George C. Boldt, who famously built a castle for his beloved bride on Heart Island in what would become the most tragic love story of the Thousand Islands , also spared no extravagance in building his boathouse.
The millionaire proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel In New York was extraordinary in his lavish spending and his 'boathouse' was beyond ordinary in every way. Today the century-old yacht house on Wellesley Island is as much a tourism attraction as his never lived-in castle built just across the St. Lawrence River on Heart Island.
Construction of the yacht house began in 1899 - a year before Boldt set out to build the epic 120-room castle on Heart Island and dedicated it to his wife Louise. But in 1904, tragedy struck. Boldt telegraphed to command the workers to immediately stop all construction when Louise suddenly died at the age of 42 a month shy of her birthday on Valentine's Day. A broken-hearted Boldt left the unfinished dream castle as an empty monument to his love.
He also left behind the Boldt Yacht House, now listed on the U.S. National Register of Historical Places. Boldt built the castle-like boathouse to accommodate his vast fleet of vessels including steam yachts, skiffs, motor boats and canoes.
The Boldt Yacht House is the new home to the 1892-built Kestrel, a 63-foot steam yacht. Kestrel was donated in August 2009 to the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority (TIBA) for public viewing. The vintage vessel has original mahogany, cabins, a wheelhouse, and coal steam engine.
During its 34 years of ownership of Boldt Castle and the Boldt Yacht House, the bridge authority has invested $29 million dollars in rehabilitation efforts and improvements to these historic landmarks.
The Kestrel is on display beginning May 14th for visitors. At the same time Boldt Castle will be open for visitors to view the refurbished rooms in the castle - including an opulent ballroom, stately library and dining room, the Boldt's bedroom suites. Millions of tourists have visited the castle since the TIBA acquired it in 1977 after it was left vacant for 73 years. Graffiti from vandals still covers some its walls. Now it's the biggest tourism attraction in the Thousand Islands with packages available for the castle and yacht house individually and combined discounted packages for tours of both the facilities.
At the time Boldt built his castle, he already owned properties on Wellesley Island. He had farms of 1,500 acres on the island, with beef cattle, sheep, pigs, prize bulls and polo ponies. The Bold Yacht House was already in use.
While he built the castle he also amassed a fleet of boats with three steam yachts including the 102-foot Louise, an 81-foot yacht named Clover after the couple's daughter and The Crescent, in addition to his motor boats, skiffs and Gold Cup Racers. He had a fleet of fifteen boats, captains, crews and craftsmen who built his famous racing craft, the "P.D.Q.'s" (Pretty Damn Quick).
Business barons who built elaborate summer retreats in the Thousand Islands travelled in style on the River in steam yachts. Tobacco tycoon Charles Emery on Calumet Island near Clayton had one as did Brockville's George Fulford. The Canadian senator, who built a 20,000 Edwardian mansion as a summer retreat overlooking the St. Lawrence River and made his fortune patenting "Pink Pills for Pale People," owned the steam yacht Magedoma. Now named Cangarda, Fulford's storied refurbished steam yacht is returning to Brockville this June. [ see related stories. Fulford's Steam Yacht Afloat Again published in May 2010, and Sequel: The Cangarda's 'Faithful Guardian', published in June 2010.] "If you were wealthy at that time you had to have a steam yacht," said Boldt Castle's Operations Manager Shane Sanford.
Boldt also owned the most luxurious houseboat in the Thousand Islands. The 106-foot La Duchesse , built in 1903, is now on display at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton.
La Duchesse was not your average houseboat by any measure with its fireplaces, Tiffany glass skylights, a ballroom and grand salon with a Steinway piano not to mention servants' quarters. "It's a virtual floating palace," said Sanford.
And the Boldt Yacht House isn't your typical boathouse. This is more of a boat castle. It is a nautical palace, a seven-storey cathedral-like structure, an architectural feat with pine, cedar, and a caretaker's living quarters.
The 119-year-old Kestrel found its new home in the Thousand Islands last year. Owner John Luhrs of Ponte Vedra Fla., was looking for the appropriate place for the steam yacht when he found Boldt's historical boathouse.
"He wanted an organization he felt would take care of it where the public could enjoy it," said Sanford.
The Kestrel fits right in at this luxurious boathouse off the shores of Alexandria Bay where steam yachts were once a common sight on the River and castles were cottages with yacht houses.
By Kim Lunman, email@example.com
Kim Lunman is the owner and publisher of Island Life Magazine (http://www.islandlifemag.ca) based in Brockville, Ontario., She is also a team member of this TI Life e-zine. Kim's Island Life magazine, was distributed this month in local newspapers in eastern Ontario and northern New York . As always, we continue to look forward to her monthly contributions. To see all of Kim’s past articles see the TI Life search: Kim Lunman.
For more information on The Boldt Yacht House visit the Boldt Castle Website: http://www.boldtcastle.com/index.htm.