July 6 – Singer and Boldt Castles

We took a boat trip on the St. Lawrence Seaway through the Thousand Islands … actually; there are 1,864 islands in the river north of Lake Ontario.  There are three conditions to be classified as an island: (a) it must be at least 3’ x 3’ in size, (b) it must have at least one tree or bush growing on it and (c) it must remain above water 365 days a year.

We picked up our tour boat


a quaint, tourist town which booms in summer and is knee-deep in snow with few residents in the winter.

The nine mile trip “down” river … the St. Lawrence flows north from the Great Lakes … provided a great opportunity to observe some spectacular homes

Each appraised for tax purposes at no less than 10% if its fair market value


Mating Pair with Nestlings

lighthouses, large and small.

Several “go-fast” boats

and a pop-up camper on an island with no road access.

Our first stop was on Dark Island and Singer Castle.

Singer Castle is the only castle on the river to be completed, fully furnished and resided in during the heyday of the ‘great builders’ and industrialists in New York.

Boathouse with a slip 18′ by 125′ was built for the 100′ steam yacht. The boathouse also contains the original powerhouse with generator room, battery room, water and fire pumps and screw jacks to raise the yacht from the water for winter storage.

Mr. Frederick Gilbert Bourne

who became the 4th president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company at age 36, was a self-made millionaire wanted to surprise his wife Emma

and their children with an island ‘hunting’ retreat.  He purchased the 7 acre Dark Island and had designed and built the castle originally known as “The Towers” for a cost of $500,000.

He engaged Ernest Flagg, one of America’s leading architects, designed the Castle after inspiration from Sir Walter Scott’s 1832 novel about Woodstock Castle in Scotland.

Tons of granite quarried from nearby Oak Island were brought over ice and water in 1902-1904 to construct Singer Castle.  Italian stonecutters were engaged to shape the granite for the 4-story, 28-room castle, 4-story Tower, and an elaborate boathouse (one of three) which housed a workshop and powerhouse and one of Bourne’s steam-powered vessels, the tunnels, turrets and other curious architectural details including a 2-story ice house – essential for fine entertaining at the turn of the century, dungeons and underground passageways.  As a testament to their skill, none of the stones carved at the quarry needed to be reworked once they arrived on Dark Island.

Jutting up behind the southern boathouse stands the now 5-story Clock Tower with four 6′ diameter clock faces.  This functioning timepiece has Westminster Chimes that sound every 15 minutes.

Moreover, over 2,000 loads of topsoil were brought from Canada to cover the eight acres of rock.

“The Towers”, served as the perfect setting for entertaining Bourne’s contemporaries, personalities no less famous as Cornelius Vanderbilt and Vincent Astor.

If the outside was imposing, the interior was equally as impressive.   The interior furnishings include Italian hand-carved ornate tables and chairs, wrought-iron chandelier, brass lamps, oak cabinets, bronze work, lithographs, paintings.

Entrance Room with a Medieval Theme … Including several suits of armor

Formal Dining Room

Library with its walnut-paneled walls has a secret panel to the left of the fireplace connecting to passages inside the walls.  The room also contains many old and original books, including a second edition of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”

Loggia (A place to which the ladies can retire while the men are in the Smoking Room) Room

Men’s Smoking Room with items important to Mr. Bourne’s life and interests

Including hunting trophies

Sun Room

Simple Master Suite

Master Bathroom

Addition of a  new Suite built by the Bourne’s DaughterAnd … dozens of secret passageways threading throughout the castle

Grates for spying on guests are built into the walls in many rooms.

There are many artifacts which were reflective of the late 19th and early 20th century lifestyles and preferences of the Bournes.

Phones throughout but for internal use only

As well as some very unique appliances:

Early electric light sauna

Combination Light and Horizontal Fan

Lastly, as a testament to the source of his vast wealth, there are dozens of Singer sewing machines throughout … many added after the deaths of the Bournes.

The Castle remained in the possession of the original Bourne family from its construction in 1905 until the mid-1960’s.

For a mere $750 per night, one can rent the “Royal Suite” plus $60/per person for up to 6 additional guests.  This gives them the privilege of not only staying overnight but also indulging in a catered dinner followed by a private tour of the castle, including rooms and passageways not open to the general public and a continental breakfast the following morning.  Sounds like a great time if you’ve some extra cash burning a hole in your pocket and don’t believe in ghosts!

Leaving Dark Island, we headed south toward our next stop, Boldt Castle on Heart Island.

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.

Beginning in 1900, the Boldt family spent summers in the 1000 Islands at the nearby Boldt family’s Wellesley House while 300 workers including stonemasons, carpenters, and artists fashioned the 6-story, 120-room castle,

Reception AreaMain Hall from Second Floor

Staircase looking up from Main Hall

Domed Skylight over Main HallBilliard Room


Formal Dining Room

George Boldt’s Office


George Boldt’s Bedroom

Louise Bolt’s Bedroom

Clover (daughter) Boldt’s Bedroom

Clover’s Reception Room

complete with tunnels, a powerhouse, which was built to electrify the island.  It housed both gasoline and diesel fuel-fired steam generators.

An arched stone bridge connects the Powerhouse to the Island.

and the highest of its towers provided river traffic with illuminated clock faces and the music of chimes.

A Gazebo is currently a favorite wedding site.

Throughout, a heart motif can be found, right down to some of the door locks.

Italian gardens, including one specifically dedicated to Louise.

The Arch, modeled after Roman monuments, this water gate was to be the formal entry for launches.  It stones were cut and delivered for double rows of columns which would enclose a covered walkway extending from each side.

Alster tower (children’s playhouse), generally thought to be suggested by an old defense tower on the Alster River flowing through Hamburg, Germany.

and a Dove Cote, the first structure on the island built by the Boldts.  The stone tower was topped with a pigeon house where they collected fancy fowl.

Not a single detail or expense was spared.

Bourne was fond of fast automobiles and speed boats and like to travel at a very fast pace; he was once arrested for driving 25 mph in New York in his 1906 Mercedes!  He commissioned designs for a number of steam vessels, some of which can be seen at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton located just ½ mile across the water from the castle.

In January 1904, tragedy struck. Boldt telegraphed the island and commanded the workers to immediately “stop all construction.”  Louise had died suddenly.  A broken hearted Boldt could not imagine his dream castle without his beloved.   He never returned to the island, leaving behind the structure as a monument of his love.

For some 73 years the island and its spectacular structures remained vacant, left to the mercy of the wind, rain, snow, ice and vandals.

In 1977 the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired ownership of Heart Island and has plowed millions of dollars into the rehabilitation of the facility … an endeavor which continues to the present.

Returning to our campground, we were greeted by hundreds of bothersome Mayflies (only about 1/16” to 1/8” in length)

which, while they silently buzz around you and seem to find endless ways into your RV, they do not bite and generally live for only a day or so.  Thus, in the morning, we’ll find their corpses in the window tracks, table and shower stall.

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