Sail to Boldt Castle in New York's 1000 Islands region, and you'll hear a tragic story of lost love.
George Boldt, a German immigrant who worked his way up from dishwasher to proprietor of New York's fine and fancy Waldorf=Astoria hotel, first visited the 1000 Islands with his beloved wife Louise more than a century ago. It was there that he saw and became enchanted with the romantically named, five-acre Heart Island in the St. Lawrence River.
Boldt vowed to return to the lush, heart-shaped isle. After several trips he decided to commission an architectural firm to create a full-size castle as a tribute to their love. He envisioned it a replica of the majestic ones that dotted the Rhine River he had seen as a boy .
Big Plans for Boldt Castle and Beyond
Boldt instructed the engineers he hired to reshape the island so that it resembled a heart even more closely than it did naturally. As his enthusiasm for the project grew and time passed, the plans expanded beyond the castle to an entire colony consisting of eleven additional structures that would surround the castle like a lover's embrace.
Soon the finest materials began making their way from faraway destinations around the world to this out-of-the-way island: marble from Italy, fine silks and tapestries from France, rugs from the Orient. Guest rooms in the six-story, 129-room castle were to be warmed by fireplaces, and massive crystal chandeliers arrived to illuminate the hallways and ballroom. Some say the budget for Boldt Castle ballooned to three million dollars as more lavish touches — including a tower just children to play in, Italian gardens and a landscaped promenade — were added to the original design.
The Heart-Breaking Tragedy of Boldt Castle
Just as Boldt Castle was nearing completion, on January 12, 1904 its workmen were notified by telegram to "stop all construction" immediately: Louise Boldt had died suddenly.
No longer could this edifice be a tribute to a living love; it was now a shrine to a deceased one. Not another tapestry was hung nor another nail hammered. The heartbroken Boldt never returned to the island. His romantic castle built for love and the surrounding structures were abandoned and vandalized in subsequent years.
In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority took over responsibility for Boldt Castle and began to fund its restoration, reimagining it as a unique tourism attraction to enhance the area.
Visiting Boldt Castle
Although Boldt Castle never achieved its intended glory, the shell and grounds now are open to day visitors who pay an admission charge. The facilities are also available for outdoor wedding ceremonies. They are typically located at the Dove-Cote in the courtyard next to the Italian Gardens, allowing brides to make a grand entrance from the Castle itself. Receptions must be held elsewhere, and the Riveredge Resort across the bay is a popular venue.
Early May through mid-October, Boldt Castle can be reached by water taxi, private boat, or tour boat. Uncle Sam Boat Tours ply the 1000 Islands, make a stop at the Castle, and allow passengers to alight and explore the property.
Onsite visitors can take self-guided tours of:
- Boldt Castle
- Power House & Clock Tower
- Alster Tower
- The Arch
- Stone Gazebo
There are exhibits inside the structures and a 15-minute video illuminates the lives of George and Louise Boldt. There is a food and beverage concession on the island, and romantics will find scenic vistas to photograph and benches for picknicking.
Can You Stay in Boldt Castle Overnight?
Boldt Castle is only open to the public during the day; there are no facilities for overnight accommodations.
Fortunately, the nearby town of Alexandria Bay features a number of lodgings as well as restaurants serving guests to the Thousand Islands region. You won't find anything of Four Seasons/Ritz-Carlton quality in this part of New York state, but you will find affordable rates and multiple motels with retro decor to choose from.