The history of the dressing dates back to the early days of the last century in the small resort village of Clayton, N.Y. In those days a popular fishing guide named George LaLonde, Jr., as his father before him, guided visiting fishermen for black bass and northern pike through the scenic, fish-filled waters of the 1000 Islands.
Unlike his father, George Jr. would serve a different and unusual salad dressing to his fishing parties as part of their shore dinners. Prepared on the surrounding islands as part of a day of guided fishing, these dinners have always been very popular with visiting fishermen. Their popularity in fact, has withstood “the test of time” more than enough to qualify them as one of the region’s premier and most unique attractions.
On one particular occasion George was guiding a very prominent New York City stage actress of the period named May Irwin and her husband. Miss Irwin, a renowned cook and cookbook authoress in her own right, was particularly impressed with the dressing and asked George for the recipe. The dressing was actually created and made by George’s wife Sophia, who was flattered by the request and willingly gave the recipe to Miss Irwin. At the same time Mrs. LaLonde gave the recipe to the Bertrand family, who owned the Herald Hotel, one of the most popular hotels in Clayton and where Miss Irwin and her husband stayed during their early vacations in the islands. The Bertrand’s had their cook prepare the dressing for Miss Irwin and her husband and also added it to the other choices of salad dressing offered to her dining room customers.
It was Miss Irwin who gave it the name “Thousand Island” and it was at the Herald Hotel where the dressing was first served to the dining public. Upon her return to New York City Miss Irwin gave the recipe to fellow 1000 Islands summer visitor George C. Boldt, owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, the Bellevue Stratford in Philadelphia and also the builder of Boldt Castle on nearby Heart Island. Equally impressed with its flavor, Mr. Boldt directed his world famous maitre d’, Oscar Tschirky, to put this dressing from the 1000 Islands on the hotel’s menu at once. In doing so Oscar earned credit for introducing the dressing to the “world.”
As time passed, Miss Irwin and her husband purchased a summer home on nearby Grindstone Island which still stands in sight of Clayton, where they spent many summer vacations. Later they purchased a farm on the mainland east of Clayton, near Spicer Bay.
The Herald Hotel changed hands in 1947, on its 50th anniversary, and again on its 75th anniversary in 1972, when it was purchased by Allen and Susan Benas, who renamed it the Thousand Islands Inn. After 42 years of stewardship the Benas’ sold the Inn in 2013 to its present owners. Fortunately, over this entire period one of the few things that stayed the same was the now international popularity of Sophia LaLonde’s Thousand Island Salad Dressing.
Today Mrs. LaLonde’s many grand, great and great-great grandchildren, along with the rest of the people of the small river community of Clayton proudly share in the recognition of her creation. The Thousand Islands Inn and the many surrounding islands, where shore dinners have been prepared for over a century, also remain as a living reminder of where it all began.
Needless to say, Thousand Island Dressing became the “official” house dressing at the Thousand Islands Inn. Patrons continually commented about its remarkable flavor and as May Irwin, request the recipe.
In 1990 the Benas’ were permitted by New York State to package their ‘Original’ recipe for resale. Only 5,000 bottles (16 oz.) are made each year, all prepared by hand from start to finish and are on sale on the dressing website all year.