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Castle Rest, Its story

On her eightieth birthday, with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered around her at the magnificent new structure, George presented his mother with the deed to Pullman Island. Still unfinished, the new "palace" there was regarded as castle-like by all who attempted to describe it, but variously it was seen as being German, Norman and even Italian in style. Its designer was said to be "the only man in the United States who can truthfully say that he was the architect of a whole city" --thirty-five year old Solon Spencer Beman, who had been called to Chicago from New York by Pullman to plan his famous industrial new town, Pullman, Illinois. Then only twenty-six years old, Beman had begun a seven-year professional training in the office of distinguished architect, Richard Upjohn, when seventeen years old.

Verandah  Ian Coristine ©

Paul Malo wrote, “Architecturally, Castle Rest derived less from specific historical models than from imaginative invention.”  Photo by Ian Coristine © www.1000IslandsPhotoArt.com

The main building of Castle Rest was described as being 100 by 40 feet in plan, rising in a six story tower 127 feet above the water. It contained fifty-eight rooms, more than thirty of them bed chambers. Several other structures were built on the island as well. Contractor Seth G. Pope employed 122 men on the project, which was purported to cost about $150,000 exclusive of furnishings. Two years previously, the fine new Dewey residence, built an a nearby island at a cost of $40,000, had been the marvel of island cottages.

Especially noteworthy at Pullman Island was its pioneer electrification; for several seasons its brilliantly lighted tower served as a singular centerpiece for the noteworthy evening illumination of islands in the Alexandria Bay colony, elsewhere achieved with colored kerosene lamps and candlelit paper lanterns. In Castle Rest’s power house a 40 horse power steam engine operated two dynamos, generating electricity for over 500 electric lights, as well as for a pump which delivered water to a supply tank high in the tower. The island's steam engine was finally installed after sinking aboard Contractor Pope's scow in a storm and successful raising. This original equipment still remains in the island's powerhouse.

Architecturally, Castle Rest derived less from specific historical models than from imaginative invention. Its bold character recalled the burly masonry idiom of its decade's preeminent American architect, Boston's H.H. Richardson, which had originated in medieval Romanesque precedent. Richardson had adapted this style freely in some of his domestic work, employing uncut boulders and wooden shingle siding. His work influenced a favored residential mode of the 'Eighties which subsequently has been called the "Shingle Style." Chicago architect S. S. Beman incorporated the large plate glass "Chicago windows" which soon would be remarkably utilized in his 1895 Studebaker Building and other commercial buildings of the Chicago style. Although the rustic verticality of Castle Rest suggests a Nordic character, its low pitched hipped roofs seem more Italianate. This creative synthesis recalls the work of a younger architect who soon would emerge from Chicago and similar influences, Frank Lloyd Wright. Castle Rest was admired widely; a year after its completion an expatriate American commissioned W. H. Hilliard of Paris to paint picture of it, to be exhibited at the Royal Academy, London.

After her eightieth birthday, Harriet Pullman did not enjoy her castle for many more summers. A very large painted portrait of her continued her presence in "Mother's Room" at long after her death. Her son sentimentally continued to open the place on his mother's birthday, closing it on the anniversary of her death -a custom continued by the family even after he too was gone, as stipulated by his will.

George M. Pullman was in many ways a model hero for his own time, but his success story turned tragic in l894, when he adamantly refused to yield to striking employees. His famous new town of Pullman, Illinois had become famous as an example of social philanthropy as well as a model of architectural quality. After the depression of the 'Nineties required economic adjustments, Pullman's noble intentions were questioned not only by his employees, but by critics afar who protested that the famous company town was in fact exploitive. George M. Pullman died a few years thereafter, disappointed in many ways -for private as well as public reasons, despite his great fortune and acclaim.

Of four Pullman children, the eldest, Florence, was George's favorite.

She became Mrs. F. O. Lowden, wife of Illinois' Governor. The Lowdens built a private golf course on another island, but otherwise kept Castle Rest unchanged, the home of grandmother Harriet Pullman, as her son George had wished.

Castle Rest for many years served the family. It was costly to operate and maintain; even when first occupied, a reporter marveled at the expense of $100 per day ($15 alone for yacht charter!) Like many another large establishment, Pullman Island was used less during the Second World War, when staffing became more difficult and restrictions made it inconvenient for families to travel from afar. Nevertheless, throughout the war years a caretaker crew maintained Castle Rest as the memorial to Harriet Pullman which her son intended.

Castle Rest,  Ian Coristine ©

Even without its splendid castle. Pullman Island continues to be pointed out to millions of tourists each decade. Photo by Ian Coristine © www.1000IslandsPhotoArt.com

The numbers of tourists who viewed Castle Rest from passing tourboats increased after the war; the family, which had ceased to use it regularly as a summer home, then assessed the worth of the historic landmark to the public and proposed tax abatement as a means to enabling its preservation for the future. The family would have continued to engage local staff to maintain the landmark. When no accommodation was granted by the municipality, Castle Rest--as local lore has it-- was "dynamited."

Loss of "Castle Rest" has been grieved for decades. Architecturally, it was one of the finest of Thousand Islands historic landmarks. A romantic integration of building and site was recognized even as it was being completed. When a reporter observed that "This curious Norman structure begins to appear at home on the rocky heights of the celebrated island." Photographs show how carefully wild landscaping was retained and recreated around the new construction. Although the main structure was leveled about eighty years after its construction. Foundations and a picturesque power house of similar character remain together with other ancillary structures and site improvements. Even without its splendid castle, Pullman Island continues to be pointed out to millions of tourists each decade. Still they are told the success story of George M. Pullman, the self-made millionaire who was so devoted to his mother, even though few tourists nowadays experience railroad travel and fewer still recall George Pullman's famous Pullman railroad cars.

By Paul Malo


Buder, Stanley: Pullman, An Experiment in Industrial Order and Community Planning, 1880 - 1930. New York, Oxford University Press, 1967

Duis, Perry: Chicago. Creating New Traditions Chicago, Chicago Historical Society, 1976

Album of photographic prints of Pullman Island Chicago, Chicago Historical Society

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Rich Calabrese, Jr
Comment by: Rich Calabrese, Jr ( )
Left at: 10:00 PM Thursday, October 15, 2009
Wow, what a great article. I'm thrilled that Judy Wellman found this article and suggested Thousand Islands Life Magazine print it. I've spent the last 39 years growing up on the Island with my brothers, sisters and family. There's no other place in the world I'd rather be, even if it's wintertime. I'm already looking forward to the spring!
Jan Gilbert
Comment by: Jan Gilbert ( )
Left at: 11:40 AM Friday, October 16, 2009
Thank you for sharing this wonderful article. I learned more today about Castle Rest and Pullman Island than ever before.
John McCullough
Comment by: John McCullough ( )
Left at: 1:25 PM Sunday, October 18, 2009
I am very curious about when the man house was torn down. If it was really in the Fifites, there should be a number of people around who remember the story. We often hear the old story of the tax board responding
"If you want to live in a castle, you have to pay the taxes of a king".Can anyone shed further light on this?
Mike Cox
Comment by: Mike Cox
Left at: 6:18 PM Thursday, October 29, 2009
Another comment
Rich Calabrese, Jr
Comment by: Rich Calabrese, Jr ( )
Left at: 8:47 AM Friday, October 30, 2009
Yes, it was the 50's when the main house was torn down. My family was given a picture of the beginning stages of destruction, taken by Alan Ray. Alan owned Friendly Island and he watch the destruction over several weeks. I was at the antique boat show this summer and met a man that has been on the River for 85 years. He also remembers the house being torn down and he told me everyone was sad to see it go.
Jerry McHenry
Comment by: Jerry McHenry ( )
Left at: 10:13 AM Monday, November 9, 2009
My grandfather, Walter Jerome Green, Jr. built Watch Island in 1903. We enjoyed so many wonderful summers on "the river" and will always remember Watch Island forever.
My mother Rosemary Green McHenry was born in Utica and grew up on the river. Her grandfather, Walter Jerome Green build the first railroad in Florida, The Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Halifax River Railroad after the Civil War.
He died in his forties and Henry Flagler bought the railroad from his estate.
I lived in Watertown for four years so I was always close by.
Jerry McHenry
anthony elicati
Comment by: anthony elicati ( )
Left at: 9:53 PM Sunday, October 3, 2010
I have a oil painting of castle rest by M. BABUINI. Does it have any value?
Susan W. Smith
Comment by: Susan W. Smith ( )
Left at: 2:23 PM Monday, October 4, 2010
Would Anthony Elicati please contact TI Life magazine again.
Donna Williams-Suchocki
Comment by: Donna Williams-Suchocki ( )
Left at: 12:11 AM Wednesday, March 16, 2011
This is so interesting. My Mother and I have been researching our Pullman history. We are descendants of George Pullman on my Mothers side (maiden named Krinner). Thank you for sharing this information and these stories that somehow bring our heritage to life. I believe the names descend as follows... (Im sure my Mother will correct me if I'm wrong) Pullman>Chisholm>Krinner>Williams
Anonymous User
Comment by: Anonymous User
Left at: 5:09 PM Thursday, June 9, 2011
Anonymous User
Comment by: Anonymous User
Left at: 8:10 AM Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Nancy Cardoni
Comment by: Nancy Cardoni ( )
Left at: 5:45 PM Thursday, August 2, 2012
Many Summers growing up here on Castle Rest owned by my Uncle and through the years how he restored and made that a place we grew up the hole family, Wonderful Memories here and just beautiful, historical Thank you Uncle for my childhood summer memories!!!!!
Anonymous User
Comment by: Anonymous User
Left at: 11:02 AM Saturday, October 6, 2012
Diane M Funk
Comment by: Diane M Funk
Left at: 4:13 AM Thursday, December 31, 2015
Thank you for your time, research into a time long ago. As a child , i would visit this area and my uncle, growing up in the area, would proudly show off this and other delights... Boldt castle one of them.... Pullman... a name I know well. I prefer rail travel to plane travel where and when possible and i know to have the experience to ride in a true blue Pullman car something few understand.... I am so pleased that Castle Rest is still with us. So many have been lost due to neglect and misunderstanding.

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