Tucked away in the St. Lawrence Seaway in Upstate New York are the 1,000 Islands, once a popular summer retreat for New York’s millionaires during the Gilded Age. One island was purchased by George Boldt, a proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, where he began to build an epic castle for his wife and family to summer on. The castle was left unfinished in 1904 — but after 100 years of decay it recently underwent a rigorous restoration process, and opened to visitors just a few years ago. A short boat ride can transport visitors to the newly rehabilitated castle, which provides a glimpse into the lifestyle of America’s Gilded Age, and a chance to enjoy the Castle's lush tree-lined grounds, which overlook the beautiful river.
Located on Heart Island, the 127 room Boldt Castle rises to six stories, and is built in the style of 16th Century European castles. The island, originally called Hart Island, was transformed to create the shape of a heart as a profession of love from Boldt to his wife Louise. The island is home to grassy hills, thousands of blooms, the aroma of lilacs and a peppering of old trees, which provide shade from one end to another.
The main castle would have served the Boldts, with their two children, with ample room for 100 guests. 300 workers were on site to build the incredible estate, until Boldt sent a telegram to cease construction, upon his wife’s sudden death in 1904. The castle was then left to the elements and vandals for years to come, as Boldt never returned to the island.
Over the last 15 years, the castle has seen significant restoration which has seen the completion of the entire ground floor. The space includes a grand staircase, dining room, billiards room, reception room, and grand ballroom. The spacious outdoor porches and fireplaces have been restored to welcome visitors. The second floor is also almost complete, with George, Louise, and their two children’s suites completed last year. The third floor, which was to be for guests, as well as the servant areas remain untouched, still bearing graffiti from vandals as far back as 1977, when the castle was first opened to the public. The basement also includes an unfinished indoor swimming pool, which overlooks the sea.
The island is home to several other structures that the Boldt family planned to use. Built upon an island, the power had to be completely self sufficient, so an arched bridge which leads to a power house island was built, which looks like a miniature Medieval castle itself. Not far from that is a dovecote, another Medieval looking tower that was home to a flock of birds. A welcoming arch that resembles Paris’ Arc de Triomphe was restored, with statues of deer placed atop as Boldt had planned. The Alster Tower, which flanks the front of the castle, is a fantastical structure which the family stayed in while the large castle was being built. It is currently being renovated for opening next year, and also boasts two original bowling alleys. Across the channel is the Yacht House which held the family’s boats.
The entire island is unreal amidst the serenity of the St. Lawrence Seaway, but was not an especially unusual site one hundred years ago. A trip to Boldt Castle makes for a magical and serene day, from wandering the castle rooms, to enjoying a picnic under one of the many trees, its easy to retreat for an entire day to relax, and let the St. Lawrence breeze keep you cool. The castle will continue to be renovated until it is fully restored to the style of 1900s, to the delight of visitors, as well as lucky couples who may marry on the island.
Take a look through Inhabitat’s entire photoset from Boldt Castle on Flickr.