Sunday, August 08, 2010

So, You Wanna Buy an Island?

As mentioned in the previous post, the western end of the St. Lawrence River, which is also the western end of the St. Lawrence Seaway, is at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. For the first 50 miles or so the river is loaded with islands, large and small. There are actually about 1800 islands, but whoever named the area 1000 Islands back in the late 1800s apparently missed a few when he did the count.DSC_0436  In all fairness, however, some of the islands are very small, and according to Andy, our tour guide, some islands didn’t exist in the 1800s but became exposed when the water level dropped. Andy also told us that to be officially called an island, the piece of land or rock has to have at least two trees. But some folks cut down a tree or two to build their homes, so islands that were islands then wouldn’t be considered islands today, thus the approximation of 1800 islands.


Most of the 1000 (or 1800 +/-) islands are privately owned and some of the larger ones are made up of colonies of a number of homes. Since the St. Lawrence is the US-Canada border, the islands were divied up between the two countries by treaties a long time ago. (I could say exactly when if I wanted to look up the date, but I don’t.) Each island is either Canadian or US, none of them are split.

The homes on the islands, which are all summer homes, range from shacks to mansions, with everything in-between. DSC_0444 Andy told us (and he insisted that he doesn’t get a commission) about several islands currently on the market. The average price seemed to be about $1.5 million, and that includes the island, the house, and often the furniture. Add to that the cost of the boat you’ll need to get to and from your island, the cost of bringing in whatever you need, the cost of removing waste, the cost of parking your car on the mainland, you can start getting into serious money for a place you can use just a couple of months a year.

Unbeknownst (that may be the first time I’ve ever written that word) to us, we took our tour of the 1000 islands on Pirate Invasion Day, an annual celebration of a mini revolution that occurred when a local resident decided they should secede from both the US and Canada. He organized some friends to join the movement and staged raids on both sides of the river. (I don’t remember when this happened, so if you are interested I’m sure there’s something in Wikipedia.) The dude, who was eventually captured, became known as a pirate. Thus Pirate Invasion Day.

DSC_0448  That’s the dude on the bow of the pirate ship. The day includes pseudo-reenactments of an invasion, cannon and small-arms fire from shore (I assume with blanks, since none of the boats sank and I saw no blood) and assorted water-borne high jinks including what started with water pistols, graduated to super-soakers,DSC_0452 and eventually went as far as fire hoses, at which point the Coast Guard intervened due to perceived hazards to navigation. One of the evil pirates strafed our tour boat with a super-soaker, and I got mildly soaked, but I did protect the camera, which is why there are no photos of the foul deed.

Anyway, the Pirate Invasion occurs annually at Alexandria Bay, NY, which is just across from Heart Island, the site of Boldt Castle, which really isn’t a castle, but one of those gilded-age summer cottages built to look like a castle. In another tale which proves that moneyDSC_0466 can’t buy happiness, George C. Boldt came to the US from Prussia in the 1860s, and through hard work and some luck built a hotel empire which included the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

He wanted to do something special for his wife Louise, so he enlisted 300 craftsmen to build her the summer house which was modeled after 16th century European mansions. It has 127 rooms, an Italian garden, and all of the features anyone would want in a summer retreat. DSC_0468

The little turreted, chateau-like structure in this image was the power house which housed generators, fuel storage, and luxury quarters for the engineers needed to operate it.

But alas, in 1904, before work on the castle was completed, Louise died. Having lost the love of his life, George ordered all work on the castle to stop, so the 300 craftsmen dropped their tools and left the island. The unfinished castle was abandoned and allowed to fall into disrepair until 1977 when the Thousand Island Bridge Authority assumed ownership and began a rehabilitation program. DSC_0455

The rehabilitation continues to this day, with Boldt descendants providing some furnishings and other items from the family’s collections. The castle is operated as a tourist attraction and the Bridge Authority claims to return all revenues gained from admission charges to the rehabilitation work.

A final thought about the St. Lawrence Seaway. As I mentioned, Canada is on one side, the US on the other. The Seaway is patrolled by the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, and local and state police agencies. But the seaway is 2300 miles long, including the Great Lakes. In the area comprised of the St. Lawrence River, something like 800 miles, there are literally thousands of pleasure boats moored on both the Canadian and US side. If I were a bad guy and wanted to sneak into the US from Canada, this looks like a lot easier way to do it than, say, trying to get through a formal border crossing.


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