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‘Unlucky’ island

Boldt Island’s fairy-tale power station Boldt Island’s fairy-tale power station Tom Hart
27 Jan
Boldt Castle is a curious monument to a tycoon’s misfortune

He didn’t believe in luck, but George Boldt made his fortune managing New York’s Clover Club. ‘Everything in the club was clover shaped, as three-leaf or four-leaf clovers. People would go down there to close big business deals to start ventures off with good luck,’ says Corey Fram, a local tourism official. 

‘Boldt said if he had a lucky number it was 13, and all his hotels had a 13th floor,’ adds Fram. Missing the 13th floor is a tradition some hotels keep to this day. 

A self-made millionaire, Boldt became fabulously wealthy when he masterminded the merger of New York’s leading luxury hotels, the Waldorf and the Astoria. Feuding cousins owned the two properties, but Boldt stepped in to unite the businesses under his management. Ever keen to prove his indifference to luck, Boldt’s suite at the Waldorf-Astoria was number 13 on the 13th floor.

Culinary myth claims that Boldt popularised Thousand Islands dressing at the Waldorf-Astoria. Whether this is true or not, Boldt certainly favoured the Thousand Islands region, which lies in the St Lawrence River.

In 1900, Boldt bought an island in the Thousand Islands for what would have been among the largest private homes in the US at that time. Highlights included an underground bowling alley.

PA027472Bold Castle is now largely restored, but work continues (Photo: Tom Hart)

The six-storey home, known as Boldt Castle, was intended as a tribute to his wife, Louise Boldt. Accordingly, Boldt had the island renamed Heart Island. Misfortune struck in 1904, however, when Louise Boldt suddenly died of heart failure. Construction work on the almost complete home stopped at once. With his wife dead, a grieving George Boldt left the monument to his marriage as it stood. Boldt Castle was never occupied.

For 73 years Boldt Castle was left exposed to the elements, until in 1977 the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority bought the property for a dollar. Since then $15million has been spent to restore the castle. ‘They had to replace around 200 windows,’ says Fram. Scaffolding is still in place for further restoration work, although the castle is open to the public. This includes Canadians from the opposite bank and as such, the island has its own customs post and guards to process ‘foreign’ tourists.

Alster Tower, built on the estate’s waterfront, would have provided the Boldt family with a pleasant outlook on the St Lawrence. The tower’s footprint is shaped like a four-leaf clover, probably Boldt’s tribute to his days as a club manager. Unless Boldt was more superstitious than he let on.

The tower also serves as an autograph book. During the island’s desolate years visitors signed their names over the walls, including the occasional celebrity. Somewhere in the tangle is opera singer Enrico Caruso’s scrawl.

PA027506Alcester Tower contains a famous autograph (Photo: Tom Hart)

For more information on Boldt Castle visit Responsible Travel's guide to New York state.

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