Some say sorrow only exists because there was joy before it. Boldt Castle is a testament to love and grief.
The New York Thousand Islands area has 1864 islands. They are along the St. Lawrence River and border with Canada. Train car builder George M. Pullman invited President Grant and General Sherman to the area in 1872 as a promotion to establish the area as a get-away retreat for New York wealthy. One of those attracted to the islands in the early 1890s was George C. Boldt.
Boldt, an immigrant who first got a small job in a hotel, eventually owned the Bellevue-Stratford hotel in Philadelphia and was partners with Astor in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.
A couple signs in the area have conflicts in dates, but it appears Boldt and his wife purchased Hart Island in 1894 for a summer home for themselves and their daughter Clover. But before long, Boldt set about to create a romantic tribute to his love for his wife. He renamed the island Heart Island and even reshaped it as a heart.
A sign by the “Dove-Cote” and Garden says it was built in 1894. It was certainly one of the first first projects on Heart Island. Between 1894 and 1896, he also built the Power House to generate electriciy and the Alster Tower, said to resemble a German Rhine River fortification, as a guest house and recreation area. In 1899, Boldt started a Peristyle or open colonnade and the Swan Pond helping to reconfigure the shape of the island.
Boldt also bought land across the way on Wellesley Island. In 1898 he began construction of a 150 foot by 115 foot “Yacht House” on Wellesley that was 64 feet high inside and had doors so heavy it required an engine to move them. He also began a series of canals on the island, a golf course, and a “showcase” farm to supply his hotels with chickens, eggs, ham, lamb and fresh produce.
Originally the Boldts started to remodel the frame house of the previous owner, E. K. Hart. But Boldt decided to tear it down and began construction of a “castle” for his wife in 1900 incorporating both hearts and harts ( a type of deer) in the construction. He told his architects cost should be a “minor consideration,” and the completed complex was to have 127 rooms. It is estimated 300 stonemasons, artists, artisans and carpenters were employed.
But Louise Boldt died suddenly at the age of 41 in January 1904. Heartbroken, Boldt wired his contractors to cease work. The property sat empty and deteriorating for 73 years until 1977 when the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property and gradually began to restore it.
Restoration work continues to this day, but what already has been completed demonstrates what “might have been.”
Click on photos to enlarge.