Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Castle Tells a Tragic Love Story...

Among the Thousand Islands is one particular island where a story of love has been told for over a hundred years. 

At the end of the 19th century a man named George Boldt purchased one of the Thousand Islands.  The island can be seen from Alexandria Bay, New York.  Mr. Boldt, like many of the other people who bought islands in the area, was a very successful business man and quite wealthy.  He had made his success developing the concept of the hotel as a civic social center and luxury destination.  He did this first at the Belleveue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia then the famed Waldorf-Astoria in New York.

The island he bought was named Hart Island and on it was a large wooden "cottage".  He and his family enjoyed spending summers on the island and their love of the area grew.  He built a "play house" for his family to enjoy that resembled a castle being made of stone and named Alster Tower.  In 1900 George Boldt launched an ambitious building project to build a huge masonry structure that would be the family's new "cottage" on the island and one of the largest private homes in America.  The house was to be a present to his wife, Louise Kehrer Boldt.  George Boldt renamed the Island Heart Island.

He brought a small army of architects, masons and construction workers to the island to move the old house and begin building the six story castle. He bought steamers that ferried stone from a local quarry to the island. A power generating plant was the first part of the castle to be completed at the eastern tip of Heart Island as the project was so great it would need the energy. 

The castle rose from its granite foundations when, in 1904, Louise suddenly died due a heart ailment.  George immediately halted work and never again stepped foot on Heart Island.

Bolt Castle was completed only on its out side.  Workers had only just begun working on the interior when George Boldt stopped the work.  Indeed, the architects struggled to stay ahead of construction and had not completed much of the plans for interior decoration.  Only a few rooms of the main and second floors ceiling and wall decoration had been done.

For over 70 years the unfinished castle sat.  The weather and vandals took their toll on the structure until 1977 when the Thousand Island Bridge Authority bought the island for $1.00 from Boldt's estate and began a long term repair and restoration project and then opened the castle to the public. Actually they went beyond that and have projected what some of the unfinished parts of the house would have looked like had Louise not died. 

The first building project George Boldt undertook was the "play house" called Alster Tower.

Built on a separate island is the power house.  It was designed in the same style as the castle. Note the little arched bridge that allowed access to the power house.

A peristyle archway was the main entrance to the island.  Boats would pass under the archway into a cove, a protective harbor and tie up.

Moving up from the archway you would see the playhouse, Alster Tower.
Alster tower was complete with its own kitchen, a blowing alley and tower rooms.


Work had never progressed to the point of any woodwork or electric lights.  However, this ceiling shows how far the work had progressed.

Original ceiling treatment

The grand stair case is only a projection of what might have been had the work continued.

No plans or drawings survived that showed a stained glass dome.  This is only what the restorers think it would have looked like.


This is main the dining room.  Furnishings are original to he period.

I think they could have done a better job in projecting what the kitchen would have looked like.  They could have taken some suggestions from The Vanderbilt Mansion in Asheville, NC, Biltmore.


The servants' dining and common room. Note the great view.  Boldt's philosophy of hospitality included treating the help well.

In the basement the plans called for a pool, dressing parlors with fireplaces as well as the mechanical systems of the house including a large bakery.

You had to take a boat to get the boat house which was big enough to house ocean going size vessels. The boat house is over on Wellesley Island along with a golf course, tennis courts and guests houses that Mr. Bolt developed prior to beginning work on the castle.

A restored water feature.


From the observatory you could look toward Alexandria Bay.

The heart motif carved in stone was testament of his gift.

If you had been a servant, this would have been one of your views from your quarters.

None of this woodwork, nor the marble floor and steps are original to the house from 1904.

This ceiling treatment was part of the original work.
This would have been George's chambers.

This might have been Louise's chambers.
The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority has spent over $15 million on securing the castle from further weather damage, restorations and improvements that include being able to handle thousands of people a day during the height of the tourist season.
Joanie and I highly recommend touring this marvelous and fascinating place if you are ever in the Thousand Islands area.


The Thousand Islands ...

Coming back from our wonderful stay in Canada, we stopped for a week in Clayton, NY which is in the Thousand Islands area of the Saint Lawrence River, located at the eastern tip of Lake Ontario.  This a beautiful area of southern Ontario and northern New York. Actually there are over 1,600 islands in the archipelago.


We drove a short distance down the river to Alexandria Bay, NY (called Alex Bay by the locals)where we caught a ride on a tour boat to see the islands up close.


Oh, and I think this is where the salad dressing of the same name was invented.  Why do I say that?  Well, in the late 19th century, this beautiful part of our continent was discovered by the wealthy industrialists.  Express trains from New York City and Boston terminated here.  Big, luxurious hotels were built along with marvelous restaurants and some creative chef put the local name on a new and popular dish that featured that sauce.

Many of those wealthy people, bought the islands and put luxurious summer "cottages" on the islands.  Some of those "cottages" were so large, they were called "castles".

Most of the island "cottages" have electricity supplied by cable from the shore. Prior to that the bigger houses had their own diesel powered generators. Most take water directly from the river which is very clean. Waste water is not allowed to be dumped in the river and steep fines and jail time are levied on those who do not comply. Many houses have holding tanks and businesses from shore will sail out and pump out the holding tanks.

To be declared an island in the archipelago, most of the island has to be above water year round.  There is a slight tide here and there are many "submerged" islands that are a hazard to boaters and shipping.

This area played an important part during prohibition.  Because Canada was "wet" it was relatively easy for bootleggers to race around the islands dodging the feds and using the Canadian islands to stockpile booze for the Americans to come and get when it was safe.  When the river froze over in the winter, they just drove over to Canada on the river. There was plenty of money to be made here.

 As we made our way west through Ontario and toward this part of the country, we began to notice that some trees were changing their leaf color already.  The grass was all burned and brown and fields of corn were stunted.  The campground owner told us that they were in a severe draught. Trees were severely stressed and had decided to call it a growing season early.
During the summer, the Thousand Islands area of the Saint Laurence River is busy with boaters of all sizes and tourist boat traffic.  

1000 Islands International Bridge


In my next blog post I will show you a "castle" up close and very personal.