Two weeks ago, John and I returned to one of our favorite spots in the Thousand Island, Alexandria Bay, NY.
Alex Bay is a tiny town, but it’s a tourist haven. People come by the busloads to take an Uncle Sam Cruise though the islands and gape at the gorgeous summer homes there built by the rich and famous. Two in particular stir the imagination. The first one is Boldt Castle on Heart Island, formerly known as Hart Island, and the second is Singer Castle on Dark island. While Singer Castle never fell into disrepair the way Boldt Castle did, it is worth the visit . http://www.singercastle.com/ but unlike Boldt Castle, sitting right there in the harbor, a five-minute water taxi away, it takes more than an hour by tour boat to reach.
Alex Bay’s claim to fame is the castle and the weekend events it holds all summer long to attract various different groups of people. There are Pirate Weekends, complete with parades, Bluesfests, Harley Weekends, and Antique Car shows. We were there for Rockin’ the Bay, a rock and roll weekend dedicated to the best music of the fifties, sixties and seventies. Here we are at the Tiki Bar at the Riveredge Resort with bartender Big Daddy. A word of advice. If you order one of the specialty drinks, which comes in a small pail, stop at 2. The third one’s a killer. On our first night, after I made a remarkable recovery from that third drink, we attended an outdoor concert. The music was fabulous. We had a bite to eat in a nearby restaurant that had the best French fries and chicken wings I’ve had in a long time.
The second Day, we took a boat tour and visited Boldt Castle. If you get a chance to visit the area, a walk through the castle is a must. Not only is the building beautiful, but the grounds are exquisite, but wear good shoes. http://www.boldtcastle.com/visitorinfo/ Take a few minutes to read up on it and take the virtual tour!
The first time I visited the island back in the early eighties, the place was a mess. The Thousand Island Bridge Authority had purchased it from the family for a dollar in 1977, and other than make the area safe to explore, they hadn’t touched it. The original idea was to restore the building to the condition it had been in when Boldt stopped construction in 1904 when the love of his life, his wife Louise died. The couple had a wooden cottage on the island, but Boldt decided his princess needed more, so in 1900, he began construction on the castle and the other four stone structures on the island. He never finished it. After she died, he didn’t return to the island, and the place sat in ruins, deteriorating year after year for 73 years.
Today, much of the interior of the castle and its other buildings have been not only restored, but brought to the glory Boldt intended based on the architectural plans they have to work with. Many of the furnishings, dishes, decorative items, and paintings have been donated by family members. Others are period pieces purchased for the building.
Images, left to right starting in the top row: Organ, bathroom, Clover’s bedroom, kitchen, indoor swimming pool, formal dining room, family donated dishes, skylight.
The beautiful skylight decorates the entrance and the grand staircase. Even the indoor swimming pool is usable now, but no one swims in it. Instead, a ceramic frog floats on an artificial lily pad collecting coins and wishes. The claw tub in the bathroom between bedrooms was accompanied by a toilet, the water box above it. Just think of it. Indoor plumbing in the first decade of the twentieth century. What luxury!
People can even get married and have receptions at Boldt Castle today. The day we were there, a couple was having a small wedding–only 9 bridesmaids, 1 junior bridesmaid and 2 flower girls. I suppose if you can afford a wedding like that, you can rent a castle for the party.
The first time I visited the island, I thought it was a sad monument to a broken heart, but if I look at it through 21st century eyes, the same eyes that tear down monuments, ban books and movies, and want to get the names of streets and schools as well as public buildings changed because the people memorialized had different values than they do, I see this not as a charming castle for a princess, but as a gilded cage, a place to keep the women he loved–maybe even obsessed over–all to himself. Remember the year. In the early 1900’s, it wouldn’t have been easy to get back and forth to the island. There were no helicopters, no planes to take you to Watertown, the closet city with an airport. People didn’t have cars the way we do today. Louise would’ve been isolated form New York and all her friends for days, weeks, maybe even months on end. Yes, she would have had staff and the children, and of course George when he could get away from the hotels long enough to visit, but forget anything else. Suddenly, the labor of love takes on a sinister look. There is a real danger in looking at the past through modern eyes. Beware.
That night, we had dinner at Cavalarios, the town’s premier steak and seafood restaurant and later listened to awesome music in the bar. All in all, I really enjoyed my visit to Alex Bay. Now, if someone feels the need to build me a castle, please do. I wouldn’t mind the beauty, luxury, and solitude one damn bit!