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Heart Island’s Tragic Love Story

Written by on January 22, 2019 in Island Life Magazine

Boldt Castle is known as the castle that love built on an island aptly-called Heart. It’s a century-old tragic love story that has attracted millions of visitors to Boldt Castle near Alexandria Bay N.Y. in the world famous 1000 Islands every year.

George C. Boldt, changed the island’s name from Hart to Heart. He also had it the landscape shaped to resemble a heart. Historic Boldt Yacht House is pictured across from the castle on Wellesley Island. It is also open to tourists. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine.

George C. Boldt, the owner of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, started building the castle for his wife, Louise, as a testament to their love in 1900 but she never got to see it. Louise was 41 when she died in 1904 of a heart ailment. George C. Boldt halted construction, never to return to Heart Island again.

Louise Boldt’s portrait  hangs over the fireplace in the castle’s. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine.

The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority has spent 40 years and millions of dollars to bring it to life one room at a time. Each year, there’s something new to see and explore on this island, shaped during the castle’s construction to resemble a heart. A new kitchen is on display with other rooms, including bedroom suites, library, dining room, kitchen and the palatial ballroom. Boldt Castle and the Boldt Yacht House are open bewteen May and October and are the region’s biggest tourism attraction drawing visitors from around the globe.

Louise Boldt’s bedroom. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magzine.

An epic “rags to riches story,” Boldt embodied the American dream. He was 13 when he left his native Prussia by himself for a better life in a new country.

He worked his way up from a waiter’s assistant to become the proprietor of one of New York City’s most luxurious hotels: the Waldorf Astoria. An invitation to the Thousand Islands Yacht Club in Alexandria Bay N.Y. led the hotelier to build his dream castle here. 

George C. Boldt

An Italian garden has been added in recent years. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine.

He wanted to build a Rhine River castle for the family including a recreation centre for guests and his children, a playhouse known as Alster Tower. George and Louise Augusta Kehrer first met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1876. They were wed there in 1877. George was 26. Louise’s premature death in January 1904 was a shock to her husband and devastated the couple’s young children.

Louise Boldt, daughter Clover, and son George Jr.

Their daughter Clover was 21, and their son George Jr. was 24. The official cause of death was recorded as a “Fatty Heart for four or five years; Indigestion; Dropsy.”

Boldt Castle Pump House. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine.

Boldt Castle Yacht House on Wellesley Island N.Y. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine

Multimillionaire Edward John Noble, the co-founder of LifeSavers Candy Company and investor in American broadcasting and major motion pictures, purchased every piece of the Boldt property with the exception of Hopewell Hall, which remained in the family until the death of Clover’s daughter, Clover Boldt Baird, in 1993. The property was opened as a tourism attraction in the 1920s but was never maintained. The Edward John Noble Foundation inherited what was left of the Boldt estate after Noble’s death. By 1976, the foundation realized the Boldt properties were in serious disrepair and gifted them to the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority in 1977. A recent study estimates Boldt Castle and the Boldt Yacht House on Wellesley Island, generate over $40-million US in economic activity for the 1000 Islands International region. This winter more construction is being done at the Alster Tower’s Game Room.  A new gift shop has also opened in the castle and souvenir audio guides are available. 

The legendary romance of  Heart Island continues to live on in those who are intrigued and captivated by its enduring love story.  I never tire of watching this tremendous transformation unfold each year as each room in Boldt’s fairy tale castle in the middle of the St. Lawrence River seemingly and magically comes to life. About 6.6. million people have visited Boldt Castle since it became a tourism attraction four decades ago. And 1000 couples from all over the world have been married on Heart Island. 

Hearts adorn this ornate glass ceiling at Boldt Castle. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine.

George C. Boldt died at the age of 65  on Dec. 5 1916. Ironically, it was the death of Boldt’s dream that brought this dream castle on Heart Island for others to love.

George Boldt’s desk is a new addition to the library. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine.

Boldt started construction of the castle as a monument of his love for Louise in 1900. He fell in love with the area while visiting the Thousand Islands as a guest of honour at the Thousand Islands Yacht Club in nearby Alexandria Bay. He lived on nearby Wellesley Island while 300 workers including stonesmasons, carpenters and artists designed and built the six-story, 120-room castle complete with a powerhouse, Italian gardens, ballroom and a palatial playhouse called the Alster Tower.

 Heart Island in the 1000 Islands and the Alster Playhouse. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine.

But in January of 1904, Boldt telegraphed the island to halt construction when Louise,  died suddenly. Today this monument of love is the region’s top tourism attraction, opening its doors every summer between May and October along with the Boldt Yacht House. Hearts adorn the castle’s stonework, marble floors and flowerbeds, an enduring reminder of the romance of the region’s Golden Age. Ironically, George C. Boldt’s dream castle lives on in the hearts of others today who visit Heart Island.

Are these fireworks heart-shaped too? I thought so after taking this photo over Boldt Castle this summer for July 4 celebrations. Photo by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine.