Enough Love to Fill a Castle
I live in boring Virginia where you don’t find very many castles.
(Actually it isn’t even boring, but still where are all the fun castles?)
I remember when I was a young child we visited Boldt Castle near Alexandria Bay, N.Y., in Thousand Islands (yes, like the salad dressing). At the time it was in disarray. Plaster from the walls were falling down, revealing the bricks underneath. There were numerous areas left unfinished and the pool was a green swampy mess.
But the story behind the destruction was just as romantic as the Gothic structure itself. George Boldt, a man who amassed a fortune in the hotel business, took Hart Island and moved Earth (literally) to shape it into a heart. And then went about building a castle for the love of his life, Louise. Tragically, she died in 1904 before it could be finished. Through a telegram Boldt told the workers to put down their tools, leave the stones where they were and leave the island.
And it remained that way–95% complete–for more than 70 years. Anything of value was stolen, fires ravaged parts of the castle, every room in the castle was covered with graffiti and more. In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority purchased it and promised to restore it. I learned this trip that it was promised it would be restore to no more than 95% completion, though, just as Boldt had wanted.
In June 2011 it was my fourth trip to Heart Island. I went once when I was very young–some time in the mid-1980s. The castle was in horrible shape and it was quite scary-looking. I wasn’t able to really see the beauty of the structure. In the late 1980s I visited with my friend when she came to New York during our annual visit with the family. It was certainly nicer, and I could see some of the beauty starting to shine through. Also being a 14-year-old girl meant I could appreciate (and covet) the love story behind it. In 1993 or 94 I visited with a boyfriend. It was even more put together than I remembered and it was stunning.
And now I’ve visited with my children. And it was beautiful. There are areas where you see the damage that had been done by vandals, but the first two floors were magical, as is the stained-glass skylight in the foyer. The children’s tower wasn’t open as there is construction going on there now, but the power house was open and gorgeous.
I’m not a 14-year-old girl any more (though ironically now married to my 14-year-old sweetheart) but I still covet that love story. No one builds castles any more. Probably more than anything else I’ve wanted nothing more than to be loved in the way I imagine George loved Louise. I don’t know, obviously, how their relationship was, but the fact that he never stepped foot on that island again–and couldn’t imagine a castle without her–is very telling, I believe. Of course we don’t need a castle to have that feeling.