You may have heard of Boldt Castle before. It is located in the Thousand Islands region of the Saint Lawrence River, along the New York state side. On Heart Island, in fact.
But did you know the heart-breaking love story behind it? (Hey, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching so I’m compelled to satisfy the dark romantics out there.)
Boldt Castle is another one of those massive Gilded Age monuments to personal wealth and prestige. But Boldt Castle stands apart as a tribute to love as well.
Self-made millionaire George Boldt – who managed the famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City – had the castle built for his young love, Louise. She was all of 15 years old when they were married in June of 1877 and by all accounts they had a fairytale romance. George Boldt planned to present the completed castle to his beloved Louise on Valentine’s Day in 1905.
Designed by the architectural firm G. W. & W. D. Hewitt, the project employed over 300 skilled workers, masons and artisans and not only included the grand 6-story castle, but 11 supplemental structures on the island as well.
Building began in the year 1900 and was scheduled to take five years to complete.
The architectural style is a mish-mash of Richardsonian Romanesque, Victorian, Gothic Revival, Rococo, Beaux Arts… and modeled after a Rhineland castle. It was expected to be one of the largest and most opulent personal homes in all of North America.
Boldt Castle was meant to be the house of Louise’s dreams – a gift of love and appreciation from her husband, whom she had helped and inspired during his arduous journey to great wealth. He called her his “Beautiful Princess“.
Their glorious love story was to be depicted and reflected throughout the massive castle and island grounds. The island was even reshaped by using sea walls to achieve the shape of a valentine’s heart. The love heart symbol was to be repeated in the castle’s plaster, stonework, and wrought-iron work.
But just when this is all getting way too icky-sweet, wait for it… tragedy struck.
The massive project came to a sudden and terrible halt in early 1904 after the sudden death of Louise at the age of 41 from heart disease.
Devastated, indeed mortally bereaved, George Boldt ordered the construction of the castle to stop even though it was only months away from completion. The grief stricken widower never again returned to Heart Island.
Boldt died alone in his room at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1916 at the age of 65.
The entire Boldt Castle property was then purchased by a wealthy fruit company owner named Edward John Noble. Over the next few decades, the E.J. Noble Foundation opened the Castle and its grounds as a tourist attraction. But it was not well kept, maintained, or even secured, and the unfinished structures fell victim to weather, neglect, vandals, thieves and even fire which gutted the beautiful stone Powerhouse in 1939.
But all is not lost in this tragic love story.
In the late 1970’s Boldt Castle experienced a miraculous turn-of-fortune:
The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired Heart Island and the nearby yacht house in 1977, for one dollar, under the agreement that all revenues obtained from the castle operation would be applied towards restoration, so that the island would be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.
The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority has reportedly spent over fifteen million dollars on restoration, stabilization, finishing, and additions to the castle. The work continues to this day. The Bridge Authority has essentially loved this old relic back to the grandeur and status it was meant to enjoy.
Boldt Castle is now a museum of sorts where tours are conducted and history is recounted. It is also an event center – popular as a venue for weddings.
Is it the magical lure of a good old-fashioned love story that draws love-birds here?
Or is it the passion and tender-loving-care given to preserving this great structure that resonates?
Either way, Boldt Castle on Heart Island has something for everyone: romance, history, luxury, tragedy, architecture and paddle boats.
Read a very detailed account of George and Louise Boldt’s love story here: