The Story of Sylvia Lake
Northern New York, in the Town of Fowler, there is a lovely lake
that was once known as Lake Killarney. Sometime between 1814
and 1830, the lake was renamed after Sylvia DePau Fowler. There
are many versions of how Lake Killarney became Sylvia Lake. Some
versions of the story are dramatic, some historic, and one version
is even tragic. There
are facts and there is fiction. I'm going to assemble the pieces…and
try to fill in the details.
Oliver Fowler was born Feb. 11, 1786 and died October 12, 1861;
he married Amelia Silvie, daughter of Francois and Silvie de
Grasse DePau, on February 10, 1820. Records tell us that Amelia
Silvie DePau was born in South Carolina. They lived in a mansion
on the shore of Lake Killarney, in Northern New York State. They
had seven children. Amelia Silvie DePau Fowler died Dec. 22 1887.
N. Y. Gazette for March 12, 1798, contains the following: “Married
at Charleston, S.C. on the 23rd, Francois Depau, Esq., to Silvia,
daughter of the late Admiral Count de Grasse.” Admiral
de Grasse had been the commanding officer of the French forces
at the surrender of Yorktown in 1781. Also present at the surrender
of Yorktown, was Theodosius Fowler, the father of Theodosius
Theodosius Oliver Fowler may have met Amelia Silvia (and her two sisters, Sylvia and Eliza) at
his family home on Fifth Avenue, in New York City. Or perhaps Theo might have been invited to the home of Francis dePau where he was introduced to the three daughters of the house. Mr. dePau was, among other things, a real estate developer and built houses for himself and his three daughters and their husbands, all in a row, in New York City on what is now Bleeker Street. At the time he called it dePau Row.(Info sent in by Will Johnson)
Captain Fowler, Theo's father,
had received a land grant in Northern New York as a result of
his service in the military. The property, Township #7 of the
Great Tract belonged to Robert Gilchrist and Theodosius Fowler
and included Lake Killarney. In 1810, Gilchrist deeded the land
to Theodosius, who hoped that his son, Theodosius Oliver Fowler,
would manage the property and start a settlement.
1814, Theodosius Oliver, paid a visit to the Lake Killarney property
and reported back to his father that yes, he would live on Lake
Killarney, if his father build a house for him there. He expected
this house to be very special— a mansion. So, according
to this version of the story, Theodosius Fowler the elder, build
a mansion for his son and new wife, Amelia Silvie DePau, on the
shore of Lake Killarney. In another version of the story, it
was the DePau family who offered to build a fine home on Lake
Killarney for the newly married couple. In that version, the
house was a wedding present to their daughter, Amelia Silvie.
believe Theodosius renamed the lake, Sylvia, after his bride.
(Editor’s note: Spelling was not always consistent in records
of the day.) The Mansion was built of marble, for a sum of around
$16,000.00, an enormous amount of money in those days. Construction
was not begun until 1816, according to the Town of Fowler historian.
In 1817, Theodosius was appointed Captain of the Militia in Jefferson
Co., NY. Theodosius O. and Amelia Silvia lived in the mansion
for about 20 years. More than one account says they left Sylvia
Lake in 1830. Both Amelia and Theodosius lie in the Fowler family
vault in the churchyard at Eastchester, NY. Their son, Degrasse
Fowler enlisted in the Civil War at Derby, Connecticut. The Mansion
property was sold to John L. Carpenter in 1838. In 1872, the
Mansion was destroyed by fire, leaving only the stone foundation
what about the romance? The tragedy? In one story, Theodosius
O. was engaged to Amelia DePau, Sylvia’s older sister.
The DePaus offered to build a lavish home on the shore of Lake
Killarney for the newlyweds. While the house was under construction,
Amelia left for France to visit friends and shop for her wedding
trousseau. While Amelia was away, her younger sister, Sylvia
and her father, Monsieur DePau, decided to visit the construction
the visit, Theodosius fell in love with the young Sylvia. It
is said that Theodosius struggled to be faithful to Amelia, but
his growing feelings for Sylvia and an almost-tragic boating
accident on the lake, convinced him that it was Sylvia he loved,
not Amelia. When Sylvia and Theodosius capsized their canoe and
Sylvia almost drowns, Theo realized his true feelings and resolves
to marry Sylvia. The story never says anything about Amelia’s
reaction. In this version, the mansion is named, Sylvia Hall
and the lake is named Sylvia in honor of her narrow escape from
nicely romantic and dramatic, this story conflicts with historical
records of Theodosius’ marriage. Records indicate that
he did marry Amelia dePau. In another version of the story, Theodosius
marries Amelia Silvie DePau and Sylvia Lake was named for their
new born daughter, Sylvia. In a completely different version,
it is Sylvia DePau who is betrothed to Theodosius O. Fowler.
At that time, this legend says, Sylvia was living in the town
of Fowler. The story doesn’t clarify how she came to live
there, but Town of Fowler documents do exist that verify someone
named Sylvia was present during the time of the mansion construction.
Maybe this version is, in fact, the same version as the one when
Sylvia and her father visit the mansion and Theo falls in love.
Sylvia and her father could have made the trip and stayed in
the area for a period of time.
it’s the tragic version that the locals tell to visitors
from “away.” Upon Sylvia’s betrothal to Theodosius
O. Fowler, she decided to make a trip to England to shop for
her wedding trousseau. She is gone a very long time. So long,
that Theodosius thinks she has jilted him so he marries her sister,
Amelia. When Sylvia returned from England, she found her older
sister had married her fiance, with the family blessing. The
newlyweds are living on Lake Killarney, in what was to be her
mansion. Sylvia is so distraught over the situation, she throws
herself into the lake from one of its highest rocks and drowns.
After her death, the lake was renamed, Sylvia, in her honor.
Place in the History of Sylvia Lake
matter how you tell it, the legend of Sylvia Lake has everything:
American History, Exploration, Love, Betrayal, and Tragedy. But
at the center of every version is the beautiful “sheet
of water,” the lake, which draws us closer to the people
of the legend. All of us, then and now, recognize how special
Sylvia Lake is and how lucky we are to be part of her history.
compiling this summary of the Sylvia Lake story, I referenced
Lake: The History of Sylvia Lake Since 1800,
pamphlet by Charles A. Ferguson. April, 1956.
from the Sketch Book of a Town Historian: Fowler 1807
pamphlet by Helen Scott Cunningham. No date given, assume
Lake, Gouverneur, New York: History and Genealogy 1800
published by The Pendell Company, Midland, Michigan,