Situated between the Canadian and United States border, lies the chain of over 1,800 islands known as The Thousand Islands. The Boldt Castle, secluded on its own private island- Heart Island- is a tucked away gem with a story that has no fairytale ending…
When you hear of a story paired with love and tragedy, what do you think of? Romeo and Juliet? Tristan and Isolde? Maybe even the story about Jack and Rose on the sinking Titanic. All being tragic and coupled with love, these stories may evoke emotions in us all, even making us feel a little empty after watching their unfortunate fate, but for some reason, so many of us like to hear these stories. You may have heard this before too, but people always admit they love the story of Noah and Allie in The Notebook. Why, when we know what the result is at the end? Well, Woody Allen said it best; “The heart wants what it wants.” For many, that is finding true love. And though still captivating stories with love and tragic events, these stories are only fiction.
A lesser-known love story that rings true at the turn of the 20th century is that of George and Louise Boldt.
A true story of love and tragedy
Penniless and flying by the seat of his pants, George Boldt, only 13 years old was leaving all he knew behind and heading off to America to start a new life. Born in a small town in Germany in 1851, George would find that New York City is like no place he has ever been before. He made it there in 1864, just a year shy of the Civil War ending.
He started off working in kitchens in hotels around New York City and at the age of 25, he landed a job at The Philadelphia Club. Little did he know, it was there that he would meet the love of his life.
When George first saw Louise crossing his path, they locked eyes, smiled, and it was love at first sight. With George making his way up in the world as an immigrant, William, Louise’s father gave him approval. Within a mere year later, they were married. Then only two short years they had their first child Charles in 1879, and their second, Clover in 1883.
As the years went by the Boldt’s spent time making their fortune managing the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, being the biggest hotel in the world at that time. Louise and George would work side-by-side making sure every guest enjoyed their stay. George took charge in managing the business side of things and Louise would decorate the rooms — dressing them up with flowers, candles, and even pincushions. They made their guests feel like royalty teaching employees, “the customers are always right.” George knew how to make people keep coming back time and time again, and Louise was his counterpart, working along his side. You could say they were a perfect match made in the sky.
For some downtime, the Boldt’s would head out with their kids up towards The Thousand Islands to enjoy some family time away from all the hustle and bustle of the city. They loved the area; surrounded in meandering waterways, chains of islands, and towering trees reflecting off the Saint Lawrence River. In 1895, Louise purchased an island.
A gift like no other
George then conjured up a plan as a Valentine’s Day present for Louise (Also Louise’s birthday). No chocolates, wine, or a typical bouquet of flowers were involved, but an entire castle on Hart Island to profess his love to Louise.
In 1899, Boldt put his idea in motion hiring over 300 construction workers and artisans to construct and design the massive stone castle. It would be set to be completed in five years to be presented to his dear Louise in 1904. On the island- Hart Island- George had the idea to include hearts in the statues, the architecture of the castle, flower beds, and on the stained glass in the foyer. To fit this heart theme, George even went as far to have the island re-shaped with sea walls to look like a heart. So, George changed the name fittingly too, Heart Island.
But, just one month shy of the grand Valentine’s Day gift to be given, tragedy struck…
Louise died suddenly leaving George heartbroken and devastated. Construction was called off that cold winter day on the island. George’s vision within hands reach would remain a distant dream as he turned his back, walking away from Heart Island, never to return again…
Boldt Castle Today
Eventually, George sold the castle off to Edward Noble in 1920. He wanted nothing to do with it. The thought of going back would only bring up painful memories. Eventually, after being left for vandalism (George’s own granddaughter admitting to being a culprit) and destruction, in 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property and worked to resurrect the castle to the completed state George had envisioned.
Rising six stories from the ground and built with 120 rooms, this piece of the past is well worth the visit, even if you are not a history buff. Tour the Italian gardens painted with vibrant colors and statues lining the lawn, explore the eerie tunnels underneath the castle that lead to the pool room, take a look at the Alster Tower, check out the old boat house, walk over to the medieval style Power House and Clock Tower; and of course, head in the castle to learn more about the Boldt’s family history.
Mr. Boldt wanted the castle to be designed as if a castle in Germany- likely wanting to remind him of home. In 1897, the Boldt’s began building the Alster Tower (or playhouse as they called it) inspired by the towers found on the Alster River in Germany. The purpose of this building was to serve as an entertainment retreat. One room inside, the Shell Room, was used as a dancing room and got its name from the shell-like designed ceiling. The basement had a bowling alley and the floors above were to have a kitchen, a café, a billiard room, bedrooms for guests to stay, and a library. Though you cannot get inside due to restoration going on, you can still walk around the structure and enjoy the picturesque look of the Alster Tower. Many other structures and rooms are still undergoing facelifts, with millions pouring in to furnish the castle.
Visiting Boldt Castle
To get to the castle, catch a ferry at Alexandria Bay, Clayton, or take a tour from Canada. Boldt Castle is only open from the months May to November. Prices are $9.50 for adults and $6.50 for children (0-4 go in free). $3.00 extra will get you a tour of the yacht house (taking a separate ferry from Boldt Castle). If you are looking for group rates you can call here: 1-315-482-2501, and if you want to have a fairytale-like wedding, the castle and gardens are the perfect backdrops.
If you were wondering, do I need a passport? No, you’re good to go.
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- Love and tragedy in a fragment of New York history – Boldt Castle - February 15, 2018