A Castle + A Love Story

When I first asked M home to meet my family, I knew I had to introduce him to the wonders of the Thousand Islands as he grew up in the far corner of the state where they are about as landlocked as once can get. Up here, life revolves around boating, fishing, waterskiing and sailing in the summer months. This lifestyle was completely forgein to him and I just knew he was going to love it once he had a taste of the good life. Where I grew up, we spent about equal time in the summer months on the St. Lawrence River and on Lake Ontario. On our first visit we spent a day on the lake at the family cottage and the following day we went on one of the famed Thousand Island boat tours, including a stop at Boldt Castle on Heart Island.

boldt castle
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Originally named Hart Island and home to a beautiful wood-framed mansion, George Boldt of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, purchased the island and ultimately decided the home simply would not do. When the St. Lawrence River froze over that winter, the home was carefully removed from the island and placed on Wellesley Island where after serving many years as the prestigious clubhouse of the neighboring country club, it now stands proud today as Hart House Inn, a luxury bed and breakfast. Boldt, being so very in love with his lovely wife Louise, had the existing Hart Island sculpted into the shape of a heart and renamed it Heart Island, just in time to begin construction on a massive six-story, 120 room castle in 1900. No expense was to be spared as the castle was to serve as a tangible testament of his true and undying love for his wife. For four summers, Boldt and his family lived in Alster Tower, the incredible structure that was to serve as the children’s playhouse upon completion of the castle itself. However, tragically construction was halted in 1904 when the workmen at the site received a telegram from Boldt that his beloved Louise had died unexpectedly. Construction was to cease immediately. Boldt never returned to the island.

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The original Hart House, now the Hart House Inn.
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Over the course of the next 70+ years, the castle stood abandoned, facing the harsh lash of winter winds and repeated vandalism. Finally, in 1977, the castle was purchase by the Thousand Island Bridge Authority for the unheard of price of $1 under the agreement that all proceeds from the castle be directed toward restoration projects and preservation efforts. In the decades since and many millions of dollars later, the castle has been restored to the point where construction was originally halted and much additional progress has been made. It now serves as a bustling tourist attraction with construction continuing even today. Not so concidentally, the castle is also a favorite venue for wedding ceremonies.

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View of the castle at dusk from across the channel.
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Originally, M and I had planned to be married at Boldt Castle, although this idea was ultimately scratched for a number of reasons. Primarily, the island can only be reached by ferry and the expense to transport guests there was rather cost prohibitive. I was also pretty concerned about accesibility issues for older guests getting on/off the ferry and around the island to the designated ceremony site. As a local I was also a bit uneasy only because the castle tends to be more of a touristy location for weddings and it felt a little bit Las Vegas wedding chapel to me, no matter how much I love the castle and visiting at least once a summer. However, M fell totally in love with the castle during that first visit and I knew we had to incorporate it into the wedding in some way. So, on Saturday of our two-day fiesta we will be asking all of our guests to join us on a boat cruise, just like the one we took the very first time M met my family, and then touring Boldt Castle. Hopefully they love it as much as we do. Our reception venue has panoramic views of the river and the castle just across the channel so while the castle is not an official wedding venue, it has helped to shape the focus of our wedding weekend and will certainly be a fabulous guest star.

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[Photo by Ian Coristine of 1000 Islands Photo Art]

I grew up in a bathing suit and boat shoes. I remember my excitement as a kid, and now as an adult, as the boat came out of storage in late spring every year to be washed and scrubbed up for the first boat ride. Weekends in the summer are dedicated to boating and in the years I was away from home I loathed the weekends I couldn’t make it to meet up with my family for a sunset ride across the lake to have dinner somewhere on a Friday evening. For me, including my love of the water and the local boating culture was a top priority for our wedding. Did anyone else have a priority that took center stage? Is anyone else incorporating a love for their hometown in their planning process?