Secret Passages Invite Mystery at Dark Island’s Singer Castle

Photo by Michael Kleen

This fog-shrouded estate on the St. Lawrence River has long excited visitors’ imaginations.

Orange peaks of a medieval manor rise above the trees on a distant island. A secret panel in the library leads to hidden passages through the walls. Eyes spy from behind a painting. Singer Castle is literally torn from the pages of a children’s storybook, and you can tour it and even spend the night! But don’t expect to encounter any ghosts.

Frederick G. Bourne (1851-1919) was a wealthy industrialist and one-time president of the Singer Manufacturing Company. He owned many properties throughout his life, but his most famous was the hunting lodge he built in the Thousand Islands region in 1905. He called it “The Towers”, but today we call it Singer Castle.

The castle was designed by architect Ernest Flagg and inspired by the historical novel Woodstock (1826) by Sir Walter Scott. The novel revolves around Woodstock Manor House, set just after the English Civil War. Woodstock was allegedly beset by poltergeist activity. Frederick Bourne’s version cost approximately $500,000, rose four stories, and contained 28 rooms and four towers.

Bourne’s daughters May and Marjorie lived there after his death until 1961, when they sold it to the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. The Brothers turned around and sold it to the Harold Martin Evangelistic Association in 1965. The Association renamed it Jorstadt Castle and held religious services there. Dark Island Tours, Inc. purchased the island in 2001 and has maintained it ever since, renovating and offering tours and overnight stays.

With its stone walls, hidden panels and passages, and empty suits of armor, Singer Castle appears to be the quintessential haunt. It’s located on the ominously named “Dark Island”, and advertised as having “possible hauntings” on the Uncle Sam Boat Tours website. The New York Times once called it the “Castle of Mysteries”, but despite its reputation, I couldn’t find any specific ghost story associated with the place.

The closest thing to a ghost story at Singer is a tall tale that former President George H. W. Bush (referred to as ‘George Bush, Sr.) haunts the upstairs closet. George H. W. Bush, father of President George W. Bush, died in 2018, but the hoax’s origin dates back to when he was very much alive. According to Castle historian Judy Keeler, the only ghost haunting Singer Castle is “the Holy ghost”.

Visiting Singer Castle is a unique experience. It is much better preserved than the nearby Boldt Castle, with the antique fixtures and furnishings frozen in time. It’s like walking onto a movie set, only someone actually lived there.

Singer Castle, on Dark Island in Chippewa Bay, New York, is open for tours and private events. Guided tours are $14.25 per adult and $7.25 for children age four and up. Of course, visitors can only access the island by boat. Uncle Sam Boat Tours and the Schermerhorn Harbor Shuttle offer charters to Dark Island. The castle is closed from Columbus Day through early May. Contact info@singercastle.com for hours.

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Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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