Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Boldt Castle - A Thousand Reasons to Visit

Image result for boldt castle
We have come to the end of the summer holidays. Not Summer!! Let me reiterate that. Summer is over when you can no longer go out in a pair of chappals, chanclas or whateveryour colloquial is for a pair of sandals.

End of Summer Holidays  ✔️
Small Espcape  ✔️

With our plans for a two day excursion to see Cleveland and the Cuyahoga Valley scuppered two weeks ago on account of a bum bum, (don't skip your stretches folks) we were hankering for a quick day trip to soothe our travel hungry souls. The elder child now works and we are subject to her work schedule. Funny how nature do that.

We did a little bit of research on places with 1) Architectural Interest and 2) a bit of shopping to appease the ladies. We settled on the Boldt Castle nestled in the Thousand Islands.

While this trip should have called for an overnight stay at a minimum, the elder one's work schedule demanded that we return the very same day. We are a determined lot and intended to make the most of it.

We travel with dog. We've tried the dog sitter thing once, and while it did sort of work out, we have since opted to travel with him and keep him in a kennel close to where we are so that we can collect him soon after we are done with our visits/ shopping and have him with us. We are his pack. We have peace of mind. It works.

Boldt Castle is on Heart Island. Straight across from Alexandria Bay, NY or Rockport ON. You can get to Boldt Castle from either side via a quick cruise, but bear in mind that you will need your passport and for those countries that need it, a valid US visa. An Immigration office is on the island itself and you could visit it on your personal craft if you are one of the well heeled set. We are not. Our car don't float. Cruise it is.

We live in Brampton Ontario and took the 401 to the Thousand Island Bridge crossing. We targeted to leave at 6 and were on the road at 6.30. After an uneventful and pleasant drive, we saw warning signs that the 401 was closed due to a fatal collision. We quickly got off at Napanee, took a diversion via Odessa and rejoined a very empty 401 to the Thousand Islands Bridge. Our first time through this crossing and we were delighted with it’s small size and quaint look. The border crossing itself is on an island. The elder one took a fancy to the young Immigration Officer. The Immigration Officer took a fancy to the dog. Welcome to The United States, have a nice day folks.

The Thousand Islands Bridge Highway AKA the I 81 enters mainland USA at Collins Landing and travels onwards to Watertown. Left on Highway 12 takes you Alexandria Bay, NY and the Boldt Castle. Right takes you to Clayton, NY and Webfoot Outdoors, the kennel that would play host to Coach for the duration of our visit to Boldt Castle.

Webfoot Outdoors is a kennel that trains purebred, pedigreed and award winning hunting dogs. Coach, our 9 year old Pug/Jack Russel Mix, is... well... mixed, from a farm in Stratford, ON whose parents might have been cousins. Mark from Webfoot Outdoors was a most gracious host. We handed over Coach who seems to have caught on to the whole ‘they’re leaving me with strangers again’ thing and was reluctant to go easily.

We had to go though. The detour on the 401 had cost us an hour, and we had to hasten to Alexandria Bay to get the shuttle to Boldt Castle. ‘Uncle Sam Boat Tours’ is the local tour operator that runs the various tours of the Thousand Islands and well as the shuttle to Heart Island. We were directed to the parking lot at the rear. Now. This is where getting up at 5 to be on the road at 6 starts making sense. Local parking, smaller crowds and emptier shuttles. More on this later. Tickets for the Shuttle to the island are $10.00 and leave every half an hour starting at 10 AM. The shuttle is around 10 minutes and offers great views of the castle and grounds as you approach Heart Island. We were trigger happy and got a few good shots.
Tickets to the Boldt Castle are 12.50 per adult which included entry to the Yacht House as well. Once in, the sheer magnitude of the grounds and the building are overwhelming. The Castle itself was mostly shrouded from view as we approached by boat and seeing a castle in North America that was historically devoid of any sort of Monarchy is nothing short of breathtaking.
But Boldt Castle was never completed nor inhabited by the people that set out to create for themselves a Masterpiece on an Island in the St. Lawrence River. The story is interesting and there is a lot of information out there. Let me try to summarize. George Boldt. Born in Prussia. Very poor. Very smart. Emigrated to the United States. Worked in a Kitchen. Managed a restaurant for his to be Father In Law. Managed very successfully The Waldorf, The Astoria and the Bellevue. Very rich. Buys an Island. Decides to build Castle for wife. Wife dies. Work stops. Island deserted and falls into ruins. Island becomes haven for teenagers to party in summer, vandalize and cover in graffiti. The Island is then sold to the Thousand Island Bridge Authority who have since worked to restore the castle to what was George Boldt’s original vision. They’ve done and continue to do an amazing job. The exterior, first and second floor of the castle are completely restored. The third floor however is kept as is, showing the various stages of building the island and the castle as well as the vandalism that the building was subjected to while uninhabited. A balcony on the third level offers a view of the st. Lawrence river and the small town of Alexandria Bay.

The grounds of the castle are as impressive, if not more impressive than the castle itself. The lawns are well manicured and the trees and shrubbery are well maintained. While the castle itself was fairly crowded, (go on a weekday. Thank me later) the grounds were fairly empty.

We started with Alster Tower AKA the children’s playhouse. The exterior of the tower was restored to arrest any further erosion by the St. Lawrence River. The interior of the tower itself is unrestored and offers a glimpse into what might have been a pretty kick ass playhouse for small and big kids alike. There is even a subterranean bowling alley. How cool is that. Plans are in place to restore this place completely, but I prefered the unrestored look.

The entry arch was next in line and is a large archway that you can walk through. The arch is topped with a trio of stags. The stags allude to the original owners of the island, the Harts. Hart is an archaic work for stag and George Boldt adopted this as his emblem and if you look closely, the stags are scattered throughout the island.

Wandering through the gardens, there is a small gazebo and a very nice italianesque fountain. Small interesting moments in an otherwise overwhelming landscape.

The Power House or Generator House was by far one of the more interesting buildings on the island. This is the first thing that is visible as you approach via the shuttle. It sits on a smaller island just off the main island and is connected via a small bridge. Wholly unnecessary, but I imagine George Boldt going ‘Why the Hell not???. The Power House is a sort of museum to what would have been if the Castle would’ve been completed.

As you circle back to the dock, and walk upwards again, we came across the large courtyard featuring the Italian gardens and a dove cote. The Italian gardens were completely restored and feature a fountain ringed by marble statuary. The elevation offers a very nice view of the power house as well as the Niagara River.

The Dove cote was built for the sole purpose of housing game fowl and doves. The Dove cote is an empty hall right now with access to the upper levels removed. It would’ve been nice to go all the way up.

The Dove cote was built for the sole purpose of housing game fowl and doves. The Dove cote is an empty hall right now with access to the upper levels removed. It would’ve been nice to go all the way up.

By this time we had spent over two hours on the Island and I was waiting to get to the Yacht House. Access to the Yacht House is via a short (free) shuttle ride. Once in, we get to see two of George Boldt’s personal boats and others that were donated/loaned by the Antique Boat Museum in nearby Clayton. I’m partial to all things marine as I spent many years working in a ship repair company and collected a whole deal of marine memorabilia. The Yacht House is an impressive building and filled with Nautical memorabilia. Also available to view are the Captain’s chambers attached to the Yacht House. George Boldt, it seems, thought of everything.

By this time, we were tired, hot and ready to go. We hopped on the shuttle and reached the castle where we found that the crowds had swelled to a size that the regular shuttle to the island was unable to accomodate. A half hour wait and a triple decker was sent to take to the mainland. Once back, we were amazed at the crowds waiting for the shuttle to the island. Going at this time would’ve been futile and frustrating as we don’t do so well in crowded areas. So. Tip. Go early, and you’ll get better pictures and be able to enjoy the castle at leisure. Go on a weekday and you’ll really thank yourself. Boldt Castle is seasonal though, so check the website for updates.

After that it was time to get Coach, who was extremely happy to see us and a short drive to watertown where the ladies and I did a bit of shopping. Most shops were open late and we took advantage of that to stay there till 10.30 after which we headed back to an empty border crossing and back to Canada. We reached home at 2.30 AM. The drive was pleasant and there are plenty of Rest stops on the way to refuel and get a bite if hungry. Would we go again??? Yes. It will be nice to see the ongoing improvements to the Boldt Castle. Next time however, we will stay for a few days and take in nearby Cape Vincent, Clayton and spend some time in Alexandria Bay itself.

Dhiraj D'Souza

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