After exploring Boldt Castle (go read Castles Part 1 if you missed it), we hopped on another boat and rode for about an hour to Dark Island, home to Singer Castle.
Riding along the St. Lawrence River feels surreal, like we were transported to an alternate universe in a storybook. I’ve always lived in landlocked places with little water culture. Sure, I know people with boats and houses by the lake. But to travel down water wide enough that you aren’t quite sure if you’re seeing islands or the main land, dotted with houses on rocky outcrops, I knew we were headed somewhere a little mythical.
We bounced along the river, always on the United States side of the buoys that mark the Canada/New York border, until we started to see a bright red roof in the distance on one particular island. Dark Island, where Singer Castle sits, is not dark at all. It’s bright and lovely and one could reasonably watch the sun rise in the United States and set in Canada every day of the year. If you lived there. Which would be terrible in the winter because the river freezes, and I’m not sure how you get to the store for coffee and soup and dog food.
Singer Castle was built by Frederick Bourne (no relation to Jason, I assume), the fifth president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. The castle is dotted with historic Singer sewing machines, all in pristine condition.
But the most important thing to know about Singer Castle must be confronted immediately: there’s a secret fucking staircase. So many of my childhood dreams came true when I found out and witnessed this staircase. It goes up roughly through the center of the house, so many of the rooms can be accessed by the stone steps.
So, let’s say, you’re a fancy pants Bourne relative, staying at Singer Castle, and you suddenly, in the middle of the night, get a hankering for some cookies or milk or maybe a chat with a maid. You could ring a bell, and a servant would come up through the secret staircase and bring you whatever you wanted! Magic!
Back to reality: Dark Island was designed and built as the ultimate playground for visitors. There was a squash court, a rose garden, boat house, library, tennis court, hunting and more.
The castle was inspired by the novel Woodstock by Sir Walter Scott. Hence the secret staircase. And dungeon. And towers. The Bourne family used the castle for many years as a summer residence, and they put a premium on entertaining their guests. After Frederick died, his daughter, Marjorie, took over ownership, and she and her family continued to spend summers on Dark Island until her death. After that, the island and castle changed hands several times to different charitable organizations (including one period where it was rumored to be owned by a secret society) until 2001, when it was sold to a tour company that continues to work on restoration and preservation of the island for tourism.
To recap: I’m not saying I want to live in a castle because there are plenty of really annoying things about castle life. Servants sneaking up on you through the secret staircase and watching you through panels in the walls. Visitors asking you all sorts of pesky questions. Cleaning a house with a million bedrooms. Figuring out how to buy dog food in February.
But what home doesn’t have its problems? Life in a castle is still life. So maybe live life in a castle with a SECRET STAIRCASE!