The Unfinished Love Story of the Thousand Islands
In the early 1900s multi-millionaire George Boldt built a modern-day castle reportedly as a Valentine's Day present for his wife – a present that was never completed and is now a tourist attraction that an organization is rehabilitating to this day
And then, without warning, it was over.
For the previous four years, an estimated 300 workers had been commissioned by George Boldt, manager of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, to build an approximately 60,000 square foot, 120-room, six-story-high modern day Rhineland castle on Alexandria Bay's five and a half acre Heart Island. A crew comprised of stonecutters, carpenters, plumbers, and electricians had ensured that the plaster work was intact, plate glass was sealed in the 365 windows, and that plumbing had been installed. Approximately thirty thousand square feet of clay tiles had been laid for the roof, and a hole measuring 14 inches in diameter and 55 feet deep had been dug to accommodate the water-powered elevator shaft.
Marble, it was rumored, had been shipped from Italy, and the granite for the building's exterior was cut and shaped on Oak Island, located 15 miles from the worksite, and then transported to the castle on a railroad built specifically for that purpose by the multi-millionaire tycoon.
The island had, at Boldt's decree, been reshaped using sea walls to resemble the shape of a valentine heart, with the same symbol etched into the castle's plaster, stone, and wrought-iron work - a fitting motif for a Valentine's Day present for his wife, Louise, whose birthday fell on the holiday. Boldt's intended gift was estimated to cost $2.5 million in the early 20th century – and a staggering $200 million today.
Then in January 1904, Louise Boldt, at the age of 41, died. George Boldt immediately called a halt to all construction.
“His wife had been frail,” Shane Sanford, current Boldt Castle Operations Manager, said “And she had had a heart condition.”
“It was reported as a tragic love story,” Boldt Facilities Foreman Brian Salisbury said. “She died, and (George Boldt) never returned to the island.”
The marriage ceremony of Boldt and Louise took place in 1877, when Louise Kehrer of Philadelphia was 15 years old and Boldt, who had immigrated from Prussia as a teenager, was 26. Together they produced two children and had a relationship which was fruitful in more ways than one.
“(Boldt) started working in the hotel business, and William Kehrer (Louise's father) owned the Philadelphia Club (in Pennsylvania),” said Salisbury . “(Boldt) had good ideas…He married Louise, Kehrer's daughter, and he then moved up and up and up. He bought property and owned the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Pennsylvania, and he also managed the Waldorf-Astoria (in New York City) and several other hotels.”
In 1895, Boldt purchased Hart Island, which he then renamed to spell “Heart.” However, as Sanford pointed out, the property was, in fact, in Louise's name. Although the island already contained a wooden cottage which the Boldts had expanded to include eighty rooms, after spending five summers in the vacation home George reportedly decided to produce a new, castle-like, stone structure as a gift to Louise. It was a gift which, because of Louise's death, never came to fruition.
“It was reported as a tragic love story. She died, and (George Boldt) never returned to the island.”
And there it stood. Its woodwork exposed to the elements and vandals for approximately 73 years. “Every window,” Salisbury said, “was broken.” In an effort to prevent further deterioration and avoid closing the castle to the public indefinitely, the E.J. Nobel Foundation gifted Boldt Castle and its additional properties to the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority in 1977.
It was at that time that a long-term rehabilitation program was undertaken to save and preserve Boldt Castle for “future generations,” as Sanford said. Roughly thirty thousand red clay tiles were replaced, over three hundred new windows were purchased, and miles of masonry work were installed on all of Heart Island's historical structures. The Dove Cote, the Alster Tower, the Heart Island Gazebo, the Heart Island Entry Arch, the Lagoon, the Power House, and the “massive” Boldt Yacht House – structures that were also commissioned by Boldt and were in what Sanford deemed an “extreme state of disrepair and decay” - were completely rehabilitated, with the first floor dining room the next interior renovation on the 2007 agenda.
"Beyond the fourth floor is the magnificent Stain Glass Dome, measuring twenty-one by seventeen feet, with over six thousand individual pieces of glass.”
“The authority has spent several years with roof repair to all the historic Boldt structures, including the Boldt Yacht House which actually has more square feet of roofing than Boldt castle, with 35,000 square feet,” said Sanford . “The Heart Island Entry Arch is now adorned with three bronze stags, which was part of its original design, (but) was never completed until 2001. In the early 1900s over a mile of stone pavers were added to the walkway surrounding Heart Island. Completed on the first floor of Boldt Castle is the Reception Room, Billiards Room, Library, Grand Hallway, Grand Staircase, Ballroom and elevator. Beyond the fourth floor is the magnificent Stain Glass Dome, measuring twenty-one by seventeen feet, with over six thousand individual pieces of glass.”
Indeed, through the efforts of the Thousand Island Bridge Authority, approximately $14 million has been spent on the rehabilitation and restoration of Boldt Castle and the additional structures – and the castle, which is the fourteenth most visited house in the United States, attracts an estimated quarter million visitors annually.
“We have repeat visitors because every year we have rehabilitated something else,” Sanford said. “With stabilization complete attention has been turned to completing interior spaces of Boldt Castle and other historic buildings on Heart Island …We will be there for years and years to come.”
And they will be continuing work on the castle which Boldt, despite owning in excess of 3,000 acres in the region and who reportedly was a frequent presence in the Thousand Islands area until his death in 1916, never visited after that fateful January day.
“George Boldt liked to build – he wanted to build the biggest and grandest home on the Thousand Islands,” Sanford said. “And he almost completed it.”What's your favorite love story?
The birth of Thousand Island Dressing
Thousand Island Dressing typically consists of chili sauce, mayonnaise, and chopped vegetables such as green olives, onions, pickles and/or bell-peppers; hard-boiled eggs are also a frequent ingredient. Notable fishing guide George LaLonde, Jr., served the dressing with the traditional shore dinners that followed his guided fishing expeditions on the Thousand Islands waters. After vaudeville actress May Irwin, who also reportedly cooked and produced cookbooks, sampled the dressing, she then requested the recipe from LaLonde. Few actually knew that it was LaLonde's wife, Sofia, that actually created the recipe. Irwin, who gave it the name “ Thousand Island,” is believed to have introduced George Boldt to the dressing; he then had it added to the Waldorf-Astoria's menu.
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