Did you know that there are two castles on United States soil that are so glorious and wonderful and mysterious that I want to crawl up inside the attics and stare out the window? There are probably actually more than two, but this summer I had the glorious opportunity to visit two castles in the Thousand Islands region of New York.
The first one we (me + some family + family of family) visited is Boldt Castle on Heart Island, which sits in Alexandria Bay. A quick 10 minute boat ride took us from the mainland to Heart Island, which is actually in the shape of a heart.
The Island was owned by George Boldt, a New York City millionaire associated with the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. George and his wife, Louise, spent many summers on the island in the early 1900s, and they had a lodge there that appeared to be roughly the size of a modern-day mega-mansion.
Alas, a private island (uh, make that multiple private islands) were not enough for Mr. Boldt, and he set out to build an actual castle on Heart Island. He planned to give it to his wife on Valentine’s Day of 1904, but barely a month before, Louise died. Construction on the castle stopped immediately, and George never went back to Heart Island.
After decades of neglect, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority purchased the island and began restoring it for visitors and posterity. They kept as many details as possible from the original plans, and the different rooms are set up meticulously in the style of the day.
As you climb higher and higher into the castle, restoration is not complete, and you can still find graffiti from the years of abandonment.
Nonetheless, it’s a gorgeous property, everything decorated in hearts and harts (the original name was Hart Island; George altered the physical shape of the island to resemble a heart before renaming it). But there’s also a haunted feeling to the space. You walk into the ballroom and imagine the parties and laughter… and realize there was never any grand parties like in The Sound of Music or My Fair Lady. As you explore the bedchambers and find quaint window seats and imagine curling up with A Midsummer’s Night Dream, just to realize no one sat there pretending to take in Shakespeare and instead stared out the window enjoying the St. Lawrence River breeze.
Parts of the island feel lived in and loved. The playhouse (a baby castle in its own right) was used for several years before Louise died, and the vibe is different. It’s not refurbished, but it doesn’t feel sad.
The power house on the island is connected by an arched bridge from the island, but the structure itself looks as grand and magical as anything in the main castle. When arriving by boat, the power house is the first thing that sticks out, jutting away from the island. The trees surround the castle, but the power house is very noticeable.
Boldt Castle and Heart Island were such a surprise. From pristine landscaping to the musty and creepy tunnels under the castle, Heart Island sparks the imagination – what was, what could have been, what will be? And, of course, how many maids would it have taken to keep the place clean?