Singer Castle and Boldt Castle Tours
Our last day in the Thousand Islands we decided to get back out on the water to visit the famous Boldt Castle. Since we were not going to do any additional hikes in the area due to the porcupine incident we figured we’d throw in a tour of Singer Castle as well. Singer is located on Dark Island about eleven miles in the opposite direction from our previous cruise out of Alexandria Bay and so the ride to the castle was along an entirely different stretch of the St. Lawrence River.
Singer Castle was constructed beginning in 1905 by Frederick Bourne, president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Modeled after a English castle, the granite structure is both majestic in it’s neo-classical forms and unique in it’s oddities, which include secret passageways and subterranean labyrinths. Interior rooms that were original to the castle such as the paneled library and the medieval atrium were well-crafted, interesting, and beautiful, but later additions in the mid-twentieth century by Singer’s daughter were cheap and bland in comparison. Overall we found the history of the castle and the stories of it’s inhabitants not all that compelling, but there were definite highlights such as the exterior architecture and the aforementioned ground floor rooms.
Boldt Castle was definitely the more spectacular of the two mansions. The six story, 120-room structure on Heart Island was commissioned by George Boldt, manager of the Waldorf-Astoria, and was nearing completion in 1904 when his wife Louise died; Boldt ordered all construction to cease and the castle has remained unfinished since. A more typical Gilded Age mansion compared to Singer Castle, Boldt Castle has large, high-ceiling interior spaces that include a stately dining room, reception room, billiards room, ballroom, and massive atrium that contains a grand staircase. Also typical is the extravagance of the estate: The island also includes multiple other structures and features a swimming pool, multistory children’s playhouse, bowling alley, formal gardens, and a powerhouse.
While the grandeur of mansions and “castles” always impresses me and the architecture is often classically beautiful, what I find intriguing about these over sized showpiece homes is not the lavish expenditures nor the grand formal rooms, but rather how they functioned: How many people were needed to maintain the property, the lengths undertaken in order to maintain standards of luxury, and the contrasting experiences between the owners and the help. To that end, my favorite room in the mansions I’ve toured is always the kitchen with it’s entirely utilitarian design and capacity to produce enormous quantities of very-particularly prepared food. In some ways, these gigantic spaces designed for over a dozen servants at a time are far more impressive than the finest formal dining room.