Boldt Castle

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We awakened Thursday morning to a sky that was dark and overcast. An hour later when we left the hotel in Watertown, New York for Alexander Bay, I thought we’d lost reason of our senses. It was already sprinkling rain. After all, under the best of circumstances a boat tour with rain falling on your head is only for the young and foolish. People our age should know better. Since we opted to go, perhaps we fall in the later category?

As it turned out, the tour boat’s first deck was enclosed. The top deck was open to the elements. Why not? We’d come this far and spent the night in anticipation of the tour. Why not follow through with our plan? Actually, as we got closer to Alexander Bay, NY, we almost backed out. By then the rain was coming down heavily. We reasoned that if we couldn’t see clearly through the windshield of the car without the wipers going, we probably wouldn’t have a clear view through the windows of the boat even it was covered.

We came within a fraction of altering our plan and driving on to Clayton for the Antique Boat Museum without stopping in Alexander Bay. After all, that is the primary reason we were in this part of New York. The Antique Boat Museum was recommended to us by a neighbor who works for Eastman Kodak. He travels to Rochester, NY frequently. Rochester is his company’s headquarters. Had it not been for the suggestion of the Canadian border agent the day before, we wouldn’t have known about Boldt Castle or subsequently about the 2 ½ hour tour through the islands.

Throwing caution to the wind and the rain, we purchased our tickets and got on the boat. I was immediately fascinated by the story shared with the tour group by the boat’s guide. As long as I can remember, I’ve understood the importance of location, location, location when it comes to real estate.

After all, I grew up on the South side of Odessa. I was familiar with the attitude that if you didn’t grow up on the right side of the tracks, you couldn’t or wouldn’t amount to much. Perhaps they were right. Six decades later, my financial portfolio would preclude an opportunity to live in a place like the Thousand Island region of NY.

Yet, George Boldt, who emigrated at the age of 13 from Prussia and worked in hotel kitchens somehow managed to rise from the bottom of the food chain to being one of the most famous hotel owners of all times. He obviously was one of the most lucrative as well.

According to the tour guide, at the turn of the 19th Century, the “well-to-do” in both the United States and Canada built summer homes in the Thousand Island region. I guess if you value privacy and want the place to yourself, way not make you home on your own private island? I was fascinated with the size of the homes built in that area. It was a water-encompassing-venue of thirty-to-fifty room homes.

Actually, I’ve never known anyone who lived in a thirty-room home, much less a fifty-room home. The Boldt Castle architecturally featured 120 rooms and was constructed by the most skilled carpenters and stonemasons of the time. The castle was built without regard to cost. After all, the grandiose structure was to be a display of George Boldt’s love for his wife, Louise. Sadly, in 1904, tragedy struck. Louise Boltd died suddenly at the age of 42. Broken hearted, Boldt telegraphed the island and commanded the workers to immediately stop all construction. Reportedly, he never went back to the structure that was almost completed at the time of Louise’s death.

For the next 73 years, the castle and structures on the complex were left to the mercy of the elements. In addition, vandals defaced the property. The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property in 1977. Since that time, several million dollars have been spent in rehabilitating, restoring and improving the structure. The first two floors of the home has been restored, furnished and reflect the architectural intent.

I’ve toured the Biltmore in North Carolina and was amazed by the architectural wonder of it all. Both the General and I were in agreement, we opt for the Boldt Castle to call home if given a choice between the two. Of course, that is without regard to the winter months that would leave the region uninhabitable.

Even through the rain, the boat tour was incredible. Reportedly, we passed a small island that is the headquarters for the Skull and Bones Society. According to my Google search, The society owns and manages Deer Island, an island retreat on the St. Lawrence River. Alexandra Robbins, author of a book on Yale secret societies, wrote:

The forty-acre retreat is intended to give Bonesmen an opportunity to “get together and rekindle old friendships.” A century ago the island sported tennis courts and its softball fields were surrounded by rhubarb plants and gooseberry bushes. Catboats waited on the lake. Stewards catered elegant meals. But although each new Skull and Bones member still visits Deer Island, the place leaves something to be desired. ‘Now it is just a bunch of burned-out stone buildings,’ a patriarch sighs. ‘It’s basically ruins.’ Another Bonesman says that to call the island ‘rustic’ would be to glorify it. ‘It’s a dump, but it’s beautiful.’

— Alexandra Robbins”

It clearly is true, George Boldt lived one of America’s rags to riches stories. “With ambition and a gift for diplomacy, George Boldt became the millionaire proprietor of New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria and owner of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia. He is also credited with the creation of Thousand Island Salad Dressing used for the Waldorf salad featured on the menu of the Waldorf-Astoria. A chef in his employment actually came up with the recipe.

The island tour and the opportunity to visit Boldt Castle were a highlight of our trip. In addition, I was able to locate a two-lane road from Syracuse, NY to Rochester. The scenery was enjoyable. I also didn’t fall asleep at the wheel. It was a good day!

All My Best!

Don

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