Wednesday, December 5, 2012

George Gascoyne: Island Contractor

George Gascoyne surrounded by his wife Mary, relatives, and his Dog "Watch"

Dr. Thomas Langlois Collection

Like many others, George Gascoyne came to South Bass Island perhaps never intending to stay. George had grown up in New Providence, New Jersey, the son of a farmer who had emigrated from England.  At the age of 18, he enlisted in the 26th New Jersey Infantry, experiencing the horrors of the Civil War at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Maryes Heights. After the war, the 25-year-old Gascoyne accepted contracts to build the Beebe House and the first Put-in-Bay House. When the job was done, Gascoyne stayed on, making the island his home for the remainder of his long life.

An ambitious, creative individual, he served for a time as a Put-in-Bay councilman, island postmaster and the village’s first fire chief and funeral director. He owned and operated a livery service as well as a vineyard behind Perry’s Cave. He performed in island theatricals and enjoyed his whiskey and his gamecocks.   

But it was truly his skill and talent as a building contractor that set him apart. Gascoyne built the U.S. Fish Hatchery, the Oak Point House, and the Town Hall, one of the few brick buildings then on the island. Around 1875, dock master and storekeeper Clinton Idlor hired Gascoyne to build his new home. Featuring Italianate architecture, the Idlor House was considered one of the island’s finest homes. Perhaps Gascoyne’s masterpiece was the home he built in 1875 for railroad magnate James Monroe.  Designed by a Toledo architect, “Inselruhe” (meaning “island rest” in German) features a broad verandah, a corner tower, and long narrow windows. Decorative moldings, brackets, and woodwork adorn the interior. Even the outbuildings were ornate The architectural style was sometimes known as “Steamboat Gothic.” Today the home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Gascoyne’s own home, located near St. Paul’s Parish House, was simple and featured none of the elegance of the summer homes he designed for others.  The nearby picture shows Gascoyne sitting on the steps of that home beside his wife Mary, their relatives, and his dog “Watch.” When he died at the age of 93, as the oldest man in Ottawa County and the last surviving Civil War veteran, no one could say that the enterprising George Gascoyne had not lived life to the fullest!
A version of this post appeared in Lifestyles2000.

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