Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Castle Built for Love

BOLDT CASTLE on Heart Island in the St. Lawrence River, New York is a castle built in the name of love.

Boldt Castle on Heart Island

George C. Boldt (born Georg Karl Boldt), a German immigrant, was born in 1851 on the island of Rugen in the Baltic Sea.  He immigrated to the U.S. in 1864 at the age of 13 and worked in a New York restaurant kitchen.   Eventually he worked his way West to try his hand at ranching, but when things didn't work out in Texas, he returned to New York again, where he began working at another restaurant kitchen, eventually moving up to cashier and then management.

George C. Boldt
Source:  Unknown

Louise Augusta Kehrer was born in 1862, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her father was William Kehrer, the steward of a famous Philadelphia Club. 

Louise Augusta Kehrer
Source:  Unknown

In 1876, George was appointed as steward at Louise's father's Clover Club in Philadelphia.  George was twenty-six to Louise's fifteen.  It was love at first sight.  They were married on June 14th, 1877.  It is said that George thought of his wife as a princess and treated her accordingly.   They were deeply in love and only had eyes for each other.  Their love was one of fairy tales.

George and Louise had two children, George Jr., born in 1879 and Louise Clover, in 1883.

Louise Kehrer Boldt and her children, George Jr. (1879-1958) and Louise Clover (1883-1963), later Mrs. Alfred Graham Miles..  The cute little dog's name is unknown. 
Source:  Unknown

George had a knack for the hotel business and Louise loved it as well.  She worked side-by-side with George in making his hotels as posh and customer friendly as possible.   She had a hand in the decor, placing fresh cut flowers in each of the customer's rooms and made sure the linens were freshly laundered for the dining areas as well.  Together, George and Louise demanded a new standard for hotels in the world, by which many still stand by today.

George had a little secret.  He knew that if he catered to his customers and provided a service that was unrivaled anywhere, that his hotels would do well.  George intuitively knew what his customers wanted.  He introduced the velvet rope for waiting to get into his upscale hotels, he made all of his male employees shave their beards to present a clean and respectable image and most importantly, he taught all of his employees that "the customer is always right".  Many of the standards he put into place in his hotels are now still commonplace at hotels around the world.

George moved up very quickly in the business.  He went from dishwasher to owner of the Bellevue Hotel (which later became the Stratford-Bellevue and then the Park Hyatt) with a little help from prominent members of the Philadelphia Club assisting the couple.  He went on to become proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Bellevue-Stratford Hotel - Philadelphia

Fate played a hand in George's business success when Mr. and Mrs. John Jacob Astor checked into his Bellevue hotel one day and learned first-hand the skills and business acumen of George.  Mr. Astor financed the Waldorf Astoria, which was the largest hotel in the world at that time. After establishing a relationship with George, Aster made him its proprietor and its success made George a multi-millionaire.

William Waldorf Astor, cousin to John Jacob Astor built a competing hotel, the Waldorf Hotel (1890-93).  George was the proprietor of the Waldorf and the Astoria and mediated between the cousins.  He leased the Astoria himself and then merged the two hotels under his own management and called it the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  The Empire State Building now stands at that original site at 34th Street and 5th Avenue.

The Waldorf Astoria Hotel c.1893
Source:  Unknown

In the summer of 1895, while on summer vacation on Wellesley Island, George and Louise became interested in the island across from Wellesley.   So George bought the island for his wife for $1.00 and proceeding to build her an island of dreams for his "beautiful princess".

Hart Island was owned by Elizer Hart, a newspaper man and New York Senator.  During the more than 20 years Hart owned the island, he received many bids to purchase the land, but refused them all.  He loved the island and spent many summers there and much money clearing the land to build his 80 room cottage.  After he died, his widow accepted an offer from Edward Dewey of New York City.  Ten days later, the property was transferred to Louise Augusta Boldt, leading to speculation that Dewey had purchased it for the Boldt family.

Thousand Islands, New York
Source:  Unknown

In 1899, George commissioned the finest artisans and craftsmen to build Louise a monument of his love for her.  He modeling the castle after Rhineland Castle in Germany.  The island was reshaped using sea walls to resemble the shape of a heart, and the same symbol was found throughout the structures on the island, as well as in the gardens, symbolizing his love for her.  In fact, he had planned to present his wife the castle on Valentine's Day (which was Louise's 42nd birthday) in 1904.

Rhineland Castle - Germany
Boldt poured over $2.5 million into the island.  Eleven buildings were being erected by over 300 men being paid just $1.50 an hour and working 9-10 hour days.   All of the best artisans were brought over to the island to build the six-story, 120-room stone castle complete with tunnels, electric power, gardens, a yacht house, pool and more.

Boldt Castle under construction
Source:  Unknown

Boldt tore down the Hart's cottage and began building Boldt Castle.  He added a lagoon and changed the spelling from "Hart Island", named after the previous owner, to "Heart Island", which remains today. 

George owned the stone quarries that supplied the stone and the sand pits that supplied the sand which was mixed to hold the stones together.  Massive granite blocks were cut with such precision that no alterations had to be made once they were delivered to the island from another island down the river (Oak Island, 10 miles away).

Alster Tower

Alster Tower was the first structure that was built on the island.  George and his family lived in this Tower for four consecutive summers while construction on the other buildings took place.  The Tower housed the "Shell Room", which had a shell-shaped ceiling and was designed for a dance hall.  The basement housed a billards room, a library, a cafe, a kitchen and bedrooms.

Boldt Castle Arch
Source:  Unknown

George designed this arch to be the formal greeting area for guests and family.  Modeled after Roman architecture, George had planned to extend columns all the way up the walkway and cover the entire walkway.

Boldt Castle Yacht House

The Boldt Yacht House is located on Wellesley Island  and can be seen from Heart Island's north side.  It was built to house the family's three yachts and houseboat.  A shop for building racing launches was incorporated, as well as quarters for the crew and maintenance staff.  It is now a museum and visitors can see the boats that were actually used by the Boldt family.

Tragedy Strikes

In January of 1904, Louise suddenly died of heart failure.  Is is said that she had suffered from heart problems for quite some time.  She was only 41 years old.  The entire island, which was built for Louise, now had no recipient.  George's heart was broken and he immediately halted work on the island.  A telegram was sent to the island and the entire team of 300 workers, artisans and craftsmen were instructed to drop their hammers and go home immediately.  

George never set foot on the island again.

George did not want to continue construction.  In fact, he didn't want to do anything with the island.   After his death, it was sold it to Edward Noble, owner of the Beechnut Fruit Company and inventory of the Lifesaver candy.  He bought the castle in the earth 1920's.  Nobel's foundation ran the island as an unimproved tourist attraction for more than 50 years.  Visitors were allowed to roam free on the island and unfortunately, vandalism and graffiti was rampant.  The castle continued to decay under the winter conditions of ice and snow.

In 1977 the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property and chose to finish and refurbish all the structures on the island.  Millions of dollars have been poured into Heart Island and it is now open to visitors May through November each year.

George C. Boldt
1851 - 1916
Source:  Library of Congress, Bain News Service Collection

After Louise's death, Boldt moved back to New York and remained active in hotel management.  He missed Louise until the day he died on December 5, 1916.   Sadly, he died alone in his room at the Waldorf-Astoria.  George was 65 years old. 

Boldt's granddaughter, Clover Boldt Baird (now deceased), told the story that her grandfather once forbid her to mention to Paul Malo for his book, "Boldt Castle: In Search of the Lost History".
Clover says, "One theory is she died of an overdose of diet pills. She was trying to be right for the job, so to speak, of being hostess with the "mostest", Baird said.
"Of course, there`s always the story that she fell in love with a younger staff employee and the pair vanished into Germany", Baird said, then added, "That`s just sheer gossip."
Some more facts about George Boldt and his businesses;

George is credited with popularizing Thousand Island dressing at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where he instructed the waiters to include it on the menu.  The hotel also served another popular dish, called the Waldorf Salad.

Toward the end of George's life, he commissioned Architect Francis T. Underhill to build him a Swiss-chalet style mansion called "La Manzanita" in Montecito, Santa Barbara.

Boldt Castle
Source:  Unknown

Reception Room Boldt Castle

Boldt Castle Entry Foyer

Boldt Castle Library

Boldt Castle Unfinished Pool

Heart Island shrouded in a romantic fog

Aerial View of Boldt Castle

Boldt Castle at Night

George and Louise Boldt
George and Louise were married for 26 years


There are rumors that many locals and tourists have seen Louise Boldt on Heart Island.  They claim that they have seen a lady in white walking along the waters by the boathouse and lights going on and off inside the castle when it is closed.

Official Site:  Boldt Castle

Boldt Castle at Night

Have a wonderful week!


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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