Important Dates: Lake Science programs scheduled for the next two Sundays (8/19 & 8/26) have to be CANCELLED due to illness, and we hope to reschedule them next summer

A SHORT HISTORY OF ISOLA BELLA & THE STONE TOWER

A SHORT HISTORY OF ISOLA BELLA & THE STONE TOWER

Indians of the Mattapacook nation were the first known inhabitants of the Twin Lakes region. Today the lakes are called by their last known Indian names: the east lake, Lake Washining (“laughing water”) and the west lake, Lake Washinee (“smiling water”).

The earliest recorded history of the Twin Lakes is in the Connecticut General Assembly Woodbridge land grant of 1671, which covered a large area of Western Connecticut.

In 1748 Joshua Jewell bought property from the Woodbridge Grant west of Washinee, and Daniel Bingham and his brothers settled grant property on the Undermountain Road and on land between the lakes. Between the Lakes Road was then known as Bingham Lane.

With the exception of Taconic, which had a thriving iron ore smelting industry, Twin Lakes was quiet farmland with grain fields and pastures to graze cattle and sheep. After the Revolutionary War, the Whittlesey family also settled at Twin Lakes. The Jewell, Bingham and Whittlesey families were the first to clear Twin Lake lands and establish farms.

Eliphalet Whittlesey was the first owner of the Island in Lake Washining. At that time the island was cleared and used for sheep grazing. The island then passed through several hands until, in 1867, it was sold to Edward Rogers of Philadelphia for the sum of $500.

Life at Twin Lakes changed after the Civil War when, in 1871, the Connecticut Western Railroad began train service from Millerton, NY to Hartford, CT passing through Twin Lakes. The trains serviced the Iron industry in Taconic and, by the end of that century, brought vacationers to the lakes.

After Rogers’ death in 1890, the island was conveyed to the Twin Lakes Land Improvement Association, in Bridgeport, CT, for $2,000. In 1891, the island was purchased for $2,500 by the Camp Riga Club, also of Bridgeport.

The Camp Riga Club was known for good times. They built a clubhouse on the island, and club members built private houses. They also built a house and barn on the land side. The barn eventually became a roadhouse and dance hall with an all-girl band. The over-whelming popularity of this establishment was such a nuisance that when the Alvords became the owners they leveled both buildings.

The club’s bylaws prevented the Camp Riga Club members from buying other members shares in the island until only two members were left. By 1906 John T. Alvord became the sole owner of the island, paying $2,400, to the other surviving member; twice the market value of the land. On his death in 1924, he willed the island to his brother, George Alvord. George conveyed the island to his daughter Muriel in 1925. They named the Twin Lakes Island Isola Bella.

It was John Alvord who built the stone tower on the island during 1912. It is thought to be inspired by similar towers in Europe, particularly one on the northern Italian island of Isola Bella in Lago Maggtiore. Known then simply as “Alvord’s Tower”, it was constructed by an unknown contractor from East Canaan.

In 1930 George Alvord built a large house, called The Camphouse, complete with a forty-foot tower and seven bedrooms. When Muriel Alvord became the island’s owner, she built two boathouses for her Chris Craft launch which she named after the island; Isola Bella.

In the mid 1930’s Muriel Alvord developed plans to build a causeway to join the island to the mainland. There was opposition from the community but it was approved by the Attorney General of Connecticut and constructed in 1935. Muriel built a second house for herself as an artist’s “retreat” in 1940. Today her artwork can still be seen on the walls.

Muriel Alvord married Ferrari Ward late in life. Through Mr. Ward, she became actively involved with The American School for the Deaf, becoming a member of the Board of Directors. Upon her passing in 1960, her will designated that her husband have life use of the island and that he select a tax-exempt organization to receive it after his death.

Mr. Ward selected The American School for the Deaf to receive Isola Bella under the conditions that they operate and maintain the property for the school and also maintain it as a wildlife refuge. Mr. Ward died on July 5, 1963.

Since Isola Bella was conveyed to the ASD, they have operated a summer camp for hearing impaired children at Isola Bella. They have maintained the islands rustic feel, the original buildings and preserved its natural habitat. A dedicated caretaker maintains the grounds and oversees repairing damage from weather events such as Hurricane Irene and the October snowstorm of 2011.

The ASD had been a good neighbor to the Twin Lakes Association and has lent their facility to the TLA for their August meeting and cookout for several years. In 2012, for the first time, Twin Lakes Day was held on the beach cove at Isola Bella under the watchful eye of the Isola Bella Tower.