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The Castle built by Sewing Machines

(Excerpted from The Secrets Behind the Structures, by John Reisinger)

The Castle on Dark Island: The world’s only castle built by sewing machines

They say a man’s home is his castle, but sometimes,

with enough wealth and determination, a man’s castle is his home.


There are not really a thousand islands in the Thousand Island area, there are over 1800. Strung along the St. Lawrence River between upstate New York and Canada, stony islands of various shapes and sizes are everywhere. Between the cool summer weather and the scenery, it is no wonder people who could afford it wanted to build homes on these islands.51o21xyxxyL

Of course, such houses tended to be somewhat expensive due to the relatively short construction season and the necessity to ship everything from the mainland by boat, so, if you wanted a really big and luxurious place, you had better be wealthy. For several decades around the end of the nineteenth century, America produced men who were very wealthy indeed. Between the opportunities of an expanding country and the lack of an income tax, men were able to accumulate great fortunes, and use them to indulge their whims. One such whim, was to own a castle on an island, and what better place than the Thousand Islands area? Soon, the islands fairly bristled with large and luxurious residences, though none of them deserved to be called true castles in the medieval fortress sense. Four of these residences, however, are considered castles locally because of their size, architecture, and general looming appearance. They are Castle Rest (now gone), Calumet Castle (also gone), Boldt Castle, and perhaps the most mysterious, Frederick C. Bourne’s Singer Castle on Dark Island.Ad Meskens Singer Castle

If ever there was an island aptly named to host a mysterious castle it is Dark Island. The name conjures up visions of Dracula stories and Gothic novels. Dark Island is perfect for a mysterious castle in other ways, too. It is seven acres, big enough for a massive structure and its grounds, but small enough to feel intimate. The island is several miles downriver from the other castle islands and stands alone, with no islands nearby. Dark Island is close to the main shipping channel, inviting passing mariners to gaze at it and wonder what goes on there.

In an era when wealthy men were called robber barons, Frederick C. Bourne obtained his fortune by talent and hard work…along with a bit of luck. As a boy, he sang in a church choir and made the acquaintance of another lad whose father was the president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Singer sewing machines had revolutionized both the garment industry and the abilities of home sewers, and the company was a powerhouse in American industry. Bourne was a go-getter, and soon, he was working for the company and even attending meetings as the president’s representative. Eventually, Bourne himself took over the company.

Around the turn of the century, Bourne, who was an avid boater and sportsman, decided to purchase Dark Island in the Thousand Islands area and build a “hunting lodge”. About the same time, he read Sir Walter Scott’s novel Woodstock, one of the Waverly novels. Woodstock featured a mysterious castle, complete with secret passages, hidden rooms and such to hide and protect the deposed King Charles from Oliver Cromwell. Bourne decided that his hunting lodge would be based on the castle on Woodstock Park in England, believed to be Scott’s model.

Construction began in 1903 and continued year-round for two years, employing 90 stonemasons. The finished castle was called the Towers, after its very distinctive and dramatic towers. Just as with its inspiration, the Towers included secret passages and stairways, places where people can spy on others in the rooms, and lots of similar things that even real castles lack. The Towers was a perfect setting for a classic mystery; it was isolated, windswept, and ominous looking from the outside, and filled with secret passages and hiding places on the inside. The dining room even had a removable panel in a wall painting, allowing someone lurking in a secret wall passage to observe people in the dining room below. Whether this was done for whimsy, or to be true to the spirit of the novel, or for some other reason is not clear.Castle by Meskens front

Until Frederick Bourne died in 1919, the castle was the family’s summer home and fall hunting lodge. Daughter Marjorie Bourne married and lived in the castle with her husband, and even constructed additions to it in the 1920s. She later sold the property to a military academy for one dollar. The price may seem ridiculously low, but the isolation, combined with the cold winters made the castle an expensive proposition for anyone. The foundation that ran the military school sold the property in 1967 to an evangelistic association from Quebec, whose president renamed the Towers as Jorstadt Castle, a family name. In addition to providing a religious retreat, he opened the castle to the public for Sunday services.

Finally, in 2002, an investment group bought the island for 1.8 million and restored the castle and grounds to open the place to public tours. They renamed it Singer Castle after the Singer Sewing Machine Company and set up public tours that continue to this day. Singer Castle continues its tradition of being the only castle that is “lived in”. For an extra fee, you can reserve the place for the night, exploring the spooky passages and sleeping in the master suite….assuming you are able to sleep in such an atmosphere.

(For more information, see Johnreisinger.com, and The Secrets Behind the Structures)

Editor’s note:  John Reisinger contacted TI Life soon after we published Joel Charles article, Dark Island: Mystery and Memories in March 2017.  He asked Joel if he could use the painting for his upcoming book, The Secrets Behind the Structure.  Joel agreed, and we are pleased to present this short except from the book as well as a black and white photograph of the page with the Joel Charles’ painting.

Interview Reisinger book

John Reisinger did a TV interview on Delmarva, which stands for Delaware Maryland and Virginia, the area east of the Chesapeake Bay

Joel Charles Painting B&W

Upper right photograph of Calumet Castle, Painting by Joel Charles.


The Secrets Behind the Structures – Amazon link 

By John Reisinger

John Reisinger is an author, living on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, but he and his wife Barbara come to the Thousand Islands for vacations. John writes about real-life people, places and events. Two of his books have won Gold Medals, in the Global eBook Awards! Check out Flanagan and the Crown of Mexico, Death and the Blind Tiger and visit his webpage to see his complete list of fiction and non-fiction works. This is John’s fifth article for TI Life click here to see them all.

Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.


Bonnie Householder
Comment by: Bonnie Householder
Left at: 5:58 AM Tuesday, May 15, 2018
What fun to read about Singer Castle, home of Frederick Bourne and his family. Frederick Bourne was a beloved President of the Jekyll Island Club 1914-1919. He owned one of the apartments as one of the millionaire members of this very exclusive club on Jekyll Island, GA. In our Faith Chapel is a large stained glass window, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, which was dedicated in memory of Frederick Bourne, following his death in 1919.

Bonnie Householder
Jekyll Island, GA

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