Boldt Castle, St. Lawrence Seaway (Aug 13, 2014)
Our next adventure in upstate New York, was a trip to Boldt Castle, via a boat tour on the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Curiously, I “found” this while posting images to my next “work in progress” Pinterest board (the week prior to our vacation, no less)…looking for things-mansion. When I posted it, I thought, huh, this place sounds familiar…then one of my “Virtual Friends” (from Twitter and a fellow blogger), Paul Gallagher, pointed out that Boldt Castle was the location that Rod Serling (come on, did you really need to check that link?!) had considered using for a post-Twilight Zone series that never got off the ground, called “Rod Serling’s Wax Museum.” Curiously, throughout the entire tour, not one thing was mentioned about Rod Serling’s possible use of this place.
Well, now that I knew what I’d found, I had to go see it, right?
Boldt Castle sits on an island, Heart Island, which had been reworded from “Hart” to “Heart,” by George C. Boldt, who was a turn-of-the-century millionaire proprietor to New York City’s Waldorf Astoria hotel. You might have heard of it. The island lies in the middle of an area of the St. Lawrence River, called “The Thousand Islands (actually there are a little over 1800 islands).” To get to Boldt Castle, one has to take a boat. So, I learned there are boat tours of the 1000 Islands. I found that Uncle Sam Tours offers multiple tours of the riverway. We opted for the two-and-a-quarter hour 2-Nation Tour. This international tour (through American and Canadian waters, no passport required) had a little of everything, and is a 22-mile tour-guided round-trip. It includes the “heart” of the 1000 Islands and Millionaire’s Row. All tours end with a stop at Boldt Castle, where you can stay as long as you like, up to closing time, hopping whatever boats (shuttle or tour boat) are available for the return trip to Alexandria Bay.
So, out we headed for 47 James Street, Alexandria Bay!
The Bow of the Tour Boat, St. Lawrence River (Aug 13, 201
The weather was gorgeous, and we boarded our boat, a double-decker paddle wheel whatever-you-call-those-things. I honestly don’t know if the paddle wheel was for show or not, but it was cool to watch. We sat up top, in the open air, where our college grad-headed-to-med-school tour guide guided us through the international waters. He was outgoing, seemed knowledgeable, and was humorous. I wondered what kinda doctor he’d make. Here are some cool videos of some of the Uncle Sam tours.
As we floated along the St. Lawrence, we learned all these famous names we’d heard about over the years had places up here. “Old money” is on the U.S. side, “New Money” on the Canadian side. But, don’t ask me to recite any of these names, because, well, I’m not exactly known for my memory (I’m more known for my “charm”…). And I (so far) can’t find one danged listing of them!
Really? None of this is listed anywhere?
Some curious facts we found were that the St. Lawrence River has some of the cleanest waters in the US (Canada wasn’t mentioned, so I assume Canada has cleaner waters than the US…everywhere…). Our Knowledgeable Tour Guide (KTG) ran on and on about how you could literally dip a cup over the side of this boat and drink what you pulled up. Then KTG said he, however, wouldn’t do it (KTG had a degree in biochemistry, or something), for two reasons: 1) seagulls, b) swimmers. He’d also gone into more detail about in the early years of people (and by “people” I mean millionaires) moving into the area and building abodes, going into great detail about how the sewage system of the day was “drinking up-stream, dumping downstream.”
Think about that for juuust a second.
In his words “gross.”
Here I am applying my newly acquired skill of Walking on Water. Funny, haven’t been able to duplicate this feat, since….
Another interesting point our guide mentioned was that “recently” National Geographic had redefined the definition of an “island” to a spot of land at least three-foot square, with at least one tree and another form of vegetation. He mentioned this because he took us past the smallest of the islands in the “Thousand Island” chain. It wasn’t much larger than three square feet, by the looks of it. He also told us that the person who owned that island had insured the lone tree on it for $50,000. Wow. Now, curiously, when I went looking for the NatGeo island definition online, I didn’t find it. I do find it interesting that KTG said an island had to have a tree and vegetation.
We were also shown the shortest stretch of distance between international waters (between two islands), but by the time our KTG had sprinted out of the Wheel House to announce it, we (who had been at the bow of the boat) had already gone past, and nonprofessional digital cameras just don’t operate that quickly, so we missed the shot.
On our return trip, we actually passed by a huge cargo ship, called the Thunder Bay. I did a search and found this video, which shows the Thunder Bay entering Lock 7, Welland Canal (I’m assuming it’s the same ship—it looks like what we passed [I saw the name on its bow]—finding it hard to believe there’d be two ships in the same country with the same name…). Though this lock is between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, this is what the “famousity” of the St. Lawrence River is all about, so take a look at this link. Look at how close that ship is inside the lock’s walls.
Boldt Castle Docking Coming Up! (Aug 13, 2014)
As the boat tour ran to its end and we docked a Heart Island, the next phase of our visit explored Boldt Castle (click here for their facebook page). We only had two hours, because it closed at 7:30. This limited exploration time, if you can believe it. We didn’t get to the Power House at the other end of the island, which is the mini-castle with the curved stone bridge, in the slide show, below.
I’m not gonna duplicate effort, so check this link out for a short description of George C. Boldt and his castle efforts, but it is tragic to note that he abandoned the castle after the love of his life, Louise Augusta Kehrer Boldt, died at 42 years of age, of tuberculosis.
We spent most of our time exploring the main castle. It was quite grand (not a term I use much, outside of “grandparents,” “grand piano,” or “delusions of grandeur“), especially with the center piece of the staircase, which reminded me of the Titanic‘s staircase. The public is able to go from the cellar (or “foundation”) to the top floor (fourth), where the “Help” stayed. Boldt and his family were to have used the second floor. Very nice rooms! Throughout most of the place are placards giving you a bit of its history, which, again, I had to bypass, due to our limited time there, though I did read some of it. My wife and I spent some time on one of the stone observation decks (a “battlement”!) of the castle, overlooking the St. Lawrence. We were lucky not to have been disturbed by other tourists, so it was quite cool hanging out there, in the breezes—in a castle, for crying out loud—on a battlement overlooking our kingdom…I mean, well…come on, you get it….
To think of the opulence, the—how did my wife put it?—extravagance that this guy lavished upon his wife. The wild use of money to build something like this, that was, in all reality, frivolous. Did one need a castle in which to live? No. But, man, how frigging cool!
The castle was modeled after 16th century northern European buildings, but with “newly revived classical details of the time.” It rises six stories from the foundation level, and even had an elevator! It contained 127 rooms. It goes without saying (but I’m gonna say it anyway) that it’s near fireproof with steel and concrete roofs and floors, not to mention massive granite walls!
Directly above the Grand Staircase was a stained glass dome. When we got to the top-most floor, we were able to see the other side of
The Grand Staircase, Boldt Castle (Aug 13, 2014)
the dome and how it was fitted into the ceiling. I’ve heard it might not be original material, but can’t corroborate that. A couple of times as I looked out a window, or stood out on a battlement (I like saying that: battlement), certain parts of the castle architecture just grabbed me—simply amazing work! There were four floors and what I call the cellar, but is here termed “the foundation.” The first, or ground floor is where all the entertainment and dining (and where I carefully but stupidly placed my camera on top of the dining table in a moment of Not Thinking, and was correctly though subtly scolded by a polite staff member; still can’t believe I did that! See! vacations make people stupid!) and living went on. Reception rooms, billiard room, Mr. Boldt’s office, library, et cetera. The second floor was where the Boldt family was to have lived, their sleeping “chambers” (George and Louise were to have had separate rooms), bathrooms, kids’ rooms, guest rooms, et cetera. The Third floor was similar to the second floor, but didn’t have access to the Grand Staircase (used side stairs to access). The fourth floor held the skylight dome and the servants’ quarters, observation decks (battlements, yea, battlements!), reading room, stairs to the tower (closed) and some really weird little room, called “the loft.” Reminded me of the creepy Oliver Reed movie, The Shuttered Room, though it really didn’t look like it. Stream-of-consciousness. Go figger.
As to “the cellar,” or “foundation” of the castle, here was an indoor swimming pool (full of tossed coinage) and other areas we also didn’t have adequate time to explore. One set of passages I reeeally wanted to walk, got lost in the shuffle of everything else to see, would have made the coolest shot, but, alas, turned out blurry when I got home: it was a servant’s underground passageway. It was where all the goods were transported from barges to the storage rooms without having to use the main floor. It also housed the electrical and wiring and water pipes from the Power House we weren’t able to see. It was sooo spooky, I really wanted to walk it! Dang it!
Making people stupid.
We walked through the Italian Garden a little, and found some really vibrant flowers, the pictures of which simply do not do it justice. Went inside the first structure on the island, the Dove-Cote. It’s a stone tower topped with a pigeon house, or “Hennery,” where they collected “fancy fowl.”
I like saying that, too.
We visited the Alster Tower, or “playhouse,” at the opposite side of the island from the Power House. This was a cool stone tower that was only partially opened to the public; the upper parts (where I wanted to go…curiously just noting a trend, here…) were closed off due to construction. This structure is said to have most likely been inspired by an old defense tower along the Alster River that flowed through Hamburg, Germany. The brochure says that it was most probably not planned, i.e., put to blue prints, but “evolved” as it was built. This mini-castle was occasionally occupied by the Boldt family as their main castle was being constructed.
The Arch, Boldt Castle (Aug 13, 2014)
One of the coolest things on the island, was The Arch. This was modeled after Roman monuments, and was a “water gate” that was to be the formal entry for launches and delivering guests from the larger yachts anchored out in the deeper waters. It has three bucks (“deer,” not “currency”; displaying currency would just be pretentious) atop it. It was supposed to have more work done to it, like a drawbridge and a covered walk, but, of course all that was halted with the abandoning of the entire Boldt Castle project, upon Louise’s death.
Across the water, at Wellesley Island, is The Yacht House, where the family’s three yachts and houseboat were stored. We didn’t go there, simply not enough time! But, the slips there are 128 feet long, and the main space rises some 64 feet high. The huge doors are so heavy that a special engine was installed to operate them. Quarters for crews and maintenance staff were also included here. Interesting fact: The Yacht House was the first of these Boldt buildings to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
When Louise Boldt passed away mere months before the completion of the castle, George Boldt was a wreck. He immediately halted all castle construction and the property had been allowed to fall into disuse and gone vacant for some 73 years. For those 73 years, the castle and its other structures had been left exposed to harsh winters and vandals, but in 1977 the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired Heart Island and the nearby Yacht House for a whole buck (here, I do mean “currency” and not “deer”)…under an agreement that all revenue from the castle’s operation would be applied towards its restoration. This would allow for the island to be preserved…for the enjoyment of all.
It has never been the goal to completely rebuild Boldt Castle…only to bring it back to the state it was when George had abandoned it. Some improvements have gone beyond that state, but I’m not sure which ones are included there (I’ve read on Wiki that maybe the stained glass, the marble floor, and the Grand Staircase). But to see this feat of human engineering and design is to be in awe of the love between two people…and the imagination of a man who wanted to please his love.
Love can move mountains and build castles…but it can also shatter hearts. It is tragic that Mr. Boldt couldn’t stand to be at the castle after Louise’s loss—I get it—but at least, now, we can all experience not only his bucks, but his amazing imagination…and his love for his wife, because I really do feel (as much as I joke about it) this project was not about any display of opulence or power…but about a display of an intense and undying love.
Check out this really nice short video of the aerial view of all I’ve described at Boldt Castle.
Boldt Castle Brochure.
Boldt Castle Map.
Next post: the St. John in the Wilderness Cemetery.