Clayton, New York, (population 4,817) is located within the 1000 Islands region in New York, on a peninsula jutting out into the St. Lawrence River. The town was named after John M. Clayton, a United States Senator from Delaware and a prominent member of the Whig party, which was popular at the time with voters in the region.
Due to its prominent location on the St. Lawrence River and the ample supply of lumber, the first major industry in Clayton was timber. Shipbuilding also became a prominent industry. The arrival of the railroad in 1873 and the status of Clayton as the terminus of the New York Central Railroad made it a popular location for people seeking refuge from city life. The tourism industry flourished, along with the construction of luxury hotels, prominent homes, and restaurants.
The renovation of the Clayton Opera House was a major private-public partnership that has resulted in the reuse of the opera house as a community and performing arts center. The Town of Clayton and the non-profit organization Thousand Islands Performing Arts Fund (TIPAF) partnered in the renovation. TIPAF launched a capital campaign to raise $1,935,000 in private donations, in addition to $1,335,000 received in government grants to assist with the project. The restored Clayton Opera House includes various exterior improvements, a new HVAC system, an elevator, major plumbing upgrades, and new theatrical systems. Since the opera house reopened in 2007, it has served as the venue for a great variety of cultural, educational, social, and community events. In 2008 alone, more than 184 events took place in the Clayton Opera House.
The Antique Boat Museum collects, preserves, and exhibits boats and other objects relating to the history of boating in the United States. The museum highlights nationwide and local history, including an exhibit on Clayton’s boatbuilding history. The annual Antique Boat Show is the United States’ oldest antique boat show and features an auction of antique boats. The weekend event includes a parade of boats, music events at the Clayton Opera House, and a contest for various antique boat types.
Other museums in Clayton include the Thousand Islands Museum and the Handweaving Museum. The Thousand Islands Museum exhibits muskies and hunting decoys from the past and present and contains an extensive research library. The “Hashing Over History” program is held at the Thousand Island Museum each Wednesday, allowing citizens to research and discuss local history. The Handweaving Museum houses a collection of more than 1,400 textiles from around the world. The museum focuses on 20th century American handweaving and includes a large archive about the careers of specific handweavers in the United States.
Designated a Preserve America Community in October 2009.