Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Another Castle and Some Neat Boats

Alexandria Bay is sort of the tourism center of the Thousand Islands area and the base of Uncle Sam’s Tour Boats. I’m pretty sure this is a figurative Uncle Sam and not a euphemism for the Federal Government.

Anyway, Uncle Sam took us to Singer Castle on Dark Island. It was named Dark IslandDSC_0494 because the many trees on the island makes it look, um, dark. I haven’t decided whether it made more sense for turn of the century millionaires to call their vacation homes “cottages” as in Newport, or “castles” as in the 1000 Islands. The former seems a bit understated, and the latter seems a bit overstated, but then, they didn’t ask me.

In any case, Frederick G. Bourne was the fifth CEO of the Singer Sewing Machine Co., and he thought a nice vacation castle on an island would be just the thing for a couple of weeks a year. DSC_0497 So he bought Dark Island, hired a bunch of workmen who were also working on Boldt Castle, and had them build a smallish European-style castle complete with turrets, secret passages, and a dungeon. Now I queried the tour guide about the use of the dungeon and she said that as far as she knew it wasn’t utilized for much of anything. However, the dungeon wasn’t part of the tour, so visitors are not given the opportunity to judge the dungeon accoutrements for themselves.


As far as New World castles go, the place looks quite livable, if you don’t mind spooky suits of armor scattered about. And yes, that is a Singer sewing machine being guarded by the knight. The machines are found throughout the house but were not part of the castle’s original furnishings. The have been donated over the years the place has been open to tours.

Unlike Boldt Castle, Singer Castle was lived in by the Bourne family and later by the McNally family to which is was sold. Those are the Rand-McNally McNallys, in case you need a map to figure out who I mean.

There’s a story about a resident of a neighboring island who was a little annoyed about the noise of construction when Singer Castle was being built. But Frederick Remington was apparently a good neighbor since he is said to have sent over a bouquet of flowers when the Bournes moved in. DSC_0503 There is also a Remington sculpture on the mantel but it isn’t known whether Freddie gave it as a gift or whether one of the resident families purchased it.

Singer Castle was bought from the McNally heirs and is now owned by a European Corporation that buys castles around the world and opens them to tourists.

About midway between Alexandria Bay and Cape Vincent is the town of Clayton. An attractive little town on the St. Lawrence River, Clayton is home to the Antique Boat Museum.


The museum has a wonderful collection, both in water and on land, of non-motorized, sail and power boats dating back to the turn of the century thorough the 1950s. These include racing power boats of every description,DSC_0514 old wooden yachts, more modern racing hydroplanes, marine engines and other fascinating displays. You can even take a ride in an antique speed boat for an additional fee. Included in the price of admission is a tour of La Duchesse, a 1903 houseboat, or more accurately, house barge, which was built by George C. Boldt, the guy who built Boldt Castle. DSC_0516 The houseboat was moved around by a tug boat, and provided luxury accommodations for Boldt’s friends. The Boldt family apparently didn’t spend much time on board themselves, since the boat was actually rented to Boldt’s friends. I guess he was trying to expand his hotel empire to the St. Lawrence River. The rental fees included the tug boat and a pilot, but you needed to provide your own servants. DSC_0512 In case you’re wondering, the houseboat got it’s fresh water from the river, which is also where it dumped its waste water. But it must have been okay since the intake pipe was at one end of the barge and the waste pipe at the other end.

The Boldt family lost interest in the houseboat and left it in one of the family boathouses where, due to neglect of the wooden hull, it sank up to the bottom of the second deck. Eventually Boldt’s son convinced Mr. McNally, of the Singer Castle, to purchase the sunken houseboat for $100. McNally raised it, rebuilt in on a steel hull, and eventually donated to the museum.

One final note on the Antique Boat Museum – a couple of days ago a motorhome pulled into our campground towing an antique racing hydroplane. It pulled out the next morning, but today we spotted it at the museum, still on its trailer. DSC_0524 It turns out that the museum sponsors an antique racing boat regatta and race, which begins tomorrow, and this boat, which was a record-holder in its class during the 1970s and 1980s, is going to participate. So we were camped next to a star for one night.

Well, we’re planning to head south tomorrow, but based on what happened last time I said we were heading home, I’m not going to say that this time. So this may, or may not, be the final episode of this trip’s blog.


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