rental in publications such as Country Life In America, which would list thousands of high-end rentals across the United States. The publication described the Carleton Villa as being fully furnished, made of Gouverneur Marble.
In the 1920s, the elder brother Edward G. Wyckoff began selling some of the estate's land. Shortly after that the property was put up for sale. There were no buyers for several years, so in 1928 the Wyckoff Villa would be put up for auction along with a large amount of personal property which ranged from livestock, 70 tons of hay, wagons, sleighs, thousands of books, rugs, guns, game trophies and more. They described the auction as including the “Villa property itself, suitable for club house or small hotel or gentleman’s home; 360 acres including fertile farm and area convertible into sporty 18 hole gift course at low cost; adequate boathouses, farm buildings, etc.”
The Carleton Villa was reportedly sold in the auction for $15,000 to an Ithaca bank, and there was talk of the island being turned into a historical tourism destination. Eventually in the 1930’s, the Carelton Villa and 300 acres of land passed into the ownership of the General Electric company (GE). Due to its attractive location and size, GE reportedly intended to use it as a company retreat to include a theater that would seat 500 people, 38 cottages, 3 golf courses, some tennis courts, a baseball diamond, and developing roads and water and sewer systems and drainage… But the plans were abandoned when first the Great Depression then World War II began. Contractors were allowed to go in and remove materials such as doors and windows, including some of the stained glass. The marble cladding from the tower base and essentially anything removable was taken.
In 1943, W. E. Dodge purchased the property and it was said they would try to salvage the Villa, or at least dismantle it to save on property taxes, but this was never completed. Partially dismantled and fully abandoned, unoccupied since 1927, the home was left exposed to the elements to crumble. The once great tower had to be removed as it was deemed a hazard. The villa was in dangerous disrepair, and everyone who might be interested balked at the challenge and potential costs of fixing or rebuilding it.
The island is only accessible by water, which makes fixing it even more daunting. Despite this, its long-time owners still didn’t have the heart to tear it down, hoping that the right new owner would come along to restore the Carleton Villa and give it a new life again.
The Present and Future of the Carleton Villa
Once known as the most grand estate in the Thousand Islands, the Carleton Villa has been slowly deteriorating behind barbed wire and “Keep Out” signs. Only those passing by on boat or who have been looking at the photos from the real estate listing have seen its majesty in nearly a century.
The last owners live in a cottage nearby, and have been waiting for the one who would accept the challenge and bring the Carleton Villa back to its former glory. Their real estate agent reported that they would receive a few inquiries every week from all over the world for years. But no one was willing to take on the gauntlet of reviving this castle - Until Ron Clapp, a long time Florida and Hawaii real estate investor, came to see it in person along with Janaina Leite, his partner and Florida Realtor.
The once grandiose villa stood before him covered in cobwebs and graffiti as the potential new owner looked it over, considering everything that it would take to make this into a place where people from all over the world could come to enjoy it and learn about its story. While it has a stone foundation, parts of the home are not currently structurally sound enough to use, and there are currently no utilities connected to the villa. Even though there is electricity on the island and water from the river, this project would require an intimidating amount of rebuilding from scratch.
Then Ron noticed in one of the upper windows what may have been a tag left behind from a former vandal. It was as if the house itself spoke in a final desperate plea: “RON” written clear as day looking right back at him.
Seeing as his name was already on it and he had never been known to back down from a challenge, Ron decided to buy the Carleton Villa and finally do it justice. Locals and fans of this historic structure are eager to see the revitalization process.
Janaina described the home as a "sleeping beauty" which demands respect and attention. An architect from California recently visited the building and did a complete draw-up of its first floor, while a local architectural firm is in the process of completing a structural analysis of the building. This being said, Ron said he's looking for a team to take on the first steps of restoring the villa, and they will also need to cooperate with the town of Cape Vincent for zoning and planning board approval. The new owner acknowledges that “this is not a one-year project.”
Current plans include a restaurant on the first floor of the home and turning the upper floors into a bed-and-breakfast. The new owner would love to make this a center where people can learn about local history including the nearby Fort Haldimand and enjoy the gorgeous views that the Thousand Islands have to offer.
We hope to expand this website as a place to learn the history of the Carleton Villa, and as a platform for pictures and a way to keep up to date with what is going on with this tremendous restoration project. Currently the best places for updates is on Carleton Villa's Facebook and Instagram