Monday, June 23, 2008

The Love Story of Boldt Castle in the 1000 Islands

Exploring the 1000 Islands ranked high on my Travel Bucket List. I had missed exploring this area of New York and Canada in the fall of 2007 opting instead to head to the eastern most reaches of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The GaspĂ© Peninsula captivated Ed’s and my own spirit of exploration with its looming mountains and coastal towns. Now, we’d explore the St. Lawrence River’s western end where I planned to take in the historic Fort Henry, visit a section of the Rideau Canal Waterway and Locks, bicycle along scenic bike pathways, and even get an aerial view from a hot air balloon. I also knew that to truly experience this region, we needed to get out on the water. I added a boat tour to our itinerary.

Rockport Boat Line was located close to our campsite at the 1000 Islands/ Ivy Lea KOA, so we booked “The Bolt Castle Cruise”. This boat tour would take us past many island mansions and give us a stop-over to visit Heart Island, home of “the grandest of all Gilded Age Mansions, the Boldt Castle.” We needed our passports in hand for this trip because we’d pass from Canada into US territory when we landed on Heart Island. Ed’s son Andrew and daughter-in-law Cindy joined us. Tough they live nearby in Canton, New York, they had yet to explore this attraction that brings tourists to this area.

As we passed the vacation homes on the islands, Cindy and I dreamed aloud about owning an island mansion. Realistically for us, the more modest, smaller homesteads also apparent on the islands might fit our budgets.

During our St. Lawrence Seaway cruise, the captain called our attention to the smallest international bridge in the world. It was an arched stonework footbridge between two islands. One island sat on the US side, the other across the International Boundary in Canada. Amazing as this may be, the Boldt Castle was definitely the highlight of the tour.

George C. Boldt came to America in the 1860’s from Prussia. He became the “most successful hotel magnate in America.” He owned the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City and the Bellevue-Stratford in Philadelphia. Boldt invested over $2.5 million to build a replica of a 16th century Rhineland Castle for his wife Louise. He planned to present the Castle to his wife on Valentine’s Day. In January of 1904, Louise Boldt died. The heartbroken Boldt ordered all work on the Castle be stopped. Sadly, boxes of Italian tile in their original shipping containers sit under decades of dust in a storage room of the Castle’s Underground Passage.

For 73 years, the Castle sat empty. Weather and vandals took their toll on the structure. This disturbing evidence remains visible in rooms open to the public but yet to be restored. Work on the Castle is carried on by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority which acquired the property in 1977.

The Authority has done well to begin this rehabilitation. A stained glass ceiling illuminates the Grand Stairway in the main hallway of the Castle. From this hallway, many rooms branch off – dining room, library, reception room, billiard room. This first level of the Castle is luxuriously furnished, a museum of sort dedicated to the lives of George and Louise Boldt.

The Boldt’s own love story had a tragic ending, but love still flows here. Many couples come to celebrate their weddings on the Castle grounds. And, I expect that donors who love the Boldt Castle will eventually fund the work needed for it to become the stunning structure George Boldt intended for Louise.

Boldt Castle is a place where I would have liked more time to explore. I felt rushed to see as much as I could of the Castle, the Italian Garden, the Swimming Pool, the Veranda, and the Underground Passage during our boat tour stop-over. A late arrival at the dock meant missing the last boat ride off Heart Island. I didn’t dally.

On schedule, the boat carried us back to Rockport where I sat waterside with Ed and our family. While I sampled appetizers and drank cold, thirst quenching beers at the Ship’s Galley Restaurant & Patio Bar, I thought about romance.

Is romance dead? No, it is just changing. For women like me, an expression of love is a Seiko watch tucked in a pocket that I’m asked to pick. It’s a heart shaped necklace from Ed not truly from the Mt. View Inn bartender. It’s the opal ring designed special by the Australian jeweler. It’s the card cut in 10 puzzle pieces arriving one piece a day by mail. It’s a text message and a speed dial number on a cell phone. It’s a coach named “Patty’s Charm” and another one named “Dolly’s Pride.” It’s a 10,000 Mile Grand Tour of the US and Canada.

June 21, 2008

Rockport Boat Line

23 Front Street

Rockport, Ontario



Boldt Castle

1000 Islands/Ivy Lea KOA

Lansdown, Ontario


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