by Alice E. Gerard
There is an island in the Niagara River that has been named and renamed several times. It was originally called Frog Island. When it was purchased by the Motor Boat Club of Buffalo in 1907, it was renamed Motor Boat Island, and the club built a clubhouse on the island. Motor Boat Island was not the only name that this Niagara River island has been called. Other names include Cinderella Island and Pirates Island, said Curt Nestark, president of the Grand Island Historical Society.
Motor Boat Island and Strawberry Island will be the subjects of a presentation titled "Two Small Islands in the Mighty Niagara" at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24, at the Buffalo Launch Club, 503 East River Road. The program is presented by the Buffalo Launch Club Heritage/Entertainment Committee and the Grand Island Historical Society. This program was first presented on Jan. 25, 2014, to a sold-out audience. Because there were more than 100 on the waiting list for last year's program, it was decided to do a repeat performance. Saturday's program includes a "launch clubber shore dinner" from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m.
Nestark, who is one of seven presenters at the event, said that he got interested in learning more about Strawberry and Motor Boat islands after reading old copies of the Island Dispatch.
"I read Dispatches going back to 1944. Nothing but fires were reported. No one has ever talked about these two beautiful islands or has done any serious history, as far as I can see," Nestark said.
Tom Frauenheim, also a presenter, said that his interest in the Niagara River islands stemmed from his work in boating.
"My family owned JAFCO Marine (in Buffalo)," Frauenheim explained. He now owns and operates Thomas Frauenheim Inc., a boat sales and yacht brokerage company that he founded in 1987. "I've been in boating all my life. I like history. What really precipitated the thing was my donation of a 25-foot Richardson cruiser to the North Tonawanda History Museum. When I was putting the boat into the building, an old fellow asked me if that boat was from Motor Boat Island. I called him later and found out that he was assistant caretaker of Motor Boat Island from 1937 until the war. He was one of those rare people you run across in life. He had great stories, and we got along well."
That older gentleman was Robert "Lefty" Lowenstein, a former baseball player, fisherman and World War II veteran. "Lefty had experiences on the river, the towpath, and on Motor Boat Island," Frauenheim said. "He said that his father took him to a tavern on Strawberry Island, but he didn't like it. The tavern didn't serve ice with pop, only with beer. You raised a flag for the ferry boat to come, but the boat didn't show up, so you drank more at the tavern."
Lowenstein passed away at the age of 90 on Nov. 14, 2014.
Other presenters will be Paul Leuchner, Niagara River historian and ecologist; Gary Kenline, whose family owned Motor Boat Island from 1937 until 1984; David Frazier, primary consultant for the New York Power Authority; and Jeffery and Lyle Dinsmore, marine contractors doing reconstruction work on both islands.
Nestark said that the presenters are hoping that this program will be just the first of a series on various local history topics. "We will put it out what other things people would like to see," he said. Topics Nestark suggested as future presentation subjects included "more islands of the Niagara river, maritime history of the Niagara River, shipwrecks and unknown history."
Saturday's event is sold out but, if there is enough interest, the program will be repeated on Feb. 7, Frauenheim said.