When you hear the expression “Island Living”, no doubt what comes to mind is some glossy American magazine about how the smart set live in Florida on the intra coastal waterways, in large mansions with endless bamboo and overstuffed furniture. In our small Town, however, the enclave known as the “Island” is considerably different, though equally exclusive in its own way.
Many years ago, say about fifty years or more as I understand it, there was a baseball team made up of boys who lived on the Island. The rivalry between that team and the mainland team (if I can call it that – for the two jurisdictions are really part of the same Town, separated only by a seamless and almost imperceptible bridge) was apparently fierce. From what I can gather from having spoken to some of the old cronies who grew up in that era, the Island boys proudly cultivated their differences from others, displaying their distinction whenever possible. There may have even been a diluted “mob” element to them.
There are only six streets on the Island, not counting the Esplanade, a ribbon of land along the North Channel which is technically owned by the Town but upon which the adjoining residential land owners have over the years virtually extended their already lengthy back yards, much in the Seigneurial fashion of early riparian development in Quebec and Ontario along the St. Lawrence River. Because the existence of the Esplanade is so little known in the larger community, and because it is virtually hidden from the view of general traffic even on the Island, its use as a public pathway is never overburdened, yet it remains a sanctuary in the urban setting for those in the know, who may with impunity insist upon their public domain even if the abutting landowners were to sneer.
In spite of the development which has transpired in the Town over the years, the Island remains the centre of the map, pointedly situate at the elbow of the Mississippi River as it flows northward from the Village of Appleton then sharply turns towards the rapids at the Village of Blakeney (once magically called “Rosebank”, by the way).
In the early part of the last century, the Island housed one of the larger woollen mills (Rosamond, named after a great local benefactor) in the area, profiting from the flow of the River for both tail races and power generation. Sadly the woollen industry in Town has now completely disappeared, assassinated by the synthetics business. Meanwhile, the Rosamond woollen mill has been rejuvenated as condominium apartments, though not without the defeat and bankruptcy of the original developer along the way. The cave dwellers in the old woollen mill are somewhat singular in that every other dwelling on the Island is a single-family home (with the exception of one or two semi-detached dwellings). Most of the homes (which of course originally belonged to the mill workers) are ancient by modern standards, largely made of either brick or wood (the stone houses along nearby Union and Mitcheson Streets on opposite sides of the River were reserved for the rich factory owners). Typical of the charm of the Island homes is the one owned by dear friends of mine at 24 Mary Street, a delightful frame house with clapboard siding and a small attached garage. The home is picture perfect at any time of year, with its stone wall along the street line, large mature deciduous trees and backyard view down to the River, interrupted by a pond which is fed by one of the tributaries from the River.
Until fairly recently most people who lived on the Island were families who had been there for years and years. Even today nobody seems in any rush to leave. Although it is an opinion which has only been voiced jokingly, there are those who champion the construction of a toll bridge, or even a moat and castle wall to protect the Island from the infidels on the outside. Life on the Island is by definition insular and provocative. I have been told that the Island inhabitants consider themselves one big family, and that any one of them would unhesitatingly call upon another for assistance when in need.