Thousand Islands Castles… Truly Majestic
The castle was designed with soaring spires and high ramparts, after the castles in the Rhineland, the neighbourhood where he grew up. A self-made millionaire, he had risen from a kitchen worker in a hotel to the proprietor of the great hotels Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan and the Bellevue-Stratford in Philadelphia. And when George Boldt wanted to build a castle to demonstrate his love for his wife Louise, no expenses were spared. He bought the Hart Island in the Thousand Islands group which he reshaped in the form a heart and renamed ‘Heart’ Island. Going up six stories, the castle had 120 rooms, a powerhouse, Italian gardens, a drawbridge, tunnels, and a children’s play castle.
The castle was to be presented to Louise on Valentine’s Day of 1904, but things went wrong before that. In January, Louise died of a heart failure at age 41. A heart-broken George Boldt immediately ordered all construction stopped at the castle and never again set foot on Heart Island.
The grand staircase
The Boldt Castle, the biggest castle on Thousand Islands, stood abandoned for 73 years, subject to harsh winters and random acts of vandalism. In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority was handed over charge of the castle. Currently the castle is undergoing restoration, as per the original plans. The lower two floors are fully restored and work is going on, on the upper floors. All entrance fees collected from visitors are used solely for the restoration work.
The portrait of Louise Boldt displayed in the castle
Another very prominent castle among the Thousand Islands, is the Singer Castle, named by Frederick Bourne, the president of… you guessed it, the Singer Sewing Machine Company! And every room in the castle, I mean every room, has a sewing machine in it!
When Bourne acquired the island, it was named Dark Island because of the dark pine trees growing thick. A self-made millionaire, he started working in his teens, in the offices of a thread company which developed a thread suitable for a sewing machine for the first time. He wanted to build a castle and engaged the famous architect Ernest Flagg to build one, around the same time as the Boldt castle was being built, 1902 to 1904. And as model, he pointed to the castle in Walter Scott’s novel ‘Woodstock’.
And the result was the 4-story, 28-room Singer Castle, with many hideaways, underground tunnels, dungeons, spy holes and secret rooms all over the place, just like in Woodstock Place. Today, many of those are open and visible to visitors. The castle boasts of elaborate boathouses, a workshop, powerhouse and a 2-story ice house.
While the castle was being built, Bourne kept it an absolute secret from his family so that he could present it to them as a surprise! I can really imagine the whole family of nine kids, going ‘OMG!’ 🙂
The dining room with elk, caribou, deer and moose heads mounted on the four walls
The furnishings included Italian hand-carved ornate tables and chairs, wrought-iron chandeliers, brass lamps, oak cabinets, bronze work, and paintings.
Corn Island seen from Singer Castle
During the days of prohibition in the US (1920-1933), groups of guests used to be ferried across by luxury launches, to Corn Island which is located in Canada, but had the same owner. After the cocktail party, they will get back in time for dinner!
I wonder whether this is still functional!
Today, Boldt Castle and Singer Castle are available for weddings and other functions. You can also stay at the royal suite at the Singer Castle for a not-too-exorbitant rate.
One fact that impressed me while listening to the stories of these castles, was that both were built by men who rose from the bottom rungs to the highest positions in the society of their day, only through the dint of their hard work. Would such a feat be possible today?
There were several more castles built among the Thousand Islands… Castle Rest, the first castle to be built on Thousand Islands, Imperial Isle, Calumet Castle, Arcadia, Carlton Villa… it is a long list. But none of them are in existence today. Most were demolished and replaced by more modest and modern edifices.
This was a weekend well-spent, but I doubt there will be any more such outings this year. As the weather gets cool, cold, icy, activities turn indoors. And food! How about this gorgeous caramelised pear and roquefort tart for a start?