As Fall approaches many people start to think about Halloween, witches and pumpkins, ghosts and castles. If there ever was one building in the Thousand Islands perfect for Halloween, it would have to be Boldt Castle.
For those not familiar with this famous landmark, it’s located on Heart Island on the St. Lawrence River in New York. It is a popular tourist destination on both sides of the border accessible only by boat. Many tour boats feature this attraction and if you have your Canadian passport, you can get off on Heart Island and tour the six-story “castle” and four accompanying romantic masonry structures.
We did just that this summer with family visiting from Australia. The tour did not disappoint. If you read The Blog Window regularly, you know that last summer my family and I visited Italy. I wrote about the magnificent architecture and photographed many of the spectacular buildings featuring stunning windows and doors. A visit to Boldt Castle made me realize that we had similar remarkable sites right in our own backyard.
The story of Boldt Castle is as amazing as the building itself. As told on thoughtco.com:
Legend has it that multi-millionaire George Boldt began the castle in 1900 as a testimonial of his love for his wife, Louise. She was only fifteen when they married, and she had worked at his side during his climb to wealth and prominence. Boldt planned to present the castle to Louise on Valentine’s Day, 1905.
A CASTLE BUILT FOR LOVE
Of all the grand summer homes in the Thousand Islands, Boldt Castle was to be the most magnificent. More than 300 artisans, masons, stonecutters, landscapers, and other craftsmen were hired. The Alster Tower would be a gigantic playhouse with a bowling alley, a billiard room, a library, bedrooms, and kitchen areas. The Power House would hold a steam-powered generator for power and lights. The Yacht House would shelter the family houseboat and boats from visitors. But the crowning jewel would be a 120-room home modeled after a Rhineland castle and furnished with paintings, sculptures, mosaics, and tapestries from around the world.
This grand design was never completed, however. Construction halted when a sudden tragedy struck the young family.
TRAGEDY AT BOLDT CASTLE
One year before Boldt Castle was to be completed, Louise, aged 41, died. Broken-hearted, George Boldt stopped the construction and never returned to the island. Boldt died in 1916 and the castle was purchased by Edward John Noble, who owned the Beechnut Fruit Company. Noble invested in the area and built the Thousand Island Club. Over the next 50 years, the E.J. Noble Foundation ran Boldt Castle as a tourist attraction. Visitors were allowed to roam the island freely, and the castle became a victim of vandals who broke windows, covered walls with graffiti, and stripped buildings of ornamental details. Roofs leaked, timbers deteriorated, plaster peeled from walls. A fire destroyed all but the stone shell of the Powerhouse.
BOLDT CASTLE TODAY
There is, however, a happy ending. In 1977 the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the estate and began restorations. Windows and roofs were repaired. The Power House was rebuilt and the ballroom was converted into a museum. Couples came to be wed. Every summer you will see the wedding couples sail down the Saint Lawrence River, glide beneath an arched water gate modeled after Roman monuments, and say their vows on a stone bridge leading to a fanciful assembly of peaked turrets. Perhaps the couples are drawn by the romantic story surrounding the castle. Or, perhaps, they sense that the mismatched towers and quirky ornaments say something important about love.
It has been reported that restorations have exceeded $15 million, and the work still continues today. Anyone who has taken on a renovation project in his or her own home can just imagine the scope of this type of project. We were particularly interested in how the windows and doors were replaced to give such an authentic feel. This is an area we know a little about. Finding the right replacements for a renovation takes into account many factors: the architectural style and design to fit into the building and room décor; the type of installation required – is it a retro fit or a full frame removal; the physical requirements of the window due to location – do they need to be storm ready; do they meet/exceed energy efficient criteria, do they need to have special coatings to protect your interior belongings, etc.; and finally, budget. When you see the detail that has gone into this restoration, you can’t help but be impressed.
By all accounts, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority has done an amazing job bringing the original design company, G.W.&W.D. Hewitt, and the original owner, George Boldt’s vision back to life for everyone to enjoy.
Here are a few photos highlighting our favourite features of the castle and surrounding buildings.