Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ontario Adventure / Part # 2 / Boldt Castle

Boldt Castle / Thousand Islands
Ontario Adventure / Part # 2

Boldt Castle / Aerial View
(Photo Credit / Ontario Tourism Bureau)
 I was on a week long fishing trip with my college roommate Jim Locke, his father, and friends for some coveted man-time in Ontario, Canada.  We were in the middle of a day cruise along the Thousands Islands area of the Saint Lawrence River and seaway.  We had checked out a lot of amazing sites on our way toward Boldt Castle, located on Heart Island, at which our boat was about to arrive.  More famous than the castle is the story behind it.  The castle mansion was the brainchild of successful hotelier George C. Boldt, who was owner and manager of the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City and the grand Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia.  The family amassed a huge fortune catering to the super wealthy class known as the robber barons, who demanded the best and were willing to pay to get it.  George Boldt soon became a millionaire himself and the family began to vacation in the Thousand Islands, where they purchased an estate house on Hart Island, which they later renamed Heart Island.  In 1900 the family planned to construct a mammoth six story stone masonry castle on the island, where it would join the ranks of one of the largest private homes in the United States.

George and Louise Kehrer Boldt
(Photo Credit / The Boldt Castle Archives)
No expense was spared as the structure began to rise in 1900 from its foundation near the center of the island.  George Boldt was building the structure as a monument of his love for his wife Louise Kehrer Boldt, his spouse of 23 years.  The construction project involved several additional sites on the island, including a power house, yacht house, children's play house, ornate Italian garden, and a service dock that was connected to the main house by a long underground stone walled tunnel.  The six stories of the 120 room main house were connected by a state-of-the-art elevator system, a new technology at the turn of the last century.  Within a four year time period 2.5 million dollars had been invested into the construction of the skeleton walls of several structures on the island, including the castle-like main mansion.  As his dream began to take shape, George Boldt planned to present the castle as a gift to his beloved wife on a future Valentines Day.  However, tragedy suddenly struck the Boldt family as Louise fell ill and died at the age of 42, leaving her grieving husband and two children devastated. 

Exterior Ruins of Boldt Castle
(Photo Credit / The Boldt Castle Archives)
Shortly following the death of his wife, George Boldt wired the construction site instructing all the work on Boldt Castle to cease immediately.  He also demanded all workers to leave Heart Island and not to return.  In fact, George Boldt himself never returned to the site either and he never resumed construction of the project.  He intended the unfinished castle to be a monument to symbolize his pain from the loss of his constant companion and soul mate Louise.  The abandoned castle and accompanying support buildings remained empty and exposed to the wrath of nature and man.  Water leaked through the roof damaging plaster, thieves carried away everything of value, fire broke out several times, and scrap iron and steel was even extracted from the building to meet the need for scarce metals during WWII.  The structural integrity of the castle's remaining shell was in jeopardy and flirting with collapse.  However, seventy-three years later the Thousand Bridge Authority stepped in determined to save the castle and purchased the property for one dollar in 1977.  The castle was stabilized and soon opened for tours with all profits going into a trust to help restore the structure. 

Reception Room Before Restoration
(Photo Credit / The Boldt Castle Archives)
Our party entered the island visitor's booth, picked up a pamphlet map, and were now free to explore the entire site on our own.  Jim and I were instantly drawn down to the dock by the water where building materials originally delivered for the initial construction of the castle were still resting and awaiting use.  There were slabs of granite and skids of cobblestones stacked and banded together by steel cables that were still neatly lined up along the shoreline.   The bulk of the crowd had since disappeared inside the castle and we decided to follow along through the front entrance, which is known as a vestibule in a rich person's house.  The interior space was cavernous and the great hall gave the impression of... well, a castle.  The effort to restore the castle was still in the early phases and the slow attack of Mother Nature was far from suppressed.  First and foremost in need of repair was the expansive 30,000 square foot roof that was still open to the outside sky in some areas, where rain could still freely fall into the interior spaces of the building.  The home was still a shell devoid of decorations, wall hangings, and furniture.  Since our visit, several attractive rooms have been finally finished and open to the public over 100 years since they were first conceived and designed on paper. Over fourteen million dollars has been reinvested in the restoration of the castle to date. 
 Reception Room After Restoration
(Photo Credit / The Boldt Castle Archives)
Jim and I descended some stairs to find the basement level where we discovered the concrete frame work of a large circular indoor swimming pool.  We soon discovered a passageway off to one side that led to the underground tunnel all the way down to the service dock.  The basement level was more than a little creepy and once again confirmed the fact that you really were within the walls of an actual castle.  The pamphlet said the house contained thirty bathrooms but we had yet to find one in working order and nature was calling.  Time to escape the dungeon for daylight to seek relief in a designated area approved for tourist use!   We eventually made our way back to the dock where we found the other members of our party about to re-board our boat for the return voyage back to the mainland.  As we left Heart Island in our wake, Boldt Castle seemed even more impressive from a distance.  We all discussed what we had discovered during our hour long visit.  Some had visited the Power House and children's playhouse known as Alster Tower.  We all hoped restoration would continue to save the castle and accompanying structures.  I would love to return someday to see the changes that have taken place over the past twenty years.  I'll put it on my list!  Who's driving?
   Oil Tanker Passes Heart Island
(Photo Credit / The Boldt Castle Archives)
The Thousand Island cruise was a real treat and a welcome contrast to the daily routine of fishing on Stump Lake.  Over the course of this adventure we would take several other day trips to visit some of the local attractions, including traveling over the Thousand Island Bridge and paying a quick visit to Fort Henry near Kingston, Ontario.  Incidentally, the Thousand Islands name is somewhat misleading since there are a total of 1,864 islands located within the archipelago of the Saint Lawrence River.  There are even several rules that must be met in order to be included in the official total count of the Thousand Islands.  An island must be above the water table year round and contain a minimum of two living trees to qualify.  The largest island is over 40 square miles in size and the smallest, just a few square feet.  Wow, you learn something new everyday!  We learned a few more interesting facts about some more islands and their residents on our way back to the Rockport dock.  The sun began to set and we had just stopped off for some dinner but the day wasn't quite over yet.  Hey, who's up for some night fishing?    

A Few of the Locals
We had been fishing throughout the week, concentrating our efforts with the rising and setting of the sun.  So far Jim and I had mixed results, catching only a few fish worthy of keeping and cooking over our open fire... Although discouraged, we both were determined to keep our hope alive of landing the big fish worthy of bragging rights.  It was fun just to navigate our boat through the obstacle course of wood that broke through the water's surface without pattern.  There was always a new section of the large lake to explore and the hope for the illusive fishing hole that would end in a story that could be told and retold for eternity.  One evening we had rain and had to abandon our evening hunt and were forced to retreat early into our man cave tent for the night.  A few hours later, I awoke all wet and discovered a small creek running right down the middle of our tent, channeled by our parallel sleeping bags.  Apparently, we had pitched our tent within a slight gully, one of several that collected rainwater runoff from the surrounding landscape and fed directly into the lake.  Can you say Epic Fail?  But what did we know?  We were just a couple of dumb college kids in a foreign country! 

My Large Mouth Bass Catch
We suffered through a long wet cold night and were both beginning to miss the comforts of home such as adequate shelter and indoor plumbing.  We moved our tent and tried to dry ourselves and our gear the next day in the warm summer breeze that had followed the storm.  We were running out of time as the weekend approached, our last day of the trip.  We were now fishing full-time and thankfully began to land some fish worthy of the camera. On our final full day at the camp Jim and I both caught some respectable fish.  I landed a decent large mouth bass and northern Canadian pike that gave me quite a fight.  Our prized catch may not have impressed extreme fisherman Jeremy Wade of the popular show River Monsters on Animal Planet but Jim and I were both satisfied.  There is something special about eating food that you harvested yourself from nature.  We were just like pioneers in the Yukon wilderness... sort of... maybe?  We got a picture of my bass and northern pike, which was even bigger.  Sadly the picture of my pike has been lost, so you will just have to take my word for it.  Besides, have you ever known a fisherman to lie or stretch the truth?  I thought not!  It was this big....

Boldt Castle / Heart Island

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