Having visited the US several times, we have had the opportunity to visit the not-so touristy places which we find are more beautiful than the well-known ones. En route to Niagara Falls we alight at one such spectacular place, Thousand Islands, often referred to as the ‘fresh water boating capital of the world’ which is a five-hour drive from Boston.
It is raining when we start and we feel a tad disappointed on thinking that rain would play spoilsport during our cruise in this region! But as luck would have it, the clouds clear away as we approach Thousand Islands and we heave a sigh of relief. This region is an internationally renowned paradise engulfing the border areas of both, the US and Canada, along the St. Lawrence River and the eastern shores of Lake Ontario. This extremely wide river is speckled with unique islands of various sizes exceeding thousand in number and these islands are either wholly within the United States or Canada. The twin International Rift bridges connect the U.S. Wellesley Island with Canadian Hill Island and measuring only 90 feet a piece, they are arched to allow small vessels pass under them.
We embark at the Thousand Islands from the US side in the State of New York. For a bird’s view of the islands we take a cruise of two hours by Uncle Sam’s Boat Cruises in Alexandria Bay. This cruise is an exploration of the Islands consisting of the homes of several rich and famous people. The boat has open decks and also heated, glass-enclosed lower decks for a comfortable cruise in cold weather. While cruising we see some places wherein the islands that are very close to each other are located in the two different countries of the US and Canada! All along the cruise, a running commentary interspersed with jokes make this short journey even more exciting.
A playground for the rich who built castles for themselves and their loved ones, this region is dotted with around 1864 islands. Many wealthy people from New York had bought islands or properties here, referred to as “castles” in addition to their humble and moderate summer homes. St.Lawrence River is dotted not only with islands covered with green trees and shrubs, but also with last turn-of-the-century houses. We see the area filled with romanticism and youth and also a mix of working locals and relaxed vacationers. The sizes of these islands range from over 40 square miles to smaller islands occupied by single homes to even unmanned outcroppings of reefs that are home to migratory waterfowl. The striking castles found here date back to an era of conspicuous wealth, grand hotels or whimsical and Victorian-style homes. The most famous ones are Dark Island Castle, now called Singer Castle, and the Boldt Castle on Heart Island which is now fully restored after a long period of neglect.
Boldt Castle on Heart Island: At first sight the exterior of Boldt Castle, a monument of love by Boldt for his wife Louise, takes our breath away. Boldt’s six-story, 120-room Italian Renaissance-style chateau includes tunnels, Italian gardens…… and is a reminder of the opulence of the bygone era. This Island was bought by’ The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority’ for a dollar in 1977, after signing an agreement that the revenues generated from the castle operations would be used for restoration, for the enjoyment of future generations. There is this US Customs and Immigration office on Heart Island, to which International visitors coming from Canada produce appropriate identification.
Next, we pass through the magnificent Singer Castle. This was the last of several castles built in that region. World-famous architect Ernest Flagg designed it for the president of Singer Sewing Machine Company, Frederick Bourne. It is known as the “Castle of Mysteries”, as we find a walnut-panelled library, containing a secret panel connecting the passages in the walls and grates, to spy on guests. I fall in love with this tiny island with ONE house on it, which resembles a toy house. Imagine running out of the door and diving straight into the surrounding water! The guide commented in lighter vein, “The occupants of that house better not be sleep walkers!” We sail up the International Bridge connecting Canada and the US before we head back to our starting point. Weaving in and out through the haven and traversing the U.S. waters on a warm, clear day is a special rewarding experience. Beauty and serenity floods your soul as you gaze, bathe, boat and rest in or by the shores of this magnificent St. Lawrence