My husband and I went over to Singer Castle this past July to do a book signing. This also always gives us a good excuse to see what’s new.
We’ve discovered there’s always something new to see at Singer Castle. It seems that they are constantly making upgrades, refinishing, refurbishing and renovating this beautiful and historic Thousand Islands heirloom. And this visit was no exception. Though “new” is probably the wrong word to use for several of our discoveries on this particular trip. What was most fascinating to us was that some items that had previously belonged to the castle, which had been sold or given away, had been returned. And in at least one case, they were somewhat mysteriously returned.
During the time the castle was being constructed, which would range from 1903 to 1905, several Native American stone arrowheads had been found on the island. Indeed, Dark Island was given its name by some of the Native Americans who had visited the island long before the time of Frederick Bourne. Since the Bourne family now owned the island, they also now owned the arrowheads, which had been found.
For the next 70 years those arrowheads remained on the island through the time of ownership by Frederick Bourne, his daughter Marjorie Thayer, and then Harold and Eloise Martin. The Martins purchased the castle in 1965 from the Christian Brothers, who had been given the castle by Marjorie when she passed away in 1963.
The Martins changed the castle’s name to Jorstadt (after Dr. Martin’s grandfather who was a Norwegian ship captain) and then shortly after purchasing it, they opened the castle to the public for the first time in its history by inviting people to a chapel service on Sunday, followed by a tour of the castle.
Many of the original artifacts and antiques from the time of Frederick Bourne remained in the castle and on display. But at some point in the 1970s, the arrowheads were sold off of the island. One would figure they were gone for good. But one would be wrong.
Earlier this year, the castle received a letter from an older woman from Watertown who was related to a couple who stayed there for four days last summer. After they told her what a good job the castle staff was doing in taking care of the castle she decided that she wanted to return some items from the castle that her husband had purchased in the early 70s from someone in Alexandria Bay.
Needless to say, the castle staff was delighted to accept them. So, the arrowheads found their way back to Dark Island. They are now a wonderful new/old addition to the castle and its many historical and original artefacts and are on display in the castle gift shop.
The second lost-but-found object that has recently been returned to the castle is the original gas pump which had been located on the north side of the island, at the end of the north boathouse dock, since the early Bourne years. The gas pump was no doubt used for the steam yachts and other power boats (Frederick Bourne owned a lot of power boats) that were kept on the island. The pump had been a fixture on the island for almost 100 years (95 to be exact). But then, around the time that the Martin family put the castle on the market, prior to its present owners purchasing it, the historic gas pump was given away as a gift in 2000.
Once again, one would think that this would have been the end of the gas pump’s place in the history of Dark Island. But, once again, an item that appeared to be permanently lost to the island ended up being returned.
At the time the pump was given away, it was in very poor condition and was even missing some pieces, including the globe at the top which had presumably blown into the river. But the story was not over yet. We learned that the deteriorating pump had been given to someone locally. Plus, the new owner of the gas pump, ended up completely restoring it, even purchasing a new globe to replace the one that had long since disappeared into the river. Then, just as the new owner of the arrowheads had done, the gas pump's owner eventually decided to return it to the castle. However, it was not only returned, but was returned in much better condition than when it left the island.
Since there was a plaque on the pump with the name of the person who had restored it, I decided to see if I could find out a little more out about the pump’s restorer, and the pump’s story from his perspective. I am so glad I did! It is a beautiful story that needs to be retold!
As it turns out, my husband Bob and I had already met Bill and Joan Milke and, interestingly, it was right there at the castle.
The Milkes had attended some of the Sunday services back during the Jorstadt years, along with us. It was there that they first met Dr. Martin's oldest son, Wycliffe Martin who had become president of the Harold Martin Evangelistic Association after his father passed away in 1999. The Milkes had a wooden boat at the time and Wic asked if he could buy the boat from them. Bill commented to Joan, after selling him the boat, that he wished he had asked if Wic would include the gas pump in the sale. Bill eventually did ask Wic about the gas pump and knowing that the castle was soon going to be sold, Wic decided to give the gas pump, such as it was, to Bill with the understanding that it would be displayed at their campground on Dillon Point Road (near Schermerhorn Landing). "You won't sell it, will you?" Bill assured him that he would not.
In fact, in the same way he handled all of his projects, Bill went right to work on the old gas pump to repair and restore it. It was in such bad condition, including not having its original globe, that there was no way to even be able to identify what brand of gas pump it had been. Bill went ahead and began to restore the pump. He took it completely apart, cleaned, painted, and reassembled it all while contemplating what kind of globe he would like to get for it. In reality, it was an easy decision. Bill's dad, Fred Milke, had run a Texaco gas station. So, Bill got a Texaco globe for the pump, in memory of his dad. He then installed the now fully restored pump there at their Dillon Point campground where he and his wife enjoyed it for over a decade.
At some point, Castle President Tom Weldon heard from one of the Milkes’ neighbors that they had the gas pump that had once been on Dark Island. He came and visited Bill and Joan, and asked if they would be willing to sell it back to the castle. They said no. After all, they had made a promise to Wic.
But they thought about it and decided that the gas pump really did belong in its rightful place on the island. So, rather than allowing Singer Castle to buy the gas pump back from them, they decided to give it back to the castle as a gift. Bill wanted the gift to be in memory of his dad, Fred, who had owned and operated the Texaco Fruitland Garage and gas station which was located in Ontario, NY about 20 miles east of Rochester, on Ridge Road. Joan shared a picture with me of Fred at the station in the 1930s. Fred remained there in business from the 1930s through 1973.
Tom gratefully accepted the gift on behalf of Singer Castle. In the fall of 2014, the pump was taken back to the island and put on display, where it remains today safe and protected, in the gift shop. But Tom wasn't done with the Milkes. Joan described how shortly after that, he brought his three kids out to Dillon Point one night and replaced the gas pump with a street light for their campground that the Milkes thought was a wonderful gesture and gift! He also gave Bill and his family lifetime free access to the castle.
Sadly, it was not long after giving the pump back to the castle that Bill was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away on April 15, 2015. He will be missed by all who knew him. I found his obituary online and was somewhat surprised that instead of a picture of Bill, the family submitted a picture of some tools.
When I asked Joan about that picture, she said that Bill was a quiet and humble man, not flashy, and didn't want to draw attention to himself and what he did. And that is how he wanted to be remembered. He was a carpenter/roofer by trade so the tool picture seemed appropriate, especially as one reads some of the comments and condolences left by friends and loved ones: "Always building something... A very creative man with a vision for improvement aka Milke Way...One of the hardest working men I have known", and "We will miss Bill and never forget his help and work ethic". But my favorite was this one:
"Bill had unique skill and imagination. He’d look at something or someplace, see its potential, decide what he was going to create, and then tirelessly go about making it happen. It always amazed me how easy he made it look. I can still picture him shaking his head and saying “Oh Boy!” but with a wide grin on his face when I’d come over saying “Hi Buddy!” (When I needed some help or advice) He always made time to help his friends and neighbors. He’s left an indelible mark on the Islands and all who had the privilege of knowing him. My deepest sympathy goes out to Joanie and the rest of the family. God bless Bill and may he rest in peace."
I mentioned to Joan when I was talking with her that Jesus was a carpenter, too. Joan already knew that, of course, and told me that when Bill knew he was dying, he told her, "I hope he has a job for me". I have no doubt whatsoever that he does.
The story of the gas pump being restored and then returned to its rightful place on Dark Island brought another beautiful lost and found restoration story to mind. Each of us was created to fulfill our own unique role in God’s kingdom. But somewhere along the line, we got separated from him like that old gas pump that was given away, broken and unusable. Yet he never forgot about us or gave up on us. Instead, he came to find us, restore us, and return us to our rightful place with him where we become "a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). As the familiar hymn puts it: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now, I see...Tis Grace has brought me safe thus far, and Grace will lead us home” (John Newton, 1779).
It was amazing to hear how several lost items have recently been found and returned to Singer Castle. I especially love the story of the gas pump that was renovated and returned by Bill Milke in memory of his father. Bill has now joined his father (and his Father) and Heaven knows what other restoration projects he is now working on. As for the gas pump, it is now on display and is treasured by the owners, staff, and the many guests who are now able to learn more about this castle's rich history. That's what happens when the lost is found.
By Patty Mondore
Patty Mondore and her husband, Bob, are summer residents of the Thousand Islands. Patty is a published author and a singer/song writer. Her most recent books include “River Reflections: A 90-Day Devotional for People Who Love the Water” and its sequel, “Nature Reflections: A 90-Day Devotional for People Who Love Nature.” Her other books include” River-Lations: Inspirational stories and photos from the Thousand Islands,” and “A Good Paddling, Proclaim His Praise in the Islands, and Perennial Faith.” Her latest book is "A Bird Lover’s Reflections: A 90-Day Devotional for People Who Love Birds". Patty and Bob, co-authored “Singer Castle,” and “Singer Castle Revisited” published by Arcadia Publishing, and co-produced Dark Island’s “Castle of Mysteries” documentary DVD, in addition to a Thousand Islands music DVD trilogy. Patty is a contributing writer for the “Thousand Islands Sun”. Her column, "River-Lations", appears in the Vacationer throughout the summer months. The Mondores are online at www.gold-mountain.com.