BOLDT CASTLE FAIRY TALE CASTLE
By Wendy Hughes
The story of George Boldt is a classic rags to riches one. In 1864 George (born Georg Karl Boldt) arrived in the United States from the Prussian island of Rugen in the Baltic Sea, He was 13-years-old and penniless. He took a job in the kitchens at a New York restaurant, saved hard from his salary then decided to branch out into a new field.
He set off for Texas, where he tried his hand at raising chickens and sheep. Although he worked hard, his venture was a disaster. Most of his livestock either died of disease or were drowned in a spate of floods. Undeterred, George returned to New York City and entered the hotel service as a bellboy. He soon rose to become a waiter, but George wanted more out of life. In 1876, when Philadelphia was celebrating its centennial year, the young German found a job a as a steward at Kehrer’s famous Clover Club.
The Love of his Life
Kehrer’s young fifteen-year-old daughter, Louise Augusta, was a fragile girl and twenty years younger than George, but that didn’t stop George falling in love fell with her and showering her with presents. With her father’s blessing, the couple married in June 1877, and went on to have two children George Jr. in 1879 and Louise Clover in 1883.
Louise became George’s constant companion and hostess and, as she knew the hotel business well, encouraged him to try out his new ideas. After interesting William Waldorf Astor in plans for a hotel that would surpass all others in luxury and elegance, George became manager of a new hotel, the Waldorf. In opened in 1893 and later became the Waldorf-Astoria, where George became famous for his fantastic service, teaching his employees that the customer was always right. He made all his male employees shave their beards to present a clean image, and many of his standards are now still commonplace in hotels around the world.
Louise had never been strong, and in 1900, George took her to a hotel in Alexandria Bay for a rest: As she relaxed on the bed he stood looking out at the breathtaking view of the St Lawrence River wondering how he could express his enormous adoration for her. As she looked at his princess, he decided to build her a palace like the romantic Rhineland castles he had seen in Germany as a child. It would be the most majestic palace in the world and he decided it would make the ideal gift for Louise’s birthday.
His Ideal Gift
At last he found the ideal place, and almost heart shaped island on Hart Island in the St Lawrence River on the Canadian-American border. After buying the island, he changed its name to Heart Island and in the year 1900 building began and was scheduled to take five years to complete.
Slowly the 1,000 acres were shaped and carved into a definite heart shape. The best artisans of the day were instructed to use the best features to create a real fairy-tale six-storey, 120 room castle that would be every bit as splendid as the castles on the Rhine. When completed it would have tunnels, electric power, gardens, a yacht house and a pool.
Every week he would take his wife to see the work in progress. Plans were made for a reception room and a library on each of the first and second floors. Each bedroom was to contain a private bath with gold trimmings and a tapestry and brick fireplace. The castle kitchens were to be placed as far from the main building as possible to avoid cooking odours:, with food brought in on a conveyor belt.
When the castle was almost complete, landscapers and electricians were hired from all over the world to add their skills to the magnificent creation. George and Louise discussed furnishings. No expense was to be spared. White marble mantle-pieces were imported from Italy, fine carvings and tapestries arrived from all over Europe, valuable paintings were brought in France, Germany and Italy and granite slabs came from George’s own quarries in the middle of America.
They planned it so that the gardens would contain summer houses and pavilions as well as, on the western end of Heart Island, an impressive lagoon, over 30ft in length and 100ft in width, which would contain swans. Rustic bridges would swing romantically across a lagoon lit by coloured lanterns at night. An arch resembling the Arc de Triomphe in Paris would serve as a formal entry for visitors. George’s creation was to have been a showpiece for the world, large enough to accommodate a hundred guests and their servants.
The suddenly, George was called back to New York. His beloved Louise was seriously ill, and she only had a short time to live. Not even George’s vast wealth could save her. He tried to revive her spirits by telling her about the dream castle that would be completed in time for her birthday in February. Sadly on 12 January, after suffering heart problems for some time, Louise died, at the age of 41.
George was heartbroken and he vowed he would never return to the castle. He sent a telegram: Stop the work. Mrs Boldt is dead. Stunned and shocked, the workmen packed their tools and departed from the castle. George died alone at the age of 65, of a broken heart, on 5 December 1916 in his room at the Waldorf-Astoria
A deep feeling of loneliness haunted the building and island for some time. Sightseers arrived to explore the marbled halls, wires dangled from the ceilings, unused radiators stood rusting, and crates of priceless fittings sat unopened throughout the house.
After George died Edward Noble, owner of the Beechnut Fruit Company bought the castle in the 1920s and ran the island as an unimproved tourist attraction but it fell victim to vandals who broke the windows, thieves stole precious tapestries and the birds flew through the halls, as bats nested in the arched ceilings and spiders spun webs across the murals. Finally, in 1939 the beautiful stone Powerhouse was gutted by fire.
A Happy Ending
In 1977 the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the Island, property and yacht house for just one dollar, and under an agreement all revenue obtained from the operation would be put towards the restoration and refurbishing of George’s original creation. There are rumours that many tourists have seen the ghost of Louise, dressed in white, walking by the boathouse, and lights going on and off when the castle of closed. Who knows? Perhaps Louise does visit her fairly-tale castle from time to time.
Millions of dollars were poured into the venture and is now open to visitors from May to November each year. On Saturday 18 June 2016 Boldt castle, in association with WPBS-TV Watertown, NY, will host a family based event featuring characters from popular PBS Kids television programming including Princess Presto, Daniel Tiger, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Curious George, The Cat in the Hat, and Peg + Cat. Families arriving at Boldt Castle will enjoy a special greeting and receive a goody bag from Princess Presto! Children will be able to enjoy several activity stations hosted by PBS Kids characters, along with storytelling and exploring! Children can build a birdhouse, plant a flower and talk to their favorite characters! Each character will have their own educational activity station for children to engage in, with a prize awarded for completion of all activity stations. For further details visit Boldt castle official website http://www.boldtcastle.com/visitorinfo/about