One of the 1,864 islands of the so-called “Thousands Islands Region” on the Canada-US border is home to one of the most fascinating structures in North America.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about Boldt Castle, the epitome of Romantic buildings in the United States that has some remarkable stories to tell.
1. It’s located on a small island in the Saint Lawrence River
Boldt Castle is an incredible landmark building that is located on Heart Island, one of the islands in the Saint Lawrence River that make up the Thousand Islands Archipelago.
The Saint Lawrence River has been one of the most important rivers historically in North America because it connects Lake Ontario to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. This means that it connects the 5 Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean.
Heart Island is a small island that is part of the Town of Alexandria in Jefferson County of the U.S. State of New York. This is right near the border with Canada on which this section of the river is located.
The castle is the main structure on this small island which increases the magical feeling about it.
2. It was commissioned in the early 20th century by a hotel owner
Boldt Castle was commissioned by a Prussian-born businessman named George Charles Boldt Sr. (1851-1916). He moved from Prussia to the United States and became a self-made millionaire.
This man worked himself up as a kitchen employee in New York City to become the general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and the manager of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, acquiring a lot of wealth in the process.
This is quite a remarkable story and his wealth allowed him to spend quite a bit of money on luxury projects such as this castle. He commissioned it in 1900 and work on the structure continued until 1904.
3. The castle was never finished and was abandoned for over 7 decades
The building has a pretty sad backstory because Boldt originally commissioned it as a private mansion and a present to his wife Louise Kehrer Boldt. She was the daughter of his former employer, the owner of the Philadelphia Gentlemen’s Club.
The rich hotel owner had great plans for the place because he intended to make it the largest private residence in the United States. After all, he wanted to impress his lovely wife.
She, unfortunately, passed away in the year 1904 and this tragic event instantly halted the construction of the building, leaving it unfinished for over 7 decades. Boldt never returned to Heart Island out of grief until he passed away himself in 1916.
4. The main structure was designed in a French architectural style
It’s clear that George Boldt was a fan of the French Châteaux that can be found in the Loire Valley in central France. Here you can find some of the most amazing castles in Europe that often resemble opulent palaces.
He ordered the architects to design the castle in the “Châteauesque” architectural style, also referred to as the Château Style. This is a French Renaissance Revival style that was influenced by the French Châteaux that were built from the 15th to the 17th centuries.
The castles in France were themselves influenced by the Renaissance buildings from Italy and from Gothic buildings all across Europe. One of the most notable examples is the Château de Chambord which combines medieval and Renaissance features.
5. It has been restored since the 1970s and is a tourist attraction today
For 73 years, Boldt Castle was abandoned and had to face the conditions of the cold winter in the regions in an unfinished state. There were often visitors, but these weren’t up to anything good.
This all changed when the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority purchased Heart Island for a symbolic dollar. In return, they had to renovate the castle so it could be used as a tourist attraction.
Approximately $15 million was spent in the next 2 decades which not only restored the finished parts of the castle but also added additional elements to it. The main parts that were taken care of were the:
- Stained glass dome
- Marble floor
- Grand staircase woodwork
- Butler’s pantry
- Maid’s and servant’s dining rooms
The work continues with revenue generated from tourists and by 2020, about $50 million had been spent for both renovations and additions to the castle.
This has turned Boldt Castle into one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state of New York.
More interesting facts about Boldt Castle
6. The main structure of the castle features 6 floors and both the first and second floors have been completely renovated as of today. This means that these floors look exactly as they did when work was halted in 1904.
7. The second floor of the building features a movie theater that provides visitors with a 16-minute video explaining the story of the castle and its owner. The upper floors are unfinished but feature artifacts of the time that construction started.
8. The architectural firm that was hired to build the castle was G. W. & W. D. Hewitt, a prominent company in the world of architecture on the East Coast of the United States at the turn of the century.
This was also the firm that designed and constructed the new Bellevue-Stratford Hotel. This was the hotel that George Boldt initially started as “The Bellevue” in 1881 in Philadelphia and that made him rich in the late 19th century.
9. The -story structure in the central part of the island isn’t the only masonry structure. There are 4 notable architectural highlights on Heart Island, including the Alster Tower that resembles an English Castle, and the Power House which was built to hold a generator that supplies the island with electricity.
The Power House is one of the structures that was restored after it was badly damaged by a fire in the 1930s. Inside you can find exhibits related to how electricity was generated and distributed in the early 20th century.
10. The original name of Heart Island was “Heart Island” and the Boldt family already owned a much smaller residence here. The small cottage was one of their favorite summer escapes and was continuously expanded until it made way for Boldt Castle
11. Alster Tower looks like a medieval defense tower but it’s really a modern-day facility equipped with both a stage for performances and a bowling alley. This makes it a pretty fascinating attraction on Heart Island.
12. Although George Boldt didn’t spend any more time at Heart Island after his wife passed away in 1904, he did still spend several summers in the Thousands Islands Region.
One of the main reasons is that he owned another luxurious place on the nearby Wellesley Island (which is also part of the Town of Alexandria) called the Yacht House.
This historic building was completed in 1903 by the same architectural firm and is now referred to as the “George C. Boldt Yacht House.” It’s another popular tourist attraction in the region and is