Mysterious America

Romance & Mystery at Heart Island’s Boldt Castle

An unfinished castle wins the hearts of visitors to New York’s Thousand Islands region each year, but its sad history continues to linger.

  • George Boldt began construction on this magnificent mansion for his wife in the 1890s.
  • Louise Kehrer Boldt died of an illness in 1904, and George sent a telegram ordering workers to stop construction.
  • Boldt Castle sat empty until 1977, when it was turned into a tourist attraction.
  • Some visitors have reported seeing the ghost of Louise fluttering through the halls.

The stone walls of a majestic castle rise above the waters of the Saint Lawrence River, creating a romantic visage on tiny Heart Island. Today a major tourist destination, for decades the structure sat abandoned to vandalism and decay. Despite never having been lived in, rumors of Boldt Castle’s haunted halls have spread throughout the Thousand Islands Region of Upstate New York.

In 1900, George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City and manager of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, began construction on this six story, 120 room castle. It was to be a grand tribute to the love of his life, Louise Kehrer Boldt.

Louise purchased Heart Island, where the castle was to be built, in 1895 for $1. The architectural firm G. W. & W. D. Hewitt designed the castle, for which Boldt spared no expense. It contained tunnels, a powerhouse, Italian gardens, drawbridge, alster tower, and a dove cote.

George and Louise Boldt
George and Louise Boldt

Tragically, Louise Boldt died suddenly in January 1904. Heartbroken, George Boldt sent workers at the castle a telegram telling them to cease construction immediately. For the next 73 years, the partially-completed castle sat empty and abandoned, left to the mercy of vandals and the elements. Boldt died in 1916.

According to a popular local legend, many visitors claim to have seen Mrs. Boldt’s ghost on Heart Island. She appears as a “lady in white,” walking along the waters’ edge. Others have reported strange lights flashing in the castle’s windows at night. These stories likely took root when curious boaters snuck onto the island to explore the famous “haunted castle.”

In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority bought Heart Island and agreed to commit all proceeds from tours and events toward its restoration. Today, much of the structural damage has been reversed, and the ground floor is beautifully furnished. The upper floors, however, have been left in a state of disrepair as they would have appeared in the 1970s. Ferries and tour boats bring hundreds of visitors to the island every day.

Boldt Castle is an amazing piece of architectural history and a must-see destination in Upstate New York. Along with a view of the castle, the nearby town of Alexandria Bay offers a unique dining, shopping, and boating experience. Louise Boldt may never have enjoyed this Rhineland-inspired getaway in life, but her spirit may find solace in the fact that so many people enjoy it today.


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