First of All -
- First time back in the US since crossing into Canada a month ago
- First time visiting a genuine American castle
- First time learning the real story about Thousand Island Salad Dressing
- Corn and Cob Islands
- Smugglers Cove
- Fairyland Island
- Heart Island
- Boldt Castle
- Alexandria Bay
- Miles Cruised today: Power: 31; Sail: NA
- Total Miles Cruised to date: 5,746
- Hours Underway: 5
- Fuel: NA
- Morning House Battery Reading: 12.44
- Wind Speed: 10 ; Wind Direction: W
- Daily High Temperature: 72
- Water Temperature: 70
I’ve heard that Boldt Castle is a very popular place, especially on midsummer weekends, and it’s advisable to arrive early, before all the day use dock space is filled. So, by 6:30am we’re off the dock and threading our way through the nearest of the Thousand Islands. Actually, there are more than 1,800 of them, but Thousand Islands rolls off the tongue so nicely, and the term makes such a great name for salad dressing. Actually, we’ve been wondering about the possible connection between the name of the famous salad dressing and this magnificent island region. Perhaps we’ll learn more when we reach Boldt Castle. We’re cruising beneath a thin layer of clouds, which subdues the early morning colors. North of us the sky is clear, and we hope for clearing skies. We’re cruising through the small boat channel, and we pass by islands large and tiny. Residences ranging from small rustic cabins to serious mansions are built on many. On some, which are too small to develop, flagpoles have been installed, proudly flying the red and white Canadian maple leaf flag. As we near the Thousand Islands Bridge the current picks up, easily adding 2 mph to our downriver speed. After passing Raft Narrows we swing south and cross the US/Canadian border, back into New York State. We approach the main St. Lawrence shipping channel and, as if to greet us, two large freighters appear, one heading up and the other down the Seaway. They look like they’re on a collision course from our vantage point. We stay well over to the side as we approach Heart Island, the location of George Boldt’s famed castle, which we easily see from a considerable distance.
George Boldt was a remarkable guy. Self made man, immigrant from Prussia in the mid 1800’s, who through hard work and extraordinary talent made his fortune in the hotel business. He owned a major hotel in Philadelphia and he became the manager of the famed Waldorff-Astoria Hotel in New York City. He was the first to introduce room service. He decorated his hotel rooms with fresh cut flowers. And he was the guy who coined the phrase “The customer is always right.” The most endearing and enduring story associated with George is his love affair with Louisa, his beloved wife. They loved to vacation in the Thousand Islands area, where he purchased several islands and built a lavish “cottage”. Recalling the famous castles on the Rhine, which he’d seen as a boy, he determined to build a castle in the Thousand Islands as a testamony of love for his wife. Work proceeded for 4 years, starting in 1900 but in 1904, as the castle was nearing completion (interior furnishings had already been shipped from Europe) the 300 man construction crew received a telegram. “Stop all work on the castle. Louisa has died.” It was true. At age 42 she died, perhaps of congestive heart failure. George was devastated and never set foot on the island again. The castle and its island were eventually sold to a Mr. Noble who opened the place up for tours but who did virtually nothing to protect or preserve the place. It gradually fell into ruin, defaced inside and out with grafitti and vandalism. It was not until 1977 that the Thousand Island Bridge Authority decided to purchase the landmark and begin restoration. In the ensuing decades they’ve succeeded spectacularly, not only stopping the process of deterioration, but actually restoring the castle in an effort to realize George’s original dream. It’s a work in progress, but what they’ve accomplished is indeed impressive.
When we arrive at 9am, however, we’re confused. Not a single boat is tied up at the docks, and not a person can be seen on the grounds. There is a US Customs Dock here, and we need to clear back into the US, however it’s all locked up. I can’t see any signs posting open hours, so we just hang out at the Customs dock, waiting for someone to show up. Around 9:40 a boat pulls in, with several staff members aboard. We’re told that they open at 10, which explains the lack of activity. The Customs officials arrive shortly before 10, and with passports in hand, we easily clear back in to the US. The place is coming to life as we buy our tickets, opting to add self guided audio tour sets and tickets to the boat house in our purchase. We turn our head sets on and begin our tour of Boldt Castle. The main floor and second floor have mostly been fully restored, and the results are magnificent. The upper floors are largely as they were when the Bridge Authority purchased the property in 1977, walls carved and defaced with grafitti. Images which were significant to George (hearts, clovers and stags) are incorporated throughout the place. It’s pointless to try describing this place with words, so I’ll mostly let pictures make the attempt. After completing our tour of the castle our audio sets lead us on a circuit of the island where we admire numerous other structures created by Mr. Boldt. We see the imposing Victory Arch, topped with 3 bronze stags, which symbolizes his success in life. The whimsical Playhouse, a curious tower constructed of uncut granite stone and which housed, among other things, a 2 lane bowling alley, stands on a prominent waterfront point. On the opposite side of the island we find the turreted power house, looking like a miniature castle in its own right. Nearby stands the dove cote and a beautiful formal garden, complete with Italian marble statures representing the 4 seasons. Across the channel we see a dramatic waterfront structure which served as Mr. Boldt’s boat house. With three main doors, one of which is tall enough to house a fully masted sailboat and featuring a cupola with descending stack, so that a steam boat could park inside with it’s boiler fired up, this structure is much more than a simple boat house. We ride the castle’s launch over to the boat house, which houses representative examples of Mr. Boldt’s extensive boat collection. The varnished mahogany and teak simply glows. The boats inside represent the peak of power boat design from the early 1900’s. One is named “PDQ 3″, which stands for “Pretty Damned Quick”. It’s a long splinter of a thing and completely designed for speed. Mr. Boldt’s daughter Clover loved to drive this boat, and for a time was considered the fastest woman on water. Before leaving we pay the gift store a visit and, among other items, we purchase 3 souvenier bottles of Thousand Island Salad Dressing, since we have learned from our audio guides that George Boldt was also responsible for popularising and introducing to his Waldorff-Astoria menu this now famous condiment.
We catch the launch back to Heart Island and decide to head for Clayton, about 12 miles back up the St. Lawrence. We’re now going against the current, which slows our progress, but I’m still able to maintain 6 mph. The wakes here are something else. Large tour boats, cigarette boats, motor yachts and jet skis are everywhere, and the water is on a constant state of turmoil. We labor onward, jerked and bounced from side to side until we leave the busiest area behind us. Around 4pm we near the town of Clayton, on the New York side, and following a bit of a search we end up in the brand new Municipal Marina, on the east side of town. It’s so new its not even listed in my 3 year old cruising guide. I sign up for 2 nights, so that we’ll have a chance tomorrow to look this town over. It’s supposed to be a attractive place, with a couple of nice museums and many well cared for historic buildings. We walk into town in search of a good place for dinner. I head for the Thousand Island Inn, where I’m determined to order salad topped with, you guessed it, Thousand Island dressing. A sign on the building proclaims that here, not on Heart Island or the Waldorff-Astoria, this dressing was first served. Apparently, there’s more than one story about the origins of this dressing. Unfortunately, the Inn is closed, something to do with a dispute involving the health code, so we go elsewhere, eventually settling on a lovely historic home which now houses a fine restaurant. It’s a perfect evening to sit outside, and we enjoy a delightful dinner. We walk down a shady residential street toward the marina, admiring the many interesting and well cared for homes.