Andrew Lawrence Ireland and the Bayard Clarkes owned Schroon Lake's largest island between 1846-1946. The Clarkes' wealth came from New York City real estate, originally farm land that, in the early 19th Century, was cut up into valuable city blocks. Their pedigrees go back to the Norman invasion of England and the Dutch settlement of New York. The Great Camp crowd probably had more wealth, but Ireland and the Clarkes may have regarded them as nouveau riche.
The large island at the north end of Schroon Lake contains 49 acres. It sits close to the east shore, facing Schroon Lake Village. Today the island is owned and operated by the Word of Life Fellowship. Its camp hosts Christian teenagers from around the country for week-long visits, over six summer weeks.
Andrew purchased Magdalen Island in Schroon Lake in 1846, long before the Adirondack Railroad opened the eastern Adirondacks to tourist. He re-named it Isola Bella. He built a cruciform mansion and maintained carefully planted grounds from which the Hoffman Range and some High Peaks could be seen. As described by writer Benson Lossing in 1866, the house contained a library, statuary, bronzes, and a painting of the Irelands' ancestral home in England. Andrew also had a house in Schroon village and served a term as Town Supervisor.
We do not know what Andrew's cousin William did that caused his family to send him into oblivion. But it is clear that the socially prominent Irelands in New York were paying to keep William out of the way. Such people were called "remittance men," and William Ireland received payments from the family with the stipulation that he stay quietly in Schroon Lake. He lived in town but not exactly obscurity. He was seen every day, dressed as a gentleman, walking to the store that sold newspapers, buying his daily paper, and returning home again. His secret misstep followed him to the grave.
Andrew Lawrence Ireland, who never married, died in 1873. He is buried in the vault at Saint Mark's Church in The Bowery in New York City, where Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant is also interred. In 1866, in exchange for $18,000, ownership of Andrew's island went to his cousin Aletta Remsen Lawrence, whose husband was Col. Bayard Clarke. The Clarkes enjoyed their island summer home for nearly 80 years, using the Bogle boat facilities on Schroon village shore for much of that time.
Bayard, whose wife Aletta came from a family of prominent Dutch settlers, was politically active in the tumultuous period before the Civil War, and in 1855 was elected to Congress from New York State's Westchester County. He became a leader in the American Party, popularly called the Know Nothings, who were both anti-slavery and anti-Catholic as a response to the 1.5 million Irish immigrants who had poured into the northeastern US to escape their country's potato famine. Bayard Clarke delivered a major anti-slavery speech in Congress in 1856. He helped organize the 1st NY Cavalry Regiment and was commissioned as a colonel.
The Adirondacks offered the Clarke family a place to relax and enjoy nature. The children spent their summers on the island and in the forests, going boating, hiking, and horseback riding. As they got older they played golf at the Schroon Lake course and went dining and dancing at the fashionable Leland House hotel. A well-known painting by Samuel Griggs - now in the collection of the Adirondack Experience - shows the Clarke daughters on a beach behind the island.
But tragedy shadowed the Clarkes. Two daughters among the six children were mentally disabled. For a socially prominent family in the 1800's the situation was unspeakable; the children were cared for at home, and no one discussed their condition. It was understood that the problem was hereditary. The prejudices of the times were reflected in Bayard Clarke's stern dictum: those Clarke children who were sane and sound were forbidden ever to marry. The offending trait must not be passed on. The Clarkes were active in New York City's high society, for many years. Like Andrew Lawrence Ireland before them, Bayard Clarke Sr. and Bayard Clarke Jr. belonged to the St. Nicholas Society. Daughters Aletta, Catherine, and Florence Clarke were active in promoting badminton, which their father introduced to the United States after a trip to England. Aletta was an advocate for highway safety and contributed funds to the National Safety Council. The sisters appeared at socially exclusive events in New York, and their activities were reported in the press. The "normal" members of the family were listed in The Social Register; the two daughter who were mentally disabled were not.
Schroon Lake residents firmly believed the Bayard Clarkes made their money in the thread business, but that WAS NOT the case. The Bayard Clarke family was established in New York City many years before the Coats & Clark company that manufactures thread was formed. Coats Thread Company thrived in England before opening factories in the US and merging in 1896. Note that the names are spelled differently.
However, the Bayard Clarkes did have some significant relatives, most notably Clement Clarke Moore, the author of "A Visit from Saint Nicholas," better known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas." Clement, although considerably older, was Bayard Clarke's first cousin. The family owned a section of western Manhattan in what is todays Chelsea. It was peaceful farmland when Clement was young but early in the 1800's Manhattan's city fathers imposed the new grid system of streets, and the Clarkes found themselves in possession of dozens of valuable city blocks roughly between 8th Avenue and the Hudson River, running from 18th Street to 24th Street.
Like their cousin, the Bayard Clarkes were devoted Episcopalians. Their money helped build St. Andrew's Church on Leland Avenue in Schroon Lake Village. In 1914 a Halloween reveler dropped a light cigar in dry leaves, causing the Leland House hotel to burn to the ground and St. Andrew's Church to burn with it. The hotel was re-built for the 1915 season, and the church was re-built at the south end of the Village, operating today within the Adirondack Mission of the Diocese of Albany. Bayard Clarke and his son served on the Vestry. Florence Clarke and her sisters once held a fund-raising party in New York's Waldorf Astoria hotel to benefit St. Andrew's Church. When Bishop William Croswell Doane made a pastoral visit to the Adirondacks in 1870, he spent the night at the Clarke's mansion on the island.
Florence Clarke, the last of the childless siblings, died in 1951. Spending her final years in a nursing home, she could no longer visit her beloved island. When evangelist Jack Wyrtzen approached her in 1945 with a plan to use the property for his fledgling Word of Life ministries, she agreed to sell it for $25,000.
The only remnant of the Bayard Clarke family in Schroon Lake today is their mausoleum, standing tall in the Protestant cemetery off the Hoffman Road. The six burial chambers inside are unmarked. With Bayard Clarke Sr., his wife Aletta, Bayard Jr. and Florence all buried elsewhere, some of these may be the tombs of the troubled Clarke children who grew up sheltered and in anonymity.
~ Ann Breen Metcalf, Author 08/18/2022
* Special thanks to Lillian Noxon Richardson for her valuable information. Thanks also to the late Louise Hargraves, Paul Stapley, and Marie Cheney Breen.