Guest Author - Christopher Kenney
Today Boldt Castle is a wonderful “house” museum owned and operated by the Thousand Island Bridge Authority . But the project began as a gift of love from a devoted husband that was never finished when his wife’s life was tragically cut short.
George Boldt, owner of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, first came to the Thousand Islands region in 1895 looking for an island to purchase to build a castle to serve as his summer home. The area was already well established as a playground for the rich and famous by this time.
He purchased Hart Island from the family of Senator E.K. Hart for $10,000, an outrageous price for an island at that time, since most islands were selling for between $500 and $600.
After the purchase George changed the spelling of the island’s name from “H-a-r-t” to “H-e-a-r-t” and built a sea wall around the island to make it into the shape of a heart.
Boldt hired architectural firm Hewit and Hewit from Philadelphia to build his castle at a cost of $2.5 million. The castle stands 6 stories high, with over 120 rooms, 55 fireplaces, and 365 windows. There is an elevator in the center of the castle, and an in-ground swimming pool in the basement. If the castle had been finished it would have been able to house 25 families of 4. Each family would have their own bathroom and fireplace.
Extending off the castle there is a long low structure that housed the electric trolley system, designed to transport the luggage of guests from one end of the island to the other.
A guest would arrive at the south end of the island, coming through a miniature replica of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France. The bags would be taken to the North end of the island, loaded aboard the trolley system, taken to the elevator and would be waiting at the room when the guest arrived.
Another prominent structure on the island is a larger tower almost directly in the center. This tower, called the hennery, housed George Boldt’s large collection of exotic birds and waterfowl. He also kept chickens to provide him and his guests with fresh eggs every morning.
Unfortunately the castle was never lived in by the Boldt family or any other family. In January 1904, 18 months before it was to be completed, the workers on the island received a telegram from Mr. Boldt. The telegram simply stated, "stop all work, Louise has died."
Louise Boldt died at the age of 42 from tuberculosis. George was so saddened by her death that he never returned to the island and the castle was never finished. He did return to the Thousand Islands visiting many of the other properties that he owned.
Boldt Castle was purchased by Edward John Noble, famous for Lifesaver candies, and was opened to the public for a short time. However, Mr. Noble never spent any money on the maintenance of the castle and it soon fell into ruins.
In 1976 the Thousand Island Bridge Authority purchased Boldt Castle from the Noble foundation for $1, under three conditions:
1. Boldt Castle would never be turned into a resort.
2. Boldt Castle would be open for all the public to see.
3. All of the money collected from admission fees must go back into the maintenance and restoration of the castle.
The Thousand Island Bridge Authority continues to restore the castle today. It is a popular tourist attraction and has been the site of many enchanted island weddings over the years.
Boldt Castle is located on Heart Island in Alexandria Bay, NY. Access is by boat only. There are regular shuttle stops on Uncle Sam Tour boats and Canadian boat lines, as well as docks for private boats.
Guest Author Christopher Kenney is the Director of Education at the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum. He grew up in the Thousand Islands region and wrote about Boldt Castle for his thesis at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, where he earned his master's degree in History Museum Studies.