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The 1000 Islands is made up of a cluster of 1,864 islands, located in the St. Lawrence River along the Kingston-Gananoque-Brockville corridor. This area, known for its panoramic, sweeping views and lively history was a mecca for the rich and famous in the early 1900’s. The legacy of these millionaires that came to the 1000 Islands at the turn of the century can still be seen when you visit the 1000 Islands today. In fact, one of the most notorious islands in the 1000 Islands – Heart Island attracts visits from all around the world and boasts a story that is both heartwarming and tragic.
The saga of Heart Island begins at the turn-of-the-century when George C. Boldt, millionaire proprietor of the world famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, set out to build a grandiose structure for the love of his wife, Louise. He commissioned over 300 workers to start work on a 120 room castle that would be six stories high and contain things such as: tunnels, a drawbridge, a tower and Italian gardens. Not a single expense was spared or detail overlooked.
Heartbreak Halts Construction
In January 1904, tragedy struck when George Boldt’s cherished wife Louise died suddenly. Brokenhearted and distraught, he telegraphs the island and commands workers to immediately “stop all construction.” George could not imagine his dream castle without his beloved so he never returned to the island and the castle that held so much promise was abandoned for 73 long years.
In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property, which was in dire need of restoration. Wind, rain, ice, snow and vandals were not kind to the castle, so many tiers of rehabilitation needed to be done, to the tune of millions of dollars. Today, visitors are greeted by a grandiose site when they arrive, Boldt Castle in all its glory. A true castle and a testament that love is timeless.
When visiting the 1000 Islands, tourists can see the castle in many ways: by sky on a helicopter tour, by water as they cruise by or up close by docking at the island and touring this great estate. And although all three ways will have you picking your jaw up off the ground at the magnificent sites, nothing quite beats walking through the hallways and marveling over the ornate workmanship.
**Due to COVID-19 Boldt Castle is currently closed to Canadian residents until the Canada/USA border closure is lifted.**
Fast Tip for Canadians: Bring your passport! Boldt Castle is on US soil and you will have to go through customs. Accessible only by boat, the castle is open for self-guided tours from mid-May through to mid-October.
Docking at the Castle
Arriving at Heart Island feels very much like you’ve just become part of a real life Disney movie – there is a serenity and magical feeling only made much more tangible by the majestic sight of this beautiful castle. There are many structures to explore on the island: the Power House, the Alster Tower, the Hennery, the Arch and a stone gazebo. But the main event by far is the 6-story high castle. Once inside, you’ll have the opportunity to tour various rooms that have meticulously reconstructed to show off how they would have looked over a hundred years ago. The décor has been chosen to reflect George and Louise Boldt’s intended interior.
The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority, owners of historic Boldt Castle and the Boldt Yacht House continue with improvements every year. The latest rehabilitation project was the Channel Side Fountain, which although in the original construction blueprints was not started before construction ceased in 1904. Work also continues in and around the castle on other projects, giving visitors new things to see each and every time they come.
Next time you’re planning a trip to the 1000 Islands, make sure your itinerary includes a stop at Boldt Castle where you’ll learn more about it’s fascinating history.