A “Gem” of a Place
Mexico Point Park – From Medieval to Modern
By Sandra Scott
Giving tours of Casey’s Cottage, a 19th
century carriage house transformed into an 11th century English manor house, is
one of my favorite activities. This enigmatic “gem” is located on the grounds of
Mexico Point Park, on the shore of Lake Ontario, in Upstate New York.
When I ask park visitors, “Would you
like a tour of the Cottage,” they look at the small, unassuming bark-clad
building nestled under a large locust tree, and reply, “No, thanks.” I persist,
sometimes going so far as to say, “Come on, the tour is free, and if you are not
impressed, I’ll give you your money back!” At that point they find it easier to
humor me than to resist, and reluctantly agree to a tour.
Their facial expressions and comments when they cross the
threshold and see the medieval-style carvings and decorations are always worth
my persistence. Agape they utter, “Oh, my, I’ve never seen anything like this!
What is it doing here?”
Fifty years ago Mexico Point Park was
the site of Mexico Point Club, a popular summer resort frequented by Dr. William
Casey, a sociology professor at Columbia University. Casey and his artist
friend, Severin Bishof, along with Dr. Casey’s students spent thousands of hours
turning the unused carriage house into a medieval manor house.
A “moat” room was
built along with a stone fireplace and a small chapel room, stained glass
windows crafted, plus the walls, floors, and ceilings were carved with drawings
Several nights each year the Manor
House host guests entertained by volunteer re-enactors. Mid Summer’s Eve is an
evening of “melodious interludes, victuals and libations.” The wine, mead, and
ale flow while harpers play, serving wenches break into song and dance, and for
a short time it is the 11th century.
Once each summer the Queen of
Hearts invites people to have tea at the manor house. While sipping tea the
Queen’s shares her poetry along with special treats prepared by her staffe.
Casey’s Cottage is just one aspect of this “Gem on the Shore of Lake Ontario.”
One of the two nature trails at the park
leads to the Silas Town monument, the burial site of an unsung hero of the
Revolutionary War. While secreted on an island in the river, Town overheard
British Col. St. Leger and Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant’s planning their attack on
Fort Stanwix in Rome. Town rushed to Fort Stanwix warning the American militia,
“The British are Coming,” thus helping to thwart part of the major British plan
to conquer New York. Due in a large part to the British failure at Fort Stanwix
and nearby Oriskany, the British were unsuccessful at the Battle of Saratoga,
which is called the “Turning Point of the Revolution.”
Each summer the park
hosts a Revolutionary War encampment.
The shore of Lake Ontario has been a
favorite spot for generations of Central New Yorkers. The first half of the
1900s, before air conditioning, Mexico Point Club was the “in” place for those
with the means to get away from the summer heat in Syracuse and Rochester. Even
Carmen Basilio, a 1950s boxing champion, used it as his summer training camp.
The Mexico Point Club burned in the mid 1950s and was resurrected as a town park
on state land in the late 1980s. On any summer day visitors will find children
building sandcastles on the beach, people swimming in the vast waters of Lake
Ontario, hikers on the trails, and people just enjoying the natural beauty of
Today Friends of Mexico Point
Park host art shows, nature walks, band concerts, ice cream socials, children’s
shows, ghost walks, campfires, and a variety of family-style activities
including the annual stone skipping contest. Entergy Nuclear Northeast, the
nearby power plant, sponsors many of the park’s events.
The annual band concert
that concludes with fireworks by Young Explosives draws the greatest crowd. An
on-going art project, “Park People” is partically funded by Oswego County Arts
and Culture. The history of the park is told through life-sized hand-carved,
hand-painted statues of people associated with the park. Statues include a
waitress (circa 1910) and Chief Joseph Brant.
For more information check
www.howardsplace.net/manorhouse.html. The park is open from May to
October. Admission is free and Casey’s Cottage is open during park events or by
Images by Sandra Scott and John Scott
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