Thousand Islands in the Gilded Age: Fools’ Paradise

Posted July 11th, 2011 in News by admin

The Gilded Age refers to late 19th century and early 20th century, a period of great economic change in the United States and Canada in which newly moneyed magnates auspiciously spent their money, among other things they invested a great deal of money in palatial homes. As a popular vacation destination, the Thousand Islands witnessesd a large boom as well. But times change and fortunes are fleeting; many of the ambitious architectural projects weren’t finished or fell into disrepair, and the hollow frames of the magnificent past give the impression of a paradise that might have, from the very beginning, been out of reach.

In last week’s article we covered the fixer upper on Carleton Island. One thing we failed to mention, was that the great irony of the villa’s story is that the original owner who commissioned the building only got to live in it for one night. Oddly enough a lot of the mansions and estates built in the area share similar stories of industrialists flaunting their wealth, and not getting a chance to enjoy the opulent playgrounds they built for themselves. The Carleton Island Villa itself, in it’s original form with a massive tower, dons the cover of Fools’ Paradise, impressions and recollections of the Thousand Island heyday, written by the late Paul Malo.

Boldt Castle and Alster Tower in Alexandria Bay

Probably one of the most recognizable landmarks in the Thousand Islands region is Boldt Castle on Heart Island. George C. Boldt, the proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, had this palatial getaway built for his wife – which included shaping the island like a heart. He was devastated after his wife died suddenly; he had construction on the property halted and never returned to the island. Like Carleton Villa, Boldt Castle sat vacant for decades, falling prey to the elements and vandals. Eventually in 1977 it was bought and later restored by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority, today it is a major tourist destination.

For those interested in looking more into this era in the Thousand Islands we recommend the book Fools’ Paradise, the book is available on Amazon. There are also some spectacular photos presented by Malo on the Thousand Islands Life magazine website, here.

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