July 2012 Alexandria Bay - Boldt Castle - Picton Island, NY

The 1000 Islands has always been a location noted for its beauty and vast resources. Long before Europeans settled the area, the Iroquois and Algonquin Indians spent their summers fishing and hunting here.
Lore has it that Manitou said to the Indians, “I will give you paradise if you stop fighting.”  According to legend, the Indians didn’t stop fighting so Manitou put paradise into a bag and threw it into the horizon.  The bag broke apart and a thousand pieces fell down into the St. Lawrence River, creating the 1000 Islands.
Because of weather, we spent a couple of days in Alexandria Bay and it’s a cute, quaint, and yet another old little village.

Center of Town in Alexandria Bay

                              Isn't a "Motor Court" something from the 1940's and '50's!

Dubbed “Garden of the Great Spirit” by the native Iroquois, the 1000 Islands became the passageway to the Canadian and U.S. interiors.  The St. Lawrence River was discovered in 1535 by Jacques Cartier and the area was later named “Les Miles iles” or translated to English, The Thousand Islands.
Distinguished visitors flocked to the 1000 Islands in the late 19th Century and the area became widely known as a summer resort for the very wealthy with grand hotels and steamship tour boats.
The beauty is breath-taking with endless shorelines, historic forts, fairytale castles, quaint downtowns, and excellent theatre. The peaceful waters and shorelines of the 1000 Islands were once torn by fighting during the War of 1812.  We’ve seen many of the war’s historical sites and many significant battles were fought along these shores.
Eastern Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and 1000 Islands region played a strategic role in the war because it was Britain’s only access to Upper Canada and served as a passageway to America’s Great Lakes ports.
The St. Lawrence River is the cleanest body of water we’ve seen since the Bahamas.  
The St. Lawrence Seaway is a man made marvel and a majestic body of water, flowing through the heart of the 1000 Islands region.  Bill grew up in upstate NY and he watched some of it being built.  He said that it was a mammoth project with villages and cemeteries being physically relocated to make way for the seaway which opened in 1959. It is traveled by world-wide commercial vessels traffic and quickly became a lifeline between North American inland ports and the rest of the world.  Millions of dollars in commerce are shipped each year along the waterway and billions of dollars are contributed to the North American economy.  Massive 700 foot vessels from countries such as Germany, Netherlands, Barbados, snake their way through the maze of islands that dot their route.
Actually the 1000 Islands number 1,864, to be exact.  With countless shoals, modern navigation equipment is a must but the most symbolic guide remains the lighthouses.
A dozen lighthouses pepper the shoreline of each side of the 1000 Islands region and eastern Lake Ontario shores.  Each is unique in appearance and many are still functioning, being built of stone, wood and iron. Styles range from Gothic Revival to Shingle Style.  They mark river mouths, treacherous rocky waters and busy harbors.  Many are privately owned or are maintained by families or lighthouse preservation organizations.

Singer Castle on Dark Island was built as a “castle hunting lodge” by Frederick Bourne, president of Singer Manufacturing Company.  He stipulated to the architect that the structure was not to imitate any existing castle.  The architect had recently read Woodstock by Sir Walter Scott which was set in "The Towers", a hunting lodge castle used by royalty near Woodstock, England.  He, in turn, incorporated descriptions of the book's castle, demolished in the early 1700's, to design Bourne's castle
complete with towers, turrets, secret passageways, and underground tunnel and even a turret dungeon.  Construction involved 100 masons. One of a kind, the 5 story well-preserved granite “hunting lodge” is perched proudly atop a 7 acre island in the middle of the majestic St. Lawrence River.  This estate has 28 rooms, 10 fireplaces , 8 bathrooms, 2 boathouses, 2 ice houses, a skiff house, a pergola, flower garden , a green that a was once a grass tennis court and a bath house.  There are passageways throughout the castle and each passageway entrance is hidden or blended in the walls and has a mechanical and electrical means of opening. Our tour of this grand home and its grounds allowed us to imagine the privileged lives of those who frequented the Thousand Islands area in the midst of the grandeur of the Golden Age.

                                                  Singer Castle on Dark Island
Accessible only by boat, our visit to the magnificent Boldt Castle on Heart Island offered us a glimpse into one of the most compelling love stories in history and has definitely been the high point of our Thousand Island experience.  At the turn of the century, George C. Boldt, millionaire proprietor of the world-famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, set out to build a full-size Rhineland Castle in Alexandria Bay, on picturesque Heart Island.  The grandiose structure was to be a display of his love for his wife, Louise.  He even had the island, then named Hart Island, reshaped into a heart and changed the name to Heart Island.  The heart theme is carried out from landscaping to wrought iron designs.

Beginning in 1900, Boldt’s family shared four summers on the island while 300 workers, stonemasons, carpenters, and artists fashioned the 6 story, 127 room castle, complete with tunnels, a powerhouse, Italian gardens, a drawbridge, and a Dove-Cote. Not a single detail or expense was spared.

In 1904, tragedy struck.  Boldt telegrammed the island and commanded the workers to immediately “stop all construction.”  Louise had died suddenly at age 45.  A broken-hearted Boldt couldn’t imagine his dream castle without his beloved.  300 workers laid down their tools and Boldt never returned to the island leaving behind the structure as a monument of his love.
For 73 years the castle remained eerily vacant, left to the mercy of the wind, rain, ice, snow, and vandals.  The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority assumed ownership in 1977, determined to preserve Boldt’s legacy for the enjoyment of present and future generations.  Millions of dollars have been invested since then into rehabilitation of the stunning Heart Island structures and the magnificent Boldt Yacht House on Wellesley Island.
There are 6 impressive structures to explore on Heart Island but our three favorites are Boldt Castle, the Yacht House and the Alster Tower (Play House).  We watched a video that offered a look into the lifestyle of George and Louise Boldt, along with a history of the 1000 Islands region and the restoration efforts on Heart Island.
The 127 rooms have massive granite walls and rise 6 stories from the foundation level with a swimming pool to the highest tower room.  A breathtakingly beautiful stained class dome is visible from every floor.

The grand foyer as viewed from second floor

          The coins in the swimming pool glittered in the sun's light.

The Alster Tower looks like a giant sand castle when viewed from the water.  Maybe the idea was suggested by some old defense tower on the Alster River which flows through Hamburg, Germany.  It’s an unusual looking little mini-castle and probably wasn’t pre-designed because it would seem nearly impossible to describe the irregular forms on paper.  Our guess is it was improvised in a highly personal manner, evolving as it rose.  Mr. Boldt himself was probably the real author of this imaginative and eccentric creation. Unlike the main residence, this whimsical “play house” was completed and occasionally occupied by the Boldt family (parents, son and daughter), during the years when the Castle was being erected.
                  The Play House is on the left, castle in center and Power House on right.
The enormous Yacht House across the water on Wellesley Island accommodated the family’s 3 yachts with tall masts and rigging standing, in slips 128 feet long.  The main space is 64 feet high and the doors were so heavy that an engine was required to move them.  The Yacht House was the first of these remarkable building to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Stags were placed in surprising places....

Play House

George C. Boldt came to American from Prussia when he was 13 in the 1860’s and was the son of poor parents.  A man of tremendous organizational skill, daring and imagination, he became the most successful hotel magnate in America.  He managed the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, and the Bellevue-Stratford in Philadelphia.  He was president of several companies, a trustee of Cornell University, and the director of the Hotel Association of New York.  For Boldt, to dream and to do were synonymous.  Boldt Castle stands as an eternal monument to the memory of the man whose dreams were no more far-reaching than his capabilities.
We spent an entire day vicariously experiencing Mr. Boldt’s testimony of the unsurpassed love of a man for his wife—the reason for the construction of such an elaborate summer home.  This could easily be a destination vacation that would be in your mental storage unit as something unforgettable.
We’re “hanging out” today anchored off Picton Island and will go into Kingston, Ontario, tomorrow.  We don’t plan to be in Canada longer than a month but while there, we won’t be using our Mi-Fi nor phones although I will be able to text.  We’ll be dependent on Wi-Fi. It may seem that we’ve dropped out but will update blog as Internet is available.

Bill and Laura
Picton Island, NY


Char said…
Hi! Good post! I almost went on a biking trip in the Thousand Islands - but it got cancelled. I should go there sometime. :)

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