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|
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....|
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