Tonawanda Island

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Tonawanda Island


Early European explorers of Tonawanda Island encountered a curious "mound" standing 10-feet tall near the southeastern end of the island. John Percy connects the mound's origin to the Squawkie Hill phase (100-400 A.D.), "the easternmost mound-building society associated with the better known Midwestern Hopewellian influence...Hopewell culture included a religious aspect involving the burial of high-status individuals."

Sometimes sensational reports of the mound's contents appear in some frontier papers. Local mysteriophile Mason Winfield poi
nts to accounts that at least two "very bizarre skulls" were excavated from the enclosure, with "portentous, protruding lower jaw and canine forehead," and buried in a way inconsistent with the traditions of the locals. Across the Little River, on the mainland, evidence of a Native American armory is discovered, with numerous broken flints and arrows.

The island's first European inhabitant arrives as early as 1791, one Edward Carney, who hopes to "squat" his way into possession of the island. A piece in the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal continues:
New York State sold the island at auction in 1824, to Samuel Leggate of New York City. He was an associate of Mordecai Noah, the man who had hoped to establish a Jewish settlement across the river on Grand Island. What had been “Carney’s Island” was now “Leggate’s Island.”

In 1833 the East Boston Timber Company purchased the lumber rights on Grand Island, which was teeming with white oak trees ideal for the New England shipbuilding industry. Stephen White, president of the company, then purchased “Leggate’s Island” island and used it as his headquarters. It then became known as “White’s Island.”

To cement his claim, White built a magnificent mansion at the southern end of the island. “Beechwater,” as White called it, was designed by Boston architect Samuel Perkins in 1835 for $18,000. The interior contained cherry, black walnut and marble embellishments.
The famous Daniel Webster's son, Fletcher Webster, is married to White's daughter Caroline White here in 1836. By 1840 the white oak of Grand Island is gone, and White's business moves him elsewhere. The island and the mansion are deserted. William Wilkeson purchases the property in 1869, planting orchards and vineyards.

In 1881, he sells to Smith, Fassett & Company, a lumber concern. The natural harbor of the Little River make the island and opposite shore perfect for stacking, processing and shipping  immense quantities of lumber, and this advantageous situation, combined of course with the flow of goods along the Erie Canal, will help make North Tonawanda a major lumber market.

Beechwater, Stephen White's mansion, is torn down in 1906.

Later occupants include the International Paper Company and the R. T. Jones Lumber company.