You’ll find this charming Victorian bed and breakfast tucked alongside the mighty St. Lawrence, in the heart of Alexandria Bay, New York.
The Captain Visger House once belonged to Captain Elisha W. Visger, a man who, according to many, not only envisioned, but conducted the very first island tours. In 1874, he convinced one Colonel Staples to purchase the Cygnet, employing Visger to operate the boat for Northern Navigation Company.
Just two short years later, in 1876, Visger introduced his own vessel, Island Rumble, to the area, scheduling informative tours for people vacationing within the 1,000 Islands. And a few years after that, he out-did himself – building the 150-passenger steamboat Island Wanderer to accommodate the growing interest in sightseeing along the river.
When Visger eventually retired, he’d both earned and saved a pretty penny. He was a wealthy man. Long before any Europeans settled in the area, the Iroquois and Algonquin Indians spent long summer days hunting and fishing along the banks of the St. Lawrence. Folklore has it that Manitou urged the tribes to cease their fighting, offering each that gilded promise of paradise. The story continues – with the Indians ignoring the Great Spirit – thus causing Manitou to put his promise of paradise into a bag. It was hurled with tremendous force, towards the horizon, where it broke into a million pieces and fell into the water, creating 1,000 Islands.
Today, Alexandria Bay and the 1,000 Islands region serve as a destination for many tourists, both here and internationally. Because it’s not located along any super highway, it remains quaint and endearing, with both feet planted somewhat firmly in the past.
Captain Visger’s Bed and Breakfast is a pleasant surprise for any weary traveler. The moment we open the side door and step into the foyer, the first thing to greet us is this medley – delicious scents of down-home-cooking – wafting towards us from the warm kitchen just beyond. We glance into the parlor, catching sight of long wooden dining tables with miss-matched chairs in the room’s center, as well as a number of smaller tables that beckon, inviting us to relax for a bit in comfortable-looking-over-stuffed seats.
The walls are covered with artwork – from all over the planet it seems – and several elongated windows allow natural light to leak in through the folds of heavy drapes and lacy curtains. Off to the side, sits another, more private dining area, with warm wood and cool metal throughout. On the wall, an antique mirror lists specialty items on the dinner menu; things like Deconstructed Eggplant Parm, Maple Bacon Ice Cream, and Murphy Goode Sauvignon Blanc are just a few.
Sam, our hostess, comes out of the kitchen, wiping her hands against her well-worn apron. She’s smiling broadly as she greets us, asking if she can lead us to our guest room, so we can freshen up for the evening meal. At the top of the winding staircase, we open the door and find ourselves in a colorful oasis – walls the bold color of a burnt-orange sunset – covered with heavy tapestries and other items which appear to be of an African safari-theme.
Heavy oak bureaus, extra-large mirrors, intricately carved end tables and gorgeous antique chairs seem to fill up the space surrounding a queen-sized bed in the middle of the room. It could be a page pulled from a Victorian picture-book, and feels like we’ve stepped into the authentic, more elegant and genteel era. A bathroom sits off to the side, where a claw-foot tub in this 2nd, more secluded area, promises a relaxing bubble bath at the end of the day.
Our overnight haven is called Harmonius – named after Captain Visger’s son, who somehow ended up with the nickname Will. We later learn of rooms named after two of the Captain’s daughters – the Ella, and Catherine July. There’s a spacious guest room titled Lavina’s Retreat, and last, but not least, the bed and breakfast offers traveler’s a night’s stay in The Captain’s Suite.
The dining areas are full when we wander back down again. We sit at a small table and enjoy the sights and sounds around us. Sam loves to cook all of the meals served here. She insists on fresh produce, and her menu varies, depending on what’s available locally for her farm-to-table choices, and I suppose, what she’s in the mood to whip up for her guests on any given day.
The mood here in The Kitchen is quite laid-back. No one seems in a rush and everyone around us is very friendly. There are people visiting the 1000 Islands from all over the world – Newfoundland, England, Canada, New Hampshire, Maryland, Washington State and Upstate New York. Not all are staying at the bed and breakfast overnight, but all have heard it’s the best place for dinner.
Our waiter is from Alaska, and takes time to explain that the restaurant is determined to source food that’s sustainable, from local vendors whenever possible. And The Kitchen strives to maintain the smallest environmental footprint possible, which is something I always love to hear.
Each of our meals are scrumptious and hearty made with a good deal of thought and love in the room behind us. I choose homemade meatballs and sauce, we share a macaroni and cheese dish, and my friend tries – unsuccessfully – to finish off a large portion of vegetable spaghetti.
Not surprisingly, breakfast is the same. After a mostly restful sleep, Sam starts us all off with fresh berry muffins, coffee and an assortment of juices – which would have been more than enough. But, no, she then serves us all omelets, a side salad and heavenly butternut squash. While we sit together and chat, Sam fills us in on the history of the Bed and Breakfast. We know that it’s listed on Haunted History Trails of New York State. Someone asks which room we slept in and when we tell them, Sam just looks at us.
“How was it?” she asks.
“It was wonderful, except I woke up in the middle of the night to someone nudging me – pushing hard on the middle of my back – it startled me awake. I got up and walked around a bit. When I went back to bed, my friend was facing the wall, sound asleep. This morning, I asked if I’d been snoring – had that been why she woke me up – but she said no.” Sam smiles, then tells us we’d stayed in the room with the most reported activity – that being nudged awake was only one experience many guests spoke of over breakfast, as I’d just done.
If you’re in need of a long weekend get-away, think about choosing The 1000 Islands. There’s so much to do while visiting here. Who knows – maybe an overnight stay at the delightful Captain Visger’s House will grant you a little ghostly visit, besides.