The Thousand Island region of the St. Lawrence River is known for its many incredible private island homes, but few are as well known as Boldt Castle.
Boldt Castle is located on Heart Island just a short distance from Alexandria Bay, New York. In fact, this castle can be seen quite well from this riverfront community.
However, while this castle is incredibly impressive and looks fit for a king, it was never lived in and for many years sat abandoned. That’s because the story of Boldt Castle is one of love and heartache that makes the site significantly more remarkable.
George Boldt, manager of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City and the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia purchased Hart Island at the turn of the 20th century. For a while, Boldt, his wife Louise, and their two children lived in a home that was located on the island when they purchased it.
Soon, however, Boldt decided to build an impressive castle, similar to those found along the Rhine River in present-day Germany. The castle was to be a monument to his love for his wife, and the building incorporated many hearts in its design.
In fact, Boldt even went so far as to blast the island to give it a heart shape and changed its name from Hart Island to Heart Island.
However, in January 1904, just one month before Boldt was going to present this new home to Louise, she died in New York City. Heartbroken, George Boldt told the workers to stop, and the castle sat abandoned for many years and was never completed.
Eventually, the island was sold, and tours of the castle were offered over the years. However, without protection from the elements, the castle began to deteriorate. Fortunately, in the 1970s, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority took ownership of the castle and both preserved it and worked towards restoring its grandeur.
Today, Boldt Castle is one of the most prominent landmarks of the Thousand Islands region and a must-visit destination while in the area.
While Boldt Castle sits close to Alexandria Bay in Jefferson County, New York, it is located on an island, which means that it must be accessed by a boat. While there are facilities for private boats to dock at the island, most visitors opt to reach Heart Island via one of the boat tour operators in the region.
The closest boat tours are run by Uncle Sam Boat Tours. They offer both shuttles that run throughout the day on the short trip to the castle from Alexandria Bay, as well as more extensive tours of the region that include a stop at the island.
Once at the island, tickets give visitors the chance to take a self-guided tour of the grounds and a small portion of this 120-room castle.
To start my tour, I decided to head first for the castle. This may or may not be the best decision depending on the number of boats that have recently docked at the island. Despite its location in the middle of the river, hundreds (if not thousands) of tourists visit the island daily, so things can get quite crowded.
It may be best to wait a few minutes before starting your tour so you can avoid the worst of the crowds.
While tours of Boldt Castle are self-guided there are audio guides you can rent on the island or you can download the Boldt Castle app which offers great information on the site. If you are just looking for the highlights, there is signage in most rooms that both tells you a bit about the room and shows you what it looked like prior to restoration.
One definite stop on your tour should be the 15-minute video about the history of the castle that is played on a rotating basis on the second floor. On busy days, there may be a wait to see the film. However, this really is a great overview of the castle, island, and Boldt family that is worth seeing during your visit.
The two lower floors of the castle feature a series of rooms that you can walk through and look as they may have looked had the Boldt family ever stayed in the home. Each room has undergone extensive renovations, and they are beautifully decorated with period furniture.
The third and fourth floor of Boldt Castle has largely been left as it looked when the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority took possession of the island in the 1970s (Though they obviously undertook stabilization projects).
These upper floors provide a great contrast to the lower floors and give you an idea of how complete the castle was when George Boldt walked away from it after his wife’s death. In several rooms, you can also see some of the original blueprints for the castle, which is quite interesting.
A short climb up from the 4th floor, there is a balcony that you can head out onto. This provides fantastic views of both the roof of the castle, as well as the St. Lawrence River and Alexandria Bay. Definitely take a few minutes to enjoy the view from this spot.
After touring the castle, take some time to explore the grounds and outbuildings on this five-acre island.
Alster Tower, also known as the Playhouse, is located on the southern end of the island and looks more like a historic defensive castle than a modern one. Much of the building is closed due to renovations but during my visit, I was able to enter the ground floor and see a bit of the interior of this incredible building, including its historic bowling alley.
On the northeastern end of the island, the Power House was where the island’s power and water were generated. Today, it is more of a museum that highlights how this was done in the early 20th century. The exterior of the building is incredible and has a clocktower that features a carillon that was once in the Wanamaker Building in Philadelphia.
Of course, it’s not just the buildings on Heart Island that are worth seeing. The five-acre island is incredibly manicured and spots like the Italian Gardens are incredible to stroll through and think about the grand vision that Boldt had for this island.
While it’s not attached to the island, the Yacht House is a short boat ride away. A small additional charge gets you a ferry ride to and from this historic building and the chance to see the incredible boats housed inside, some of which were owned by the Boldt family.
Boldt housed his incredible two-story houseboat, La Duchesse, here until it sank while stored in the Yacht House. Today, it has been restored and is located in the Antique Boat Museum in nearby Clayton, New York.
Without a doubt, Boldt Castle is worth the trouble and crowds to see for yourself. I’ve visited many homes, and even a few castles, in New York, and this stands as one of the most remarkable places I’ve had the privilege of exploring.
So, the next time you find yourself in Alexandria Bay and the Thousand Islands region, don’t miss a tour of Boldt Castle.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind when Visiting Boldt Castle
Since it is on an island in the middle of the river and near the Canadian border, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First, your ticket to tour the island does not include a boat ride to the island. Several local operators provide boat tours and shuttles that stop at Heart Island. There are also docks for private boats on the island.
Second, the castle is located on the United States side of the border. Tours from Canada do visit the island, but you will need to have your passport if you want to step foot on the island. US Immigration officers are stationed on the island to process international visitors.
Note: My visit to Boldt Castle was hosted by the site. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Hours: Opens Daily at 10a
Cost: Adults: $10, Kids: $7
Address: Alexandria Bay, NY