Boldt Castle – New York’s Tragic Love Story

Today, Valentine’s Day, as you enjoy your candy hearts, chocolate boxes, and bouquets of flowers, think about a love so great that no ordinary Valentine’s gift would do.  Turn of the century hotelier George Boldt needed to build a monument to express the deep love he had for his wife Louise.  He purchased Hart Island in New York’s 1000 Islands Region, re-named it “Heart Island,” altered the shoreline to resemble a heart, and started construction of a 100+ room castle estate to present to his wife on Valentine’s Day (also Louise’s birthday).  Alas, it was not meant to be… Louise never received the gift, George abandoned the project, and the couple never returned to Heart Island.  Continue reading to learn more about Boldt Castle and New York’s tragic love story.

Boldt Castle - Thousand Islands, New York

Boldt Castle is one of the jewels of the 1000 Islands Region of New York State.  Like many of the mansions of “Millionaires Row,” the castle sits alone on its private island in the St. Lawrence Seaway overlooking Alexandria Bay, NY.  The estate is only accessible by boat, and there are a number of tour companies (in both New York and Canada) that provide transportation to Heart Island.  Once on the island, families can stroll the grounds, tour the castle, and all the various buildings.  There is an admission fee to tour the site ($8 ages 13+ and $5.50 for ages 6-12).  In addition, there is a second island where the Yacht House is located, and for an additional fee you can also tour this structure ($5 ages 13+ and $3 for ages 6-12).  [Note families can save a little money by purchasing the Boldt Castle and Yacht House admission tickets together ($10 ages 13+ and $6 for ages 6-12).]

Boldt Castle - Thousand Islands, New York

Boldt Castle, photo by George Fischer courtesy of “I LOVE NY” Official New York State Tourism Bureau

 

Once on the grounds, you cannot escape George and Louise Boldt’s love story.  Again, the island (viewed from above) is shaped to resemble a heart, and the heart-motif continues throughout the landscaping, woodwork, inlaid marble, stained glass, masonry, and even the many prominent statues of deer or stags are known by their alternative Old World spelling, Harts.

Boldt Castle, Thousand Islands, New YorkBoldt Castle, Thousand Islands, New YorkBoldt Castle, Thousand Islands, New YorkBoldt Castle, Thousand Islands, New York

Work on Boldt Castle began in 1900 when George hired 300 construction workers to build the 120 room mansion.  No expense was spared, and nothing was too lavish for the love of his life, Louise.

Boldt Castle, Thousand Islands, New York

The Boldts enjoyed Heart Island while construction took place.  The first building completed was “Alster Tower.”  Intended as a playhouse for the children as well as a guest house, George and Louise stayed in the tower with their two children (George Jr. and Clover) as work progressed on the main building between 1900 – 1904.

Alster Tower on grounds of Boldt Castle, Thousand Islands, New York

As construction continued, Louise Boldt’s health deteriorated.  She grew weaker and weaker, until, suddenly, in January 1904 she died (only 41 years old).  Louise’s heart had given out, and left George in a state of deep despair.  He telegraphed the construction site from New York City (where he worked as proprietor of the esteemed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel), ordered the workers to “stop all construction” and immediately depart the island.  The children never ran down the hills or played in the tower, and George never stepped on the island, again.  There Boldt Castle sat, frozen in time, itself a victim of a failed heart, abandoned from January 1904 until 1977.

Power House, Boldt Castle, Thousand Islands, New York

The Boldt Castle you see today has been restored from 1977 until now by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority.  The original plan was not to complete the structure, but only repair the years of neglect and restore it to its state in 1904.  The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority has spent tens of millions of dollars rehabilitating Boldt Castle and Yacht House using (as much as possible) the original plans of George Boldt.  The entire first floor has been restored to a state of opulence (note Louise Boldt’s portrait over the mantle at the base of the stairwell).

Boldt Castle, Thousand Islands, New York

The second floor bedrooms have been furnished in the manner they would have IF Louise and George Boldt could have lived and loved there themselves.

Boldt Castle, Thousand Islands, New York

The immaculate grounds continue to be maintained so that others may enjoy, and perhaps even profess their own love for each other.

Boldt Castle, Thousand Islands, New York

Boldt Castle is open for visitors in the summer and fall months from May – October.  For more photos of our family’s visit to Boldt Castle on Heart Island, click here or on any of the images in the gallery below.

So on this Valentine’s Day, you may not be able to express your love in quite the same manner as George Boldt attempted, but remember in this tragic tale that love is fleeting and try not to take for granted those who are closest to you.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.