Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Alexandria Bay, Boldt Castle

Last year, I took a road trip up to Alexandria Bay in the Saint Lawrence Seaway so I could stay at this motel:

So what did I do? I saw a few of the local sights. The first was Boldt Castle.

I took a boat trip (Uncle Sam's Boat Tours, www.usboattours.com) which was a quick ten minutes from the town of Alexandria Bay to Heart Island, where the castle is.
The castle was built by George Boldt for his wife Louise as a gift because he loved her so. They were already married about 25 years and had two kids when he had it built; how's that for a successful marriage. But she died of either pneumonia or tuberculosis (I read different accounts) on January 4, 1904, after three years of construction. George issued a "stop work" order, which everyone thought would be temporary, but it was not ("300 workmen dropped their tools and left the island, never to return"). A hugely expensive undertaking, so close to being finished, simply abandoned to the elements.

George Boldt was an immigrant to the US in 1864 from Prussia. His parents recognized his superior capabilities and allowed him to go on his own at age 13 and make his fortune. And make it he did. He started poor, working in a restaurant, but through diligence, talent, and hard work, he impressed people, rose through the business, and built up a hotel empire. He became known throughout the world as the premier hotel manager. His first hotel was the Bellevue-Stratford in Philly. Later, partnering with William Waldorf Astor and later John Jacob Astor, the result was the Waldorf-Astoria, America's finest luxury hotel. Boldt, as manager and profit-sharer, became wildly rich despite the depression.

view from the castle

One pamphlet says, "For Boldt, to dream and to do were synonymous." I like that line. For me, to dream and to sleep are synonymous. I guess that's why I have a mini-house and will never have a castle, though I do have a totally awesome yarden that is the envy of all who stroll through it.


When he was 26 years old and well on the road to success, he met and fell in love with the 14-year old Louise. They met through her father, who was also in the hotel business. Thus Louise knew the industry very well. She was indispensible to George's future success, helping him, supporting him, and understanding him.

door to playhouse

The Boldts would vacation in the Thousand Islands (the train service allowed one to leave in a sleeper car on Friday night from NYC and arrive in the area the next morning, and return the same way on Sunday night, returning to work on Monday morning in NYC).
Louise admired Hart island, and when the owner died, George contrived to buy the island as a gift for her. The name was changed, and the end of the island slightly changed in shape with a boat-docking area to make it more heart-shaped. Louise had been born on Valentine's Day, and so had a sentimental fondness for hearts that was incorporated into their Boldt "family crest." They had a daughter named "Clover," which is why the cloverleaf became another important symbol. The heart and clover are images found in the floor, the furniture, and the stained glass ceiling.

The island includes the castle, a dove-cote, an arch with Harts on top (boy, could this guy pun!), a play house/cottage which looks like a sand castle; the power house which looks like it's rising out of the water (I'd happily just have THAT!)...

...also an underground passage (so supplies could be brought unobtrusively from boat to the castle storage rooms and avoid the first floor), and the Yacht House, across the water on Wellesley Island. The "chateau" was to have 127 rooms, and money was no object.

The next owner did nothing to complete the project, and eventually gave it to the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority (sold for $1, I think I read) in 1977. They began work to stabilize it, and they've slowly been rehabilitating it since then. It has become a local treasure and goal for tourists, road-trippers, and dreamers like me.

What an awesome visit. Unlike most historical structures I've visited, you could tour it yourself and take all the pictures you wanted. The center of the castle was restored, but when you start looking about in the rooms off the center, you find them unfinished, with falling sheetrock, leaking windows, and graffiti everywhere. I went all the way to the top, and viewed the stained glass ceiling from above. It was a joy.

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