Pullman Island stands for everything that was grand about the Thousand Islands during its gilded era a century ago and all that remains golden about this place still known as Castle Rest today.
One of the most historical Thousand Islands located along Millionaire's Row is known for its striking architecture, namesake owner and its most famous visitor.
U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant was a guest at Pullman Island in 1872 while campaigning for his second term in office at the invitation of its owner, railway magnate George M. Pullman. Pullman was among the first millionaire industrialists to purchase islands here, to build lavish summer retreats and put the Thousand Islands on the resort map.
The Thousand Islands began to be recognized as a cottage colony for business barons in New York City as early as the mid-1800's when some were being sold for as little as $5 each.
Pullman's business, Pullman Palace Car Company, developed the railway sleeping "Pullman" car. He renamed the island near Alexandria Bay - from Sweet Island - to his family name. Grant visited the island's rustic site known then as Camp Charming.
Soon cottages weren't enough for millionaire industrialists and Pullman led the way. They started building castles on their islands instead. In 1888, Pullman built the first 'castle' in the Thousand Islands, known as Castle Rest. Soon William Wyckoff on Carleton Island, Charles Emery on Calumet Island, George C. Boldt on Heart Island and Frederick Bourne on Dark Island would follow suit with castles of their own though Emery's later burned to the ground. Now all that remains is its grand granite staircase and rubble.
Castle Rest and its original boathouse were also tragically lost in the '50s when short-sighted officials refused to relent on property taxes despite post-Depression realities. Their short-sighted policies lost the region its most historic landmark, not to mention the taxes it may still have garnered. It was also the reason TI Life's founder, Paul Malo abandoned the region in disgust in favor of the Adirondacks. His lifelong attachment to the islands eventually drew him back, but the loss of Castle Rest remained one of Malo's deepest regrets.
Pullman's daughter Florence inherited the property - which still has a formal yacht landing - after her father's death in 1897. She spent summers there with husband Frank Lowden, a lawyer, later elected Governor of Illinois. He commissioned a 38-foot Hutchinson launch know as Monitor, now owned by the Calabrese family.
A relatively new three-storey tower was built on the site of the original six-storey castle with a sitting room, library and bedroom inside. Another building, the former billiards room is converted into a dormitory. A skiff house has a second-storey addition with a sitting room. The main house, originally the caretakers' residence, has a spiral staircase and a spectacular stone terrace perched on a cliff overlooking the River.
An avid proponent of the region, Pullman may well have strategized Grant's visit to coincide with a conference of newspaper journalists taking place in nearby Watertown. More than 200 of them took a train to Cape Vincent, boarded steamers for Clayton and Pullman Island with receptions, bands, and steamboat tours. The large party included Civil War heroes Generals Sherman and Sheridan. Grant's entourage of journalists and their dispatches shone an international spotlight on the archipelago which is widely seen as having initiated the resort's popularity.
Pullman shrewdly realized his sleeping rail cars would be needed on trains for commuters to and from New York City if the region caught on, which it did, culminating in the region's gilded age. Today, Pullman Island - also known as Castle Rest Island - remains a testament to that era.
Richard Calabrese Sr., of Rochester N.Y., first spotted the island during a fishing trip in the Thousand Islands. It took eight years of interest in the property to secure the sale in 1972 from the Pullman heirs. Calabrese Sr. and his wife, Marcia, arrived soon after with five young children in tow to explore the island. Richard Calabrese Jr. shares happy memories with three brothers and a sister of summers spent at Castle Rest. Now the next generation is enjoying the island.
Previous island residents frequently surface on Pullman, though not in a ghostly way. Calabrese Jr. points to a penned dedication to Pullman's mother by her son, that hangs in the kitchen of the caretaker's lodge today. The owners continue to find pieces of history on the land, reminders of its former owners and visitors. Calabrese Jr. unearthed a piece of metal engraved with Pullman's mother's birthday - Aug 14. 1810. "He really was devoted to his mother," he said, of Pullman.
The main house on the property today (formerly the servants' quarters) features a distinctive towering chimney for the powerplant which provided electricity for the island at a time when it was not yet commonly available on shore. The living history on the island is a source of fascination for Calabrese Jr. and his family while they enjoy their summer retreat.
Like the owners of the grand summer retreat Casa Blanca on neighbouring Cherry Island known for its whimsical waterfront gargoyles, the Calabrese family has graciously allowed public tours on occasion.
Reminders of the Thousand Islands Golden Age are everywhere on Millionaire's Row. Casa Blanca was built in the 1800s by a Cuban sugar planter while another grand Cherry Island estate, Belora, was once owned by Nathan Strauss, a philanthropist who owned Macy's department store. And just a few yards across the water from Pullman Island, is another historic estate: Hopewell Hall, the residence George Boldt built for his daughter, Louise Clover Boldt, on a bluff on Wellesley Island, which she left to her daughter, Clover. A century after these grand estates were built on Millionaire's Row, many still stand. And a renaissance along the River here is evident in Castle Rest and a lavish 'boathouse' recently comprehensively renovated on Cherry Island.
At the helm of his utility boat, Calabrese Jr. heads back towards Wellesley Island where the family has two classic wooden boats in a boathouse that once belonged to Boldt. One of the family's classic boats in addition to Monitor is aptly named in honour of a very special Thousand Islands tourist: Ulysses.
By Kim Lunman, email@example.com
Kim Lunman is the publisher of Island Life Magazine (http://www.islandlifemag.ca) based in Brockville, Ontario. Kim is an award-winning journalist and former national correspondent for the Globe and Mail newspaper in Ottawa and Victoria B.C. Kim is a regular contributor and team member on thousandislandslife.com. She first wrote about Pullman Island in her 2010 edition of Island Life magazine. The 2011 issue of Island Life magazine will be distributed in eastern Ontario and northern New York as an insert in newspapers in May. TI Life will give you lots of notice, so you will be sure to obtain a copy.